It’s been said that there have been three generations of infantry rifles following World War II. The first generation put in place new manufacturing technologies to increase production volume of magazine-fed, select-fire service rifles like the M14. Then the private firearms industry advanced designs that reduced production cost and incorporated materials like impact-resistant polymers and aluminum to lessen weight. The select-fire M16—developed around the 5.56 cartridge—offered improved ergonomics and is an example of that second generation.
Today we are in the midst of the third generation of the modern battle rifle. And Beretta, the oldest active small-arms company, has contributed to each of them. So, we set out to examine that with this Beretta ARX100 review.
Like the M14, the first-generation 7.62 Beretta BM59 was based on the M1 Garand. It offered select-fire operation and featured a detachable 20-round magazine. The BM59 was replaced by Beretta’s AR70/90, which, until recently, has served 14 nations. In 2008 Beretta closed its recent generation gap with the introduction of the select-fire ARX 160.
The ARX line makes the most of the newest materials and quality control systems while enhancing ergonomics, lowering maintenance requirements, maximizing user adaptability and offering system integration with implements like the Beretta GLX 160 (a new 40mm grenade launcher). In the last five years, the ARX 160 has earned its place in the ranks of Albanian special forces, the Italian army, Mexico’s Federales and the military of Turkmenistan. As of this writing, special operation units in Argentina are also evaluating the ARX 160 for adoption.
I participated in a closely supervised test fire of an ARX 160 in 2011. The opportunity was accompanied by explicit instructions from a State Department letter not to report on or publish photographs I had collected. I was understandably excited to learn that I’d eventually be allowed an exclusive evaluation of the ARX 100—a civilian, semi-auto version of the ARX.
Many black rifle enthusiasts never actually believed the day would come when we could own a Beretta ARX 100. The time has arrived. The ARX 100 is a carbine that keeps to the original Italian specs, but has been adapted for U.S. manufacture. There are a small number of differences, but our patience has paid off, and the ARX 100 is the better for it.
Beretta took note of the mistakes made following the commercial introduction of the FNH-USA SCAR 16S/17S and Bushmaster ACR and intends to avoid them. Let’s be honest, we hate what we can’t afford. While their respective companies inferred that both rifles would be available for less than $2,000, the SCAR and ACR showed up at gun stores wearing much higher price tags. Beretta has set a $1,950 MSRP for the ARX 100 and is asking its distributors and dealers to hold near that.
The Multi-Caliber Option
What good is a switch-barrel design if there are no spares or caliber options readily available? The caliber-conversion option is one of the most significant advancements defining third-generation battle rifles. Although promises of a 6.8 SPC barrel for my ACR are renewed each year, I still don’t have one. Beretta, on the other hand, says that it will offer ARX spare barrels from the get-go, including a .300 Blackout kit that is expected to retail for $499. The Italian-made ARX 160 has already been chambered for 6.8 SPC II, 5.45×39 and 7.62×39, and configured to accept AK mags. I’ve seen an ARX with a nine-inch SBR barrel and am told that other calibers like the 6.8 SPC could appear in spare barrel kits sometime next year.
The 5.56 ARX 100 barrel seen here is cold-hammer-forged in Maryland (since Beretta can’t import Italian barrels for the ARX 100, it has chosen to start barrel manufacturing in its Accokeek facility). These barrels are currently given a Nitride treatment and a 1:7 twist rate. Chrome-lined spares are already issued with the Italian-made ARX 160 and may follow soon for the ARX 100. The 12- and 16-inch barrels are going to be standard in the U.S. I have been told that other twist rates and barrel lengths are being considered.
Changing an ARX barrel is almost as easy as with the Steyr AUG, and doesn’t require removal of the fore-end or action disassembly. Just lock back the bolt, pull down the barrel-latch tabs on each side of the rifle (just below the chamber area) and draw out the barrel assembly from the front. The AUG barrel removal takes a little less time, and I do like the fact that you can pull a hot barrel out of the AUG simply by grabbing the folding vertical grip (you’ll need gloves to remove a hot barrel from the ARX). When installing a barrel into the ARX, two index pins engage the barrel extension for repeatable barrel alignment and the barrel latch locks it in place. An easy trick for quick barrel installation on an ARX? Keep the piston collapsed.
