IWI Zion-15 SBR

IWI Zion-15 SBR

By: Chris Mudgett

The jack-of-all-trades carbine

If you’re in the market for a general-purpose AR-15 with the intention of accessorizing it with top-quality components to wring the most out of the platform, you may have just found your base platform, and it won’t break the bank. Interested in hearing more? C’mon on in, and let’s check it out.

Please meet IWI’s Zion-15 SBR (short-barreled rifle), featuring a 12.5-inch barrel coupled with a mid-length gas system. Yes, you heard that right, with a mid-length gas system and, refreshingly, with an MSRP of $899. I’ll cut to the chase right away and say it is my opinion that a 12.5-inch modern AR-15 is the ultimate general-purpose carbine. One that, when properly equipped, becomes the jack of all trades. Now, there are a ton of variables to consider, such as your intended role, geographic location, expected uses, and the list can go on, but if you want just one gun to cover all your bases, you’ve come to the right place.

The Zion-15’s chrome-moly, 1:8 twist 12.50-inch barrel length is considered by many to be the “Goldilocks” SBR length due to its balance between length and muzzle velocity. An A2 Birdcage flash hider is factory equipment and was swapped out for a Dead Air Silencers (www.deadairsilencers.com) Keymo QD muzzle device and Sierra 5 suppressor for a portion of testing. The 11.5-inch forend features a full-length Picatinny top rail with M-LOK slots cut along its entire length at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock.

The 12.5-inch barrel strikes a balance in the weight-and-package-size-to-velocity ratio, effectively splitting the difference between the popular 10.5-inch and 16-inch variants. The 12.5 performs much closer to the 16-inch in the velocity department, of which 5.56 ammunition requires the requisite amount to perform effectively. With that said, the 12.5-inch barrel handles much closer to its 10.5-inch brethren; it’s light, well-balanced, handy, and proportionate. If you haven’t test-driven a twelve-five yet, I highly recommend you do so for these reasons.

Favored by many specialized military personnel, the six-position B5 Systems SOPMOD buttstock features dual built-in water-resistant battery storage compartments, anti-rotational QD sling mounts, and a no-slip rubber buttpad. It’s paired with a B5 Systems Type 23 P-Grip polymer pistol grip.

IWI’s Zion-15 is a proven, well-built, well-equipped, value-priced model that checks the boxes for most shooters. The B5 Systems SOPMOD buttstock, which quickly and easily adjusts to six different positions along the receiver extension, is one of the top-performing and most comfortable stocks currently on the market. The SOPMOD provides an ideal interface between shooter and rifle, with a comfortable cheek weld to effectively manage recoil and wring out accuracy. These are some of the many reasons you’ll commonly see these stocks on Recce or M4-Sniper systems by specialized personnel.

Helping the rifle come in under the $900 mark, nothing fancy is going on with the receiver group of the Zion-15 SBR — just quality construction, Mil-Spec components, and excellent fit and finish throughout. Need more? Shooter-specific upgrades are easy add-ons.

The forged lower receiver is standard fare, meaning it forgoes ambidextrous controls, which helps keep the price competitive and within reach of most shooters. IWI equipped the Zion-15 with a Mil-Spec single-stage trigger that gets the job done, and one certainly acceptable at this rifle’s price point. If you’re a trigger snob, the trigger is quickly and easily swapped out with your preferred model. A B5 Systems Type 23 P-Grip polymer pistol grip provides good vertical rake, allowing the rifle to be pulled tightly into your shoulder during aggressive courses of fire; other attributes include hand-filling ergonomics and heavy texturing for an all-weather non-slip grip.

The 7075-T6 aerospace-grade aluminum alloy upper receiver is much the same as the lower, which is to say, pretty standard. The 11.5-inch M-LOK compatible, free-float handguard doesn’t degrade accuracy, and its narrow outer diameter allows for a secure purchase in most hands, leading to a high degree of control and a confidence-inspiring feeling in hand. A full-length Picatinny rail resides up top, and M-LOK compatible slots are located along the length of the rail at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Additional slots have been carved out of the handguard to not only reduce weight but also increase cooling — a desirable feature when the rate of fire increases. IWI paid particular attention to the mating of the handguard to the upper. There is no perceivable gap between the two, demonstrating a high level of attention to detail and engineering.

The Zion-15’s extremely reasonable buy-in leaves room for quality components where it counts, such as high-end optics. Used for the majority of testing, it doesn’t get much more rugged or high-end than Trijicon’s 1-8x VCOG riflescope (www.trijicon.com.) The rifle’s bolt carrier and barrel are coated in matte black oxide for additional corrosion resistance.

The internal surface areas of both the bolt carrier and gas key have been chrome-plated, and the latter has been properly staked to ensure no movement or gas leakage, even after extensive firing. Like the barrel, each has been finished with a matte black oxide for additional corrosion resistance.

The 5.56-chambered, cold-hammer-forged chrome-moly steel 12.5-inch barrel features a 1:8 twist and is fitted with a mid-length gas system that is well-tuned to the platform. Felt recoil was smooth and minimal, and I did not observe any excess gas blowback — even with a suppressor attached — making for a very pleasant shooting experience. Ejection remained consistent across all rounds tested. In addition to the rounds listed in the performance chart, I shot a quantity of 55-grain Federal XM193 5.56 FMJs through the platform, and they also functioned flawlessly, thanks, in part, to M4 feed ramps.

100-yard performance was outstanding, with the best-of-test five-shot group coming in a one-inch even with Hornady’s 75-grain TAP 5.56 load.

The IWI Zion-15 was performance tested at the 100-yard line with a 2.5-10x optic to help wring out its accuracy potential. It performed exceptionally well, made even more impressive by the fact that this is a no-frills, sub-$900 base carbine. The best five-shot group was achieved using Hornady 75-grain TAP, measuring exactly 1.00-inch center to center. Black Hills 69-grain Match was hot on its heels with a 1.17-inch group. Not only did the Hornady and Black Hills rounds perform in the accuracy department, but they were also both designed specifically for use in short-barreled AR platforms.

The Zion-15’s mid-length gas system made for a noticeably smoother recoil impulse than the typical carbine-length SBR gas system, and to further aid in the control of the rifle, the slim forend allowed for a solid wraparound purchase of the shooter support hand. Reliability was 100 percent with all loads throughout testing.

Short-barreled rifles have always had a certain level of sex appeal, and a 12.5-inch modern AR is dripping with it while also being incredibly functional and perhaps the ultimate length for a general-purpose fighting rifle. Without question, this configuration is the author’s favorite. Mate this IWI Zion-15 SBR with a quality low-powered-variable optic, and you’ve got a base rifle that will do it all and do it all very well. Check it out at your nearest dealer, or for more information, contact IWI; Tel.: (717) 695-2081; Web: www.iwi.us


Caliber:                      5.56 NATO

Action:                       Semi-Automatic/Direct Impingement

Barrel:                        12.5 in., 1:8 twist

OA Length:                 29.50 in. to 32.75 in.

Weight:                      6.5 lbs

Sights:                       Picatinny rail

Stock/Grip:                B5 Systems SOPMOD/Type 23 P-Grip

Finish:                       Matte Black Oxide

Capacity:                   30; accepts AR15 based magazines

Price:                         $899

Performance Chart

Federal XM193 55-grain 5.56

Best Group: 1.58

Average Group: 2.03

Black Hills 69-grain OTM 5.56

Best Group: 1.17

Average Group: 1.35

Hornady 75-grain TAP 5.56

Best Group: 1.00

Average Group: 1.45