Range Envy: 10 Really Cool AR-15s

All tan AR-15 built by Black Rain.

The ArmaLite-designed Colt AR-15 rifle has been changed, modified, experimented-on, improved and enhanced in such varied ways since its 1963 début that no one on this earth can tell you how many mods this black rifle platform has seen.

Based on Eugene Stoner’s 7.62x51mm AR-10, traditionally the AR-15 is chambered for 5.56mm/.223 Remington and operates from either a direct gas impingement or piston-driven system. From there, manufacturers and individuals have taken liberties with the AR’s basic design and aesthetics. For example, Windham’s VEX-SS with forest green laminated wood stock is barely recognizable as an AR-15 and Troy Defense’s new Troy Sporting PAR rifle isn’t even an AR at all! Many AR builders are making rifles in .300 Blackout or 6.8 SPC, while pistol calibers are popular, as well.

From pink to camo to flat dark earth, it isn’t just the finish manufacturers are playing with. Innovations in stock designs, rails and handguards, many are constantly trying to raise the bar in making every aspect of the AR-15 more reliable, more accurate and better suited to individual shooters needs. Most AR-15s share similar aesthetic features. The modularity of the platform is what makes it so adaptable to custom specs and AR manufacturers’ whims. You may think your handpicked piece-by-piece home-built AR is the coolest, but these 10 really cool factory ARs will give your rifle a run for its money.

1. KE Arms USM4 Mode 3 Select Fire

What makes it especially cool?

The Tac-Con rapid-fire trigger and KE Arms donates a portion of sales to help Special Force veterans and their families

The KE Arms USM4 Mode 3 select fire semiautomatic rifle has the Tac-Con rapid-fire trigger installed and three select fire modes—safe, fire and auto. The Tac-Con’s 3MR trigger is 100 percent legal to own without a Class III license or tax stamp. That’s because Tac-Con’s 3MR trigger shoots in semiauto mode only. However, it allows for an “incredibly positive reset,” allowing the shooter to rapidly fire the rifle. The USM4 Mode 3 rifle has a 5.56mm chrome moly vanadium MIL-SPEC chamber and a 16-inch cold hammer-forged, high-pressure tested M4 barrel. The lower receiver is machined from billet 7075-T6 aluminum while the upper is machined from 7075-T6 aluminum forgings. Both the upper and lower receiver have NP3 nickel-Teflon coating. KE Arms uses its own U.S.-made H2 buffer. The USM4 Mode 3 select fire rifle has a VLTOR charging handle, A.R.M.S. rear folding sight, Magpul pistol grip, trigger guard and stock, and a KeyMod handguard. It comes with five Magpul PMAGS.

2. LWRC Tricon MK6 Carbine

What makes it especially cool?

The Geissele Automatics Super Tricon 2-stage trigger and the 14.5-inch spiral fluted barrel

For a rifle where you do not need to upgrade a single part, check out LWRC’s Tricon Mark 6 semiautomatic rifle. Working with Geissele Automatics, the Tricon MK6 has the best trigger you can find on an AR-15—the Super Tricon 2-stage trigger. Geissele Automatics incorporates a MIL-SPEC pin and stainless steel springs on its trigger. The trigger is straighter at the bottom with a serrated front. The first stage has a 2.5-pound pull and the second stage has a 2-pound pull with an overall total trigger pull weight of 4.5 pounds. This limited run rifle features a unique spiral fluted barrel that lightens the weight of the barrel at the muzzle. It is 14.5 inches long with a permanently attached flash hider making the barrel a legal 16 inches overall with a 1:7-inch twist. Firearms trainer and former U.S. Navy Seal Jeff Gonzolas hand-selected each LWRC Tricon MK6 AR feature. The LWRC Tricon Mark 6 has a Bravo Company Gunfighter Gen 4 charging handle, SOPMOD stock and a MIL-SPEC safety. Chambered for 5.56mm NATO, the MK6 includes a 30-round magazine. This short-stroke piston operated AR-15 by LWRC also has Magpul sights, pistol grip and trigger guard. It includes a custom-designed rifle case and sling.

3. H&K MR556A1

What makes it especially cool?

The extremely reliable H&K 416 short-stroke gas system

Based on the H&K 416 rifle—the rifle used to kill Osama Bin Laden, the H&K MR556A1 is the first opportunity for civilians to own one of the legendary rifles. The rifle’s operating system incorporates a solid operating push rod that replaces the gas tube found on other AR-15 rifles—an operating system proprietary to H&K. Also exclusive to the MR556A1 is the H&K diopter sight system with a fixed front and rotating drum with V-notch rear sight. Built in the United States with U.S.- and German-made parts, the H&K MR556A1 spent five years in development. The German produced parts include the 16.5-inch cold hammer forged barrel (not chrome lined), bolt assembly, fire control group and handguard. Every part on the H&K MR556A1 increases the rifle’s accuracy and reliability from the bolt carrier group and tungsten-filled buffer—that helps reduce recoil—to the two-stage trigger and collapsible H&K stock. The H&K MR556 also has a free-float rail system handguard and uses 20 or 30-round Magpul “E” mags.

