Product Review: The Colt LE901-16S 'Modular Carbine'

Colt is now building "big" parts to the same hammer-forged, tank-tough, particle-inspected standards as the millions of AR15/M16/M4 rifles theyaaa€sA¬aa€z?ve built over their roughly 50 years of production

A few months ago when I reviewed two new Colt firearms, a 5.56mm carbine and a stainless steel 1911, I was made aware of a revolutionary rifle due out mid-2012, the new LE901-16S Modular Carbine. Well, my Colt trilogy is complete and, once again, I am impressed!

When Eugene Stoner developed his “space age” rifle designs at Armalite, the first combat rifle put into production in 1955 wasn’t the now-widely-used 5.56mm caliber AR15, but the ill-fated AR10.

About 10,000 select-fire AR10 rifles were ultimately produced for Portugal and a few other small armies, but the US’ M14, Heckler & Koch’s G3 and FN’s FAL battle rifles ruled in the rest of the 7.62mm NATO non-communist world. So, Armalite worked their way up to design number “15” chambered for a .22 caliber Remington-designed cartridge, and the .30 caliber AR10 was lost to history.

Fast forward to the late 1980’s when Knight’s Armament scaled up the AR15 design to handle the 7.62mm NATO round, calling it the SR-25, which was fielded by some US SpecOps units, primary in a sniping role.

In 1995, Eagle Arms changed its name to Armalite after they obtained the license to the old name and trademark. Armalite resurrected the “big” AR as the AR10B, though again, it was a scaled-up AR15 design, not the original AR10. Now, most major AR manufacturers build their own variation of a .30 caliber black rifle, and Colt has joined the race... with an interesting twist.

The New Colt LE901-16S “Modular Carbine”
There is almost zero parts interchangeability between the various .30 caliber AR rifles, except for those parts they have in common with the AR15, such as lower-receiver fire control parts, sights and buttstocks. Even magazines are unlikely to interchange between brands.

Now, Colt is in the game and building “big” parts to the same hammer-forged, tank-tough, particle-inspected standards as the millions of AR15/M16/M4 rifles they’ve built over their roughly 50 years of production. Until now, I was perfectly satisfied with a 5.56mm fast-shooter and a bolt-action 7.62mm (.308 Winchester) sniper rifle.

The new Colt LE901-16S “Modular Carbine” has changed that and just as I was contemplating what to sell off to buy the test rifle, Colt pulled out the rug, requiring me to return serial #144 so it could go to the next reviewer.

Now I have time to reflect, should I shell out the $$ for yet another rifle I don’t really need...

The LE901-16S is essentially a big brother to the 5.56mm ALEC carbine I tested earlier this year. The 901 sports the same monolithic receiver with an extended Picatinny rail. Both carbines sport a 16 inch barrel, folding iron sights and a collapsible butt stock.

The .308 model is about three inches longer (37.25 inches) and one pound and ten ounces heavier. The 901 comes with two 20-round MagPul polymer magazines, a sling with two Quick-Detach swivels, and a cleaning kit.

Three 'Special' Parts
The really cool thing about Colt’s .308 caliber rifle is three “special” parts — a spare buffer and recoil spring and an aluminum adapter that allows you to mount any mil-spec 5.56mm upper receiver on the .308-sized lower receiver (or 6.8mm SPC, 6.5 Grendel or 7.62x39mm or other assorted caliber upper receiver variations).

I haven’t fully worked out all of the “practical” reasons for having one lower receiver that will take multi-sized upper receivers, but the whole concept is REALLY cool!

And, it works perfectly! You can literally reconfigure it from a 7.62mm caliber battle rifle to a 5.56mm patrol rifle in less than a minute. There isn’t even much of a weight disadvantage to using a 5.56mm upper on the big lower … my scale reads only four ounces heavier than when the 5.56mm ALEC is mounted on its standard lower, because most of the 901’s extra weight is in the barrel and massive bolt/carrier.

The Modular Carbine is noticeably heavier in a CQB role when fully tricked out with a loaded 20 round magazine, sling, flashlight and a 1-6x scope like the CRS-16 model from Norden Performance shown in the photo (about 14 pounds total weight). While the big Colt balances well enough to be usable in the CQB role, that mission is best handled with a lighter 5.56mm upper in place.

