I’m old enough to remember when there were pistols, and there were rifles, and you could tell the difference at a glance. But I’ll admit, I’m also old enough to remember rotary dial telephones and rabbit-ear antennas. But even most of the youngsters among us can remember the advent of the AR pistol form factor. Initially designed, I’m convinced, as a way to thumb one’s nose at the inherent lunacy of legal and regulatory restrictions and classifications – it took off as a legitimate and fairly lucrative operating space in the firearms market.
I’ll confess that I have personally struggled to fall in love with the “AR Pistol” form factor because I have found it generally difficult to wield as a pistol. All that weight out at the end of your arm can be hard to manage for more than a few seconds at a time, and most arm brace designs force the gun into a configuration where it is nearly impossible to see open sights properly. However, that struggle is over – and I have fallen in love with the pistol configuration available from Robinson Armament Co.
This review is based on the Model XCR-L chambered in 7.62×39, but other than a very few caliber-specific characteristics, it would apply universally to the XCR-L in general. Additionally, with the exception of the arm brace and the use of the word ‘pistol’, everything in this review would also relate directly to the Robinson XCR-L rifle platform.
I didn’t know much about Robinson Armament until just a few years ago, and it is likely that many folks know little or nothing about their products – so let’s start there. The Robinson Arms design, XCR was an initial hopeful for government contracts and competed in the SCAR trials. Well, I say “competed” lightly – because it was essentially disqualified at the starting gate for what many (this author included) consider to be a very superficial reason. “XCR” is and abbreviation for eXchangable Caliber Rifle – and the “-L” suffix is for “light” calibers. I would describe the gun as a hybrid of AR-15, AK-47, SCAR, and Innovation. It is the most ergonomic design I’ve personally used.
Exchangeable calibers for the XCR-L include: 5.56, .300 BLK, 7.62×39, 6.8 SPC, 6.5 GREN, .224 VALK, and it is available in several barrel lengths as a rifle and as seen here, as a pistol. Our copy of the gun is configured as a pistol, which includes the tailhook arm brace – the difference between a highly functioning rifle-caliber pistol and a clumsy oddity.
HOW IT’S MADE
The Robinson design successfully borrows the best elements of several different types of guns, and then adds its own innovative elements. The result is the most user-friendly gun of its kind that I have used. For starters, it is fully ambidextrous. All the operating controls function left or right side – with equal efficiency and feel. That is, except for the charging handle, which is on the left side of the gun. The handle is nicely covered in a round hard rubber material that makes it friendly to operate. It is non-reciprocating, so no danger to hand placement while shooting.
My favorite control on the gun is the ambidextrous bolt catch/release. It is located at the front end of the bottom of the trigger guard – with mirror controls on each side. A simple swipe down with the trigger finger releases the bolt home to chamber a round. Also as easy, just putting some upward pressure on the control while running the bolt back will engage the catch. This is about a thousand times easier than finding the tiny handle of a miniature ping-pong paddle.
The magazine release and safety switches are both nicely located with good reach for the average finger or thumb – and completely intuitive to shooters.
The arm brace controls are both simple and sophisticated. The brace is of high-quality materials and well finished. It is adjustable for length via a simple “squeeze release” located on either side of the unit, with a locking wheel just below, to keep it set in the sweet spot. And if you don’t want to collapse it and have to find that sweet spot again but want to make it small for storage or transport – it folds. The spring-loaded folding hinge will take the brace a full 180 degrees and lock it in place. When deployed, it is a precision part with no perceivable wiggling or jiggling while shooting or handling. The tail hook portion of the brace deploys downward to the right with the push of a button to unlock it. To re-collapse it, simply snap it back into place and the latch engages automatically.
The use of the tailhook is simple. You grip the pistol with your strong hand while allowing the lower “hook” to fall under your forearm. When you extend the gun, the weight and leverage will bring the hook into contact with your arm and provide balance and stability. The gun as shown weighs in at 7 lbs., but it feels much lighter with the brace. Best of all, you do not have to try to contort your arm in an unnatural way as most strap-on braces demand, and you can easily acquire and maintain a perfect sight picture. For me, this takes the gun from novelty to practical.