4. WMD Guns “The Beast”

What makes it especially cool?

The NiB-X nickel boron coatings inside and outside the rifle

WMD Guns is the first to release an AR-15 that is almost all NiB-X nickel boron coated inside and out. This coating resists friction, wear, feeding issues, lube and fouling build up. The Beast’s upper and lower receivers, barrel, barrel extension, gas system, muzzle brake, bolt carrier group, fire control group, handguard, and receiver extension are NiB-X nickel boron coated. Chambered in 5.56mm NATO, the made-in-the-USA WMD Beast has a 16-inch match-grade chrome moly vanadium steel barrel with a 1:7 twist. The lower receiver is constructed of billet 7075-T6 aluminum and the upper is made of MIL-SPEC 7075-T6 aluminum forgings. Operating from a direct impingement gas system, the Beast has a properly staked gas key and the bolt carrier group is MIL-SPEC MP tested. The rifle comes with two NiB-X coated 30 round magazines with a Magpul follower and a Drago tactical bag.

5. Rock River LAR-15 Fred Eichler Series Predator

What makes it especially cool?

Made to famous hunter Fred Eichler’s specifications for varmint hunting and the specially designed muzzle brake with no venting underneath

Rock River Arms built the LAR-15 to famous hunter Fred Eichler’s specifications for varmint hunting. What stands out on this rifle is the tan furniture and rails, but most importantly, the specially designed Rock River Arms-made muzzle brake that has no venting underneath. Fred requested the special muzzle brake so the rifle does not kick up dirt, sand or debris when fired. Fred Eichler’s Predator series AR-15 from Rock River Arms has a .223 Wylde chamber. The .223 Wylde is a reamer used in the making of the chamber for the barrel to safely and reliably shoot both .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO ammo. Rock River Arms forges both the upper and lower receivers in-house. The LAR-15 has a 16-inch cryo-treated, free-floating stainless steel heavy barrel with 1:8 twist. There is a big latch on the BCMGunfighter charging handle for ease of use. The enlarged trigger guard houses a two-stage, 3.5-pound trigger. There is also a tan Hogue rubber grip and Operator A2 stock. The handguard on the RRA LAR-15 Fred Eichler Series Predator AR-15 features heat-dissipating coyote tracks.

6. Black Rain Ordnance BRO-PG2Piston

What makes it especially cool?

Made entirely in the United States using American metal, the FDE furniture and anodized digital tan finished upper and lower receivers

Missouri-based Black Rain Ordnance makes most of its own parts, like its drop-in trigger installed on the BRO-PG2Piston AR-15. The BRO trigger is single-stage measuring 3.5 pounds and the hammer and sear is S7 tool steel. Black Rain Ordnance makes the BRO-PG2Pistons’ uppers, lowers, rails, triggers, muzzle brakes, fire control groups and charging handles in-house. When Black Rain uses other manufacturer’s parts, it never skimps on quality, like the Adam Arms piston system. The uppers and lowers are billet aluminum. The rifle has a 16-inch stainless steel, fluted barrel with a Black Rain MFS milled stainless steel flash hider attached. The 7-inch quad rail is finished in flat dark earth, as well as is the Magpul MOE grip and FDE Magpul UBR fixed buttstock adjustable for length of pull. Preset the seven different lengths of pull adjustments to your preferred length. Overall, the BRO rifle is 33 inches and weighs 7 pounds 4 ounces.

7.Daniel Defense M4A1

What makes it especially cool?

The M4A1 RIS II rail system—the same rail used on the U.S. Spec Ops Command (SOCOM) SOPMOD II weapons system

Built around the United States Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) SOPMOD II weapons system M4A1 RIS II rail system, Daniel Defense outfits the M4A1 with its new buttstock and pistol grip. The 14.5-inch chrome moly vanadium steel barrel is cold-hammer forged, chrome-lined and MP-tested. With a permanently attached Daniel Defense flash suppressor, the barrel is 16 inches long. The bolt carrier group on the DD M4A1 is MIL-SPEC MP-tested, chrome-lined and has a properly staked gas key. The rifle operates on a carbine-length direct gas impingement system and has an H buffer. The upper and lower receivers are MIL-SPEC and CNC machined from 7075-T6 aluminum with a Type III hard coat anodized finish. Chambered in 5.56mm NATO and shipping with one 30-round Magpul PMAG, the Daniel Defense M4A1 carbine has a new 1911-style pistol grip with soft overmolding. Machined from 6061-T6 aluminum and Type III hard coat anodized with an FDE finish, the rail system on the M4A1 rifle, known as the M4A1 Rail Interface System, has Santoprene heat-resistant rails. Daniel Defense rifles are U.S.-made and the M4A1 ships in a Daniel Defense plastic rifle case.

8. SIG Sauer M400 Carbon FS

What makes it especially cool?

