2023 Editor’s Choice Award – Caracal CAR816 A2 SBR

Caracal CAR816 A2 SBR

The most durable AR on the market today?

It’s not that DI guns don’t work; they do, and in most cases, they are excellent. But, given the harshest conditions (especially suppressed), a properly constructed piston AR has advantages. They are less finicky about ammunition, run better dirty, and require less maintenance. Less gas is directed into the action, making them run cleaner, cooler, and more quiet when suppressed.

Regarding barrel length, the 11.50” remains the most efficient and effective for LE use or civilian self-defense for those willing to deal with the NFA. At the 11.50-inch barrel length, terminal ballistics are excellent and proven at any reasonable defensive range. Choices are fewer, for sure, but thanks to Caracal USA, a new kid is on the block, and it’s a REALLY good option.

At the heart of the CAR816 A2 is Caracal’s short-stroke piston system with a three-position adjustable gas block. The entire piston mechanism is easily extracted from the front of the rifle for routine cleaning. The bolt carrier group is QPQ coated and features an anti-tilt carrier with strategic lightning cuts and a Carpenter 158 bolt.

Not just another AR

In 2013, Jeff Spalding of Caracal invited me to the UAE (United Arab Emirates) mainly to see and shoot the latest pistols and precision rifles. But we also played with an early prototype of a select-fire M4 using an outsourced short-stroke piston upper. In 2014, Chris Sirois — previously in charge of Special Weapons and Development for Sig Sauer USA — was placed in charge of product R&D and development of their new AR. While working for Sig, he spearheaded the development of the M400, 516, 716, MCX, and MPX, along with several other direct military requests. Before working for Sig, he was instrumental in developing the first HK416, giving him an unmatched pedigree. Being hired as the Operations Manager for Caracal USA resulted in the USA-made direct-impingement CAR814 A2 and piston-driven CAR816 A2 rifles.

These rifles were tested to exceed NATO standards, including a 20,000-round torture test, drop tests, and component durability and function. Destruction testing included bore obstructions in the form of dirt, grease, water, and solid projectiles. Caracal’s extractor support pin, which is machined and pressed into the barrel, along with proprietary chamber specifications, allows it to meet or exceed these bore obstruction tests — not something everyone can do. These may be the strongest ARs on the market today, and in some cases, at nearly half the price of the competition.

Receivers are forged from 7075 aluminum and given a black hard-coat anodized finish. The lower receiver features a flared magwell, a Hiperfire EDT Sharp Shooter 5.50-lb. single-stage trigger, an enlarged trigger guard, a dual paddle bolt catch/release, and an ambidextrous safety selector. The rifle ships with one translucent Lancer 30-round magazine. Out back, you’ll find a Caracal hand grip, stakeless end plate, Magpul STR buttstock

CAR816 A2 11.5” SBR

Receiver sets are forged from 7075 aluminum and receive a black hard-coat anodized finish. The lower receiver has a subtle flared magwell and is fitted with a single-stage 5.50-pound Hiperfire Enhanced Duty Trigger, dip-down trigger guard, an ambidextrous safety selector, and a custom Caracal pistol grip. You’ll find a stakeless end plate with a QD sling attachment and Magpul STR buttstock on the buffer tube. The 11.50-inch barrel is made from 4150 CMV, coated in QPQ, has a modified M4 contour, is given a 1:7 twist, and is capped with an A2 birdcage flash hider. The rifle’s short-stroke piston system incorporates a three-position adjustable gas block. The bolt carrier group is QPQ coated and features an anti-tilt carrier and Carpenter 158 bolt. The nine-inch handguard uses a key lock for anti-tilt, with integrated QD sling-attachment points, M-LOK accessory slots at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, and a full-length Picatinny top strip.

The QPQ-coated 11.50-inch CMV barrel features a 1:7 twist and an AR Birdcage flash hider from the factory. We swapped out the factory muzzle device for a B&T ratchet QD mount to utilize a B&T M.A.R.S. suppressor for a portion of testing. The slim 9.10-inch handguard has integrated QD sling-attachment points, M-LOK accessory slots, a full-length Picatinny top strip, and a key lock system for a solid interface. Aiming solutions used for testing included Steiner’s rugged DRS1X red-dot battle sight and DBAL-A3, featuring visible and IR laser aiming and IR illumination.

On the Range

The first thing I noticed was how well-built this rifle feels. It’s a rugged, precision machine and feels like it is in your hands. Recoil was noticeably absent — especially with the 55-grain ammunition. Heavier than most DI rifles, piston systems tend to make for a soft shooting experience. The shorter length made it easier to carry, and the weight distribution was about perfect.

For testing, I mounted Steiner’s multi-reticle and rugged DRS1X red-dot battle sight. Downrange precision was very solid. Black Hills’ 77-grain TMK load yielded my best group at 100 yards, measuring around 1.5 inches with the non-magnifying Steiner. Black Hills 55-grain Barnes TSX was not much bigger, and the Speer 55-grain Gold Dot was about 1.75 inches. All were produced using a bag as a rest standing behind a bench — not perfect, just real-world stuff. A magnified optic and an actual shooting bench would have undoubtedly yielded even better results.

Reliability was excellent, with positive and consistent ejection. The bolt is lighter than most piston versions, providing some bolt-carrier speed and leading to a really well-tuned rifle. Much work went into making this rifle run like a watch, and all efforts paid dividends.

Black Hills’ 77-grain TMK load gave the best five-shot-group performance at 100 yards, measuring around 1.5 inches with the non-magnifying Steiner. A great showing from the bench and a magnified optic would have certainly facilitated even better results.

Final Thoughts

My very small stable of SBR ARs that would go back to some sort of LE work has expanded by one. Accurate, reliable, smooth, and overall, a very well-thought-out design; it just does not get much better in an 11.50-inch SBR. If you need a piston rifle, particularly a short one, you really need to take a very close look at the On Target Editors’ Choice Award-winning CAR816 A2. Check one out in person at your nearest dealer, or for more information, contact Caracal; Tel.: (208) 323-8727; E-mail: [email protected]; Web: www.caracalusa.comDave Bahde


Caliber:                      5.56mm NATO

Barrel:                        11.50 inches/1:7 twist

OA Length:                31.50 inches

Weight:                      7 pounds

Sights:                        Top Rail

Stock / Grip:              Magpul STR Stock/Caracal Grip

Action:                        Semi-Automatic/Short-Stroke Piston

Finish:                        Black Hard Coat Anodized

Capacity:                   30; Accepts AR15 magazines

Price:                          $1849.00

Ammunition Tested                              Velocity                                  Group Size

Black Hills 55 grain TSX                             3000                                       1.75 Inches

Barnes VOR-TX 55 grain TSX                     2950                                       1.60 Inches

Black Hills 77 grain TMK                            2540                                       1.50 Inches

Black Hills 50 Grain TSX                            3200                                       1.80 Inches

Speer Golf Dot 55 Grain                             3100                                       1.75 Inches

Groups tested using a bag for a rest while standing behind a bench. The best group is shown over five five-shot groups from 100 yards. Velocity was measured using a Magneto Speed V3.

Outside of being a great-shooting platform, the CAR816 A2 was engineered to successfully pass the US military and NATO standards for light arms and shoulder-fired weapons and has been subjected to some of the most rigorous and abusing factory testing ever — to include sand, mud, water, saltwater, extreme temperatures, solid/liquid bore obstruction, 20,000 round durability/reliability/accuracy cycles, and more. Need one rifle to give you reliable service no matter what? The CAR816 A2 checks this box.