(True) Ambi Controls
Ambidexterity is more than just right- and left-handed shooter equality these days. It encompasses function in combat and the need to meet unexpected challenges. More and more civilian shooters are seeking professional carbine training for defense and are learning how to engage targets from either shoulder while making the best use of cover or concealment. This makes brass ejection, as well as magazine release and selector operations, a concern for both left- and right-handed shooters.
The ARX currently addresses this better than any other rifle, since each side of the rifle virtually mirrors the other. The A2-styled grip is familiar, as are the low-profile selector switch and ambidextrous magazine release. Beretta USA indicates that the current selector may change to an AR-style selector in the near future. A third, European-style magazine-release button has been added behind the magazine well in front of the triggerguard. For whatever reason, if a magazine doesn’t simply fall away at the press of either release button, simply grab hold of the magazine while pushing up on that third release button and rip it out of the gun.
The ARX features the best design concept for a reversible charging handle yet. Like the SCAR, the ARX charging handle does reciprocate, but this can be quickly switched from right to left and vice-versa in a couple of seconds—and without tools or disassembly. Ejection can be quickly configured to either side by inserting a bullet (or other pointy object) into a mysterious hole toward the rear of the receiver. I say “mysterious” because if you weren’t aware that the crossbolt inside directs how you eject spent cases, you might overlook it entirely. (Note to Beretta: Incorporate a molded mark near this hole that indicates “Eject Left” on one side and “Eject Right” on the other side.)
Looking at the bolt head, you’ll notice two extractors positioned exactly opposite of one other. By selecting right or left ejection, the unused extractor is fixed in place and serves as the ejector. Because the upper’s ejection ports are open on both sides, there are no dustcovers to switch over and no left-hand-eject bolts with which to contend. You can go from shooting right handed with right-hand ejection to left-handed with left-hand ejection in a matter of seconds—without tools.
The magazine’s follower engages a bolt stop, locking the bolt rearward when the magazine is empty. After removing the empty or inserting a fresh mag, the operator can pull back the charging handle and release to chamber a round or press down the ambidextrous bolt release. Located on each side of the lower receiver, the bolt release is just ahead of the triggerguard. An experienced AR user may find this manual of arms unusual at first since the AR’s bolt catch is on the rifle’s left side. It is also possible that new ARX users will mistake this bolt release for the magazine release until they become more intuitively familiar with these two separate control’s locations.
- Italian troops in Afghanistan have been using the ARX 160—the select-fire predecessor to the ARX 100—for the past five years.
Third-generation battle rifles typically feature a few other characteristics. Molded receivers carry a one-piece, continuous top rail. With the need to accept a variety of red dots working in tandem with magnifiers or variable-power scopes that might need to function behind night vision or laser designators, a monolithic rail is more important than ever. Designated marksmen and snipers issued rifles with a flattop upper and a quad-rail handguard struggle to bridge the gap if an optic’s eye relief is too far forward and turrets don’t allow for independent scope rings to be mounted on the same rail section. It’s a big deal, which is why third-generation rifles all incorporate this feature.
The Beretta ARX 100 arrives with removable, flip-up sights. Although larger than other backup sight systems, it’s nice that the ARX includes a sight system right out of the box. The front sight presents a rotating post that’s adjustable for elevation and windage. The sights are calibrated for NATO-spec SS109 green-tip ammunition. For each click you get half-minute adjustment. The rear sight features a dial aperture in a rotating wheel that’s adjustable for distances out to 600 meters. It’s a functional sight system, but not one that’s ideal. Those who really care about using a backup sight will probably have a personal preference for a specific aftermarket brand anyway.
In the last 10 years, opinions on triggers have shifted. We all started with Mil-Spec triggers designed to last and typically required between six and 10 pounds of pull—often interrupted by tactile crunches. As marksmen realized that a clean, light trigger improved accuracy potential, a lot of home gunsmiths attempted to cut springs, polish