The carbon fiber fixed A1 stock and extended forend—severely cutting down the overall weight of the rifle

The SIG Sauer M400 Carbon FS shares many of the same upgrades as the desirable SIG516 Patrol rifle, but operates from a direct gas impingement system rather than gas piston. The M400 series rifles have the same nitride-treated barrels and tight fitting between the 7075-T6 aircraft grade aluminum upper and lower receivers. Chambered for 5.56mm NATO, the SIG M400 Carbon FS has a two-stage match trigger, flip-up sights, ambidextrous sling mounts, A2 flash suppressor, accessory rail and a chrome-lined bolt carrier with properly staked gas key. To keep the weight low on the M400 Carbon FS, SIG utilizes a carbon fiber fixed A1 buttstock and extended forend. Overall, the rifle is 35.1 inches long and weighs only 7 pounds. Included is a 30-round Lancer L5 magazine.

9. Windham Weaponry VEX-SS

What makes it especially cool?

The 5.56 Compass Lake chamber

The Windham Weaponry Varmint Exterminator VEX-SS rifle features a 5.56 Compass Lake chamber. This chamber has a leade that is shorter than 5.56, but not as short as .223 Remington. Further, the angle of the rifling is slightly different than standard, the overall dimensions are tighter and the bolt is matched to the chamber. This makes a more accurate rifle. Many competition shooters use a Compass Lake chamber. The VEX-SS is a gas impingement AR-15 with a 20-inch fluted precision 416R stainless steel heavy barrel with a 1:8-inch twist, target muzzle crown and bead-blast non-reflective finish. The fully polished trigger has a 5-pound pull. Windham Weaponry developed many of the features on the VEX-SS AR-15, making them in-house including the Picatinny gas block and free-floating aluminum handguard. The Varmint Exterminator includes a five-round magazine and padded, fixed skeletonized Ace buttstock.

10. DPMS Panther MINI SASS

What makes it especially cool?

The 18-inch machined 416 stainless steel, fluted, Teflon-coated non-reflective matte black barrel

The DPMS Panther MINI SASS is the 5.56mm NATO-chambered model of the LRT-SASS, which DPMS developed when the US Army solicited for a new sniper rifle platform. SASS stands for semiautomatic sniper system. This precision rifle has an 18-inch machined 416 stainless steel, fluted and Teflon-coated bull barrel with a 1:8-inch twist. The upper is an A3 flat top with free-floating rail forged from 7075-T6 aluminum. DPMS chose the Magpul PRS (Precision-Adjustable Stock) for the MINI SASS, which is adjustable for comb height and length of pull. On the rifle is a JP single-stage trigger measuring 4.5 pounds. The mid-length gas system extends the life of the rifle. DPMS incorporated its own Panther flash hider and tactical grip on the MINI SASS. Included is a Harris swiveling bipod.

For more about maintaining and shooting your AR-15, read these articles

What do you think of our choices? What you would take out or add to the list? Tell us about your favorite really cool AR-15 in the comment section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. Are you serious Ke Arms #1 …..what an overpriced assemblers rifle . 2,700 to 3,000…. You can buy proven winners like PWS,LWRC , Daniel Defense and others for way cheaper. The Tac con trigger proved to be a scam .

  2. I got the MR556A1A little over a year ago. Shot dime size groups at 100 yds. right out of the box. It’s a little heavy, compared to other AR-15’s, but it’s not unmanageable. Cleanup is a breeze. And the bolt carrier group stays clean and cool, even after hundreds of rounds. The price is about 4 times what you would pay for a Bushmaster, but do you want a Mercedes, or 4 Yugos.

  3. These are all great weapons and deserve to be listed here. My hope is that my weapon can sustain an all-night fight-to-the death fire-fight as in some places in Iraq, Afgh. I distrust the standard Army issue M4 after seeing them seize up after a few thousand rounds of intensive shooting. Direct-impingement gets super hot, super quick and cannot sustain super-intensive long-duration shooting unless you have time to cool it down and replace parts.

  4. I’d love to hear about the use of polygon rifling in the AR. I guess its like the rifling in the old HK P9S pistols. There is a company that sells these barrels online.

  5. You have got to try the Anderson AM-15 also known as the Naked Gun because it uses no oil and cleans up with soap and water. The AM-15 is an amazing weapon.

  6. These are great picks but you have left out the #1 AR platform in my opinion .. The Christensen CA-15 AR with Carbon Fiber forend and Carbon Fiber Barrel, Titanium Break with endurance and unmatched accuracy on the market.. I know allot of folks are going to say it isn’t work the article because of the price tag but with the article being “Range Envy: 10 Really Cool AR-15s” its not ” Really Cool Affordable AR-15s” I don’t believe Christensen gets the notoriety they deserve in articles like this.. I have had my CA-10 and CA-15 for a year now and would stand it up against anything both in KICK-ARS factor, weight and on the range in competition. It is truly the top of the line AR platform.

    1. Undoubtedly, the Christensen CA-15 AR is one of the premier offerings of an AR platform for those of unlimited resources, the numbers of which have diminished [significantly]1 since 2008.

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