However, with a 1-4x or 1-6x magnified optic and bipod on the big “.30” it becomes an entirely different beast. I evaluate CQB handling using a .22 rimfire conversion in a 5.56mm carbine, engaging a plate rack as quickly as possible at distances from 25-5 yards. The 901 refused to function with my rimfire adapter in a 5.56mm upper, the bigger bolt catch got in the way, but it was perfect with 5.56mm ammo and the normal bolt.

Doens't Quite Equal
The accuracy of #144 doesn’t quite equal the Colt 5.56mm ALEC carbine, which will routinely punch ½ MOA 3-shot groups with match-grade ammunition. The best I achieved with one match-grade load in the .308 is about 1 MOA, which is our “minimum acceptable” sniper rifle accuracy standard.

A .308 caliber rifle begs to reach out and touch someone, but in Illinois where I live, getting on a rifle range longer than 200 yards can be tough.

So, I took the big Colt along on a trip to my old haunts in the wild west of Wyoming, where men are men and sheep are …. Well, where shooting at long range only requires a short drive out of town and a laser rangefinder.

My recently-retired road partner Mark Nelson supplied the steel gong and laser rangefinder we needed to see what the .308 would do at distance. We started at 200 yards, using a Millett 1-4x scope I had zeroed on the 901 before leaving Illinois (hey, you never know when you might drive past a Highway Patrol officer in need of a little high-powered backup!).

Prone with a bipod, the first .308 bullet was dead-on target and smacked the gong with an impressive “thwack!” Mark “tinged” the gong with his 5.56mm and the difference in terminal power was quite obvious.

Starting a 147-155 grain bullet at about 2,600 feet per second from a 16 inch barrel, the .308 Winchester round completely outclasses ANY 5.56mm load.

We steadily worked our way back to a quarter mile (440 yards) before the July heat became too brutal and the wind too strong to continue. Even at a distance few police snipers have exceeded in training, the Colt LE901 was ridiculously easy to keep on the 8x10-inch gong, though I did switch to a Leupold 3.5-10x sniper scope at 440 yards.

A hold just off the right edge of the target was enough to compensate for a gusty wind that would have blown a 5.56mm projectile twice as far. Before I quit, I punched off four shots in a steady cadence, about 1 to 1.5 seconds between rounds, and the loud smacks and swinging target confirmed that, even from a 16-inch barrel, the .308 packs quite a wallop at a quarter-mile.

The best accuracy we got was with the Black Hills Gold 155 grain Amax load from Black Hills Ammunition. The Amax is a match-grade bullet produced by Hornady, which also happens to give devastating terminal performance (see gelatin terminal ballistics illustrations).

This little devil was stealthily stalking us, bent on homicide. I could see it in his eyes through the 4x scope! (PoliceOne Image)

A Rockchuck Bent on Homicide
Like most AR-style weapons, the Colt .308 needs a better trigger for top performance, but that is my only complaint.

Since there is no “standard” for a .308-size AR, Colt took the liberty of adding a few great features, like an ambidextrous magazine release and a semi-ambidextrous action lock.

You can’t lock the action open with the right-side control lever, but you can release the bolt to chamber the first round, simply reach up a bit with your trigger finger and she’s loaded.

The direct-impingement gas-operated rifle performed flawlessly in either the 7.62mm or 5.56mm configuration. I only cleaned the rifle once during the testing with 300+ rounds of assorted factory, reloaded and military surplus ammo.

It even rode along on a high-mountain fishing trip over 35 round-trip miles of the most brutally rough ATV trails I’ve ever experienced, holding zero well enough to protect our camp from a blood-thirsty rockchuck who was stealthily stalking us, bent on homicide (I could see it in his eyes through the 4x scope!).

All in all, the big Colt is the smoothest handling and most substantial “feeling” of the .30 caliber AR models I’ve fired.

Middle of the Price Range
With a retail price of $2129, the LE901-16S falls about in the middle of the price range quoted by other manufacturers, and it is truly made to military-grade specifications, unlike those in the lower-end of the price range.

If you’re worried about buying a “new” design, choosing to let them work the bugs out before you jump, the Colt 901 is already debugged. The .308 version has been standardized for quite a while, and Colt has been busy filling military contracts for the select-fire version.

If you are considering a more powerful carbine for the Designated Marksman role, with a .308 caliber weapon using mid-magnification optics, I suggest you take a serious look at the Colt LE901-16S Modular Carbine.

I’m seriously considering one myself... anybody want to buy a ½ MOA bolt-action sniper rifle still in the prime of life?

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