Perhaps most interesting about the design of the gun is the ease of field strip. The upper and lower receivers are attached in two points. Out front is a removable pin on which the parts can pivot for most cleaning and maintenance needs, or be removed for separation. The big difference is the one-button release of the upper receiver that does not require you to pop a pin through.
Simply depress the takedown button fully forward (it is held in place via the recoil spring) and tilt the upper forward. You will then see that this button is a permanent attachment to the operating rod assembly. From that assembly, the bolt carrier is suspended and easily removed for maintenance. The bolt is a hefty 3-lug design and incorporates a fixed key that is a milled-in part. One less small part to deal with or lose.
For simple cleaning, the bolt is easily stripped and re-assembled, with few parts to work with. The only small part is the keeper pin that retains the firing pin in the bolt. Full detail stripping requires a bit more disassembly – which I have not yet done.
SHOOTING THE XCR-L
Two words: muzzle blast. But I mean that in the bestest, funnest, most ‘Merica way! 7.62×39 ammunition is generally formulated for a minimum of 16 inches of barrel. Shorten it to nearly half that length, and then stick a triple-port muzzle break on for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a boom stick! This gun makes sure that all your senses are awake and enjoying range day. Now, if that sounds ominous or negative in any way, it’s not. The only real precaution I will share is to make sure you have extra-good earpro, because it is loud. I wear expensive custom-made in-the-ear protectors, and I thought I might like more. Between the volume, the concussion, and the muzzle flash – you can be sure that you’ll be grinning from ear to ear – and drawing a crowd.
I did all my shooting at 25 yards, at which distance the gun was accurate with even the cheap steel cased stuff, but loved the Herter’s 122-grain load, that put a five-shot group in 5/8” and made the best three of those nearly impossible to measure. That was strictly open sights that had not even been adjusted, as can be seen by the location of the groups. I have little doubt of its capabilities out to 100 yards as being reliable, especially when paired with ammo it likes.
Recoil is extremely manageable, and I found that shooter fatigue with this much weight on the extended arm was not much of a factor. Again, I credit the tailhook brace for providing a natural stance with excellent support. In the full course of testing, I had two rounds of TulAmmo with hard primers that had to be struck twice to light – but no other issues of any kind. Feeding and ejection are flawless, far better than other similarly chambered guns I’ve tested.
Above all, the XCR-L is just plain fun to shoot. And make no mistake, this is far from a range toy. The practical and tactical uses for this gun are immediately clear, and it is undoubtedly up to the task. I found that a two-hand grip (exactly as you would grip any pistol) was comfortable, offered excellent control, and helped avoid fatigue. This would make quite a formidable defensive weapon but is tame enough for about every authorized family member to effectively use.
JUST MY OPINION
I went pretty quickly from near-total ignorance of Robinson Arms products to full-fledged fanboy in the space of shooting a few magazines of .300 Blackout in an XCR-L in SBR configuration some time back. I was interested to see how it would perform with the iconic Russian round, and it met every expectation.
Robinson Armament Co. is still a boutique-sized company with a product that is not yet in the general awareness of shooters. Even many hardcore shooters I know heard about Robinson for the first time when I mentioned it to them. The better mousetrap does not always take over the marketplace. In my opinion, this is a far better mousetrap, and you’ll do yourself a favor to check one out. That said, they are not for the budget-minded shooter. Not too many guns go out the door for under $2,000. The MSRP on this gun as tested is $2,330.00. For that, you get outstanding quality and performance in a unique and innovative package – available in a wide variety of chamberings. For this price, I would like to see better sights on the gun. The plastic flip-up sights do the job okay, but they stand out as very sub-par in quality to the rest of the gun. My only other gripe is the stock A2-style pistol grip. Here again, I would like to see upscale OEM parts, or a choice when the order is placed. These are easy to upgrade, but for a premium gun at a premium price – you shouldn’t have to.
The gun does come in a very nice range-ready ballistic nylon, padded carrying case, and the user’s manual is detailed and easy to follow. One magazine ships with the gun – capacity determined by your local limitations.
Robinson Arms is a company that is pushing the envelope and should have had an opportunity for military contracts. If you’re serious about what you buy and what you shoot – this is one you need to look at.
This “gun” seems to me to be an answer to a non existence problem! Grumpy