The AR 15 market is easily described as ‘crowded.’ You can purchase a AR 15 at basically any price point. At one point, DPMS Oracle rifles were going for roughly $399 at gun stores. On the flip side, AR 15s can easily hit the several thousand dollar mark. Today, we will look at the difference between a roughly $600 AR 15 and a $1,200 AR 15. We’ll test reliability, accuracy, and ergonomics. Can the budget AR 15 keep up?
Both guns are mutts. The $600 AR 15 is a PSA Classic upper on an Anderson lower. Everything on this gun is stock, except for the pistol grip and rear plate with the dual sling loops. The $1,200 AR 15 is a Colt EPR upper on a Bravo company lower. Everything on this gun is stock from the factory.
To keep things fair and eliminate variables, I utilized the same ammo, magazine, and optic. Ammunition wise I went with 62 grain, brass-cased Federal FMJs. Magazines were the Daniel Defense DD32 magazines, and the optic is the new Spitfire 3X prism sight from Vortex. Using the same ammo, same mags, and same optics should eliminate any performance issues between the guns from external sources.
Both of these rifles are mine and were purchased by me. Nothing has been provided outside of the optic’s loan from Vortex.
Before we head to the range, let’s examine the external differences between the two rifles. Performance is important, but a lot of what you get for your hard-earned dinero is what’s included on the outside.
AR 15 Contestants — Initial Impressions
First and foremost, what likely grabs your attention the most is the handguards. The PSA utilizes a two-piece polymer handguard that’s rather plain. No rails, no slots for rails or accessories, but it’s pretty light — and light is nice. On the flip side, the EPR AR 15 upper utilizes a Centurion Arms M-LOK rail.
The Centurion Arms rail is a free-floating design with plenty of space to add all your goodies. It’s also longer and allows you to reach further down the gun to control the weapon better. This rail will enable you to mount accessories and is stable enough to utilize a laser and retain zero.
Now another big difference is the front sight base (FSB) on the PSA AR 15 upper. It’s a fixed front sight, and it works well. It crowds the view through an optic and limits your rail options, but the FSB is a tough front sight. PSA does not include a rear sight with the upper. The Colt EPR upper comes with Magpul pro folding metal sights that are robust, durable, and stay out of the way when an optic is mounted.
Ander includes a basic M4 style stock and A2 pistol grip. The BCM lower uses BCM Gunfighter furniture. I love this stock and find it provides a ton of comfort, as well as multiple sling points.
Up Close Differences
The external differences are note-worthy, and when you get up close, you can see some more differences worth noting. First, the fit between the uppers and lowers. The $600 AR 15 is sloppier than a pig in mud. It rattles and moves, and the gap between the upper and lower is big enough to see through.
The opposite is valid with the $1,200 AR 15. The upper and lower have an excellent tight fit that’s clean and doesn’t rattle around. When you look closely at the end of the barrels, both wear A2-style flash hiders. The $600 AR 15’s flash hider is crooked, just a hair from being perfectly straight. That isn’t an issue with the $1,200 AR 15.
Both BCGs feature staked gas keys, but you can see the difference between the staking. Colt’s is done aggressively and uniformly. PSAs not so much. Colt’s is done from the side and PSA from the top. However, some of the PSA marks barely hit both the bolt and key. Colt’s BCG is both high pressure tested and magnetic particle inspection tested. PSA doesn’t seem to do the same testing from what I could find.
To The Range
The first round of testing was simple. Zero and then accuracy test the guns and optics. Both wore 3X optics, and I zeroed at 50 yards. After assuming an excellent prone position, I tried my best to wring out the accuracy of each gun. On paper targets, the Colt immediately showed an advantage inaccuracy. It’s slight but noticeable.
I shot the PSA and Anderson rifle a fair bit more to try and get better and better groups for comparison. At the end of the day, the average group between the two rifles was significant. The BCM lower provided a much better trigger. It’s a short pull, a wall, then bang, and it’s consistently the same trigger pull for every shot.
The Anderson trigger was sloppy with a fair bit of take-up and an inconsistent wall. Neither AR 15 has a match-grade trigger, but the BCM proved superior by a fair bit. I also noticed the Anderson/PSA rifle seemed to have stiffer recoil. Both guns have carbine length gas systems, and both have the same weight buffers. This might point to over-gassing and one having a wider gas port than the other.
AR 15 Drills
From here, I had a little fun and did some various drills. Failure to stop, VTAC 1-5, snapshots, multiple position shooting, and more. I ran through 300 rounds with each rifle. The $1,200 rifle had zero malfunctions, and the $600 rifle had four. Two of the four malfunctions were ammunition-based and didn’t fire when the firing pin struck the primer.
I tossed the two rounds into the Colt upper, and they fired without issue. One was a failure to extract fully, and the final was the bolt failing to go into battery when I reloaded. A quick tap of the forward assist sent it home, and the gun functioned accordingly.
The increased recoil from the budget gun does affect par times slightly. The short handguard limits control and doesn’t help with muzzle rise. I also imagine the rough cycling action beats the heck out of the gun and limits its lifespan. The softer shooting $1200 AR 15 just feels fantastic and cuts fractions of a second off of my drill times.
I’m not the type to make fun of ‘the poor,’ but I think it’s important to understand that guns are often like everything else. You get what you pay for.
There is certainly a place for the $600 rifle and other similar budget-tier guns. I love cheap guns, and as the proud owner of a Hi-Point Yeet Cannon, I think I know that cheap guns can work.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that when you spend $1,200 on a rifle, you aren’t ‘just buying the name.’ Is the extra $600 worth the performance difference? Well, that’s up for you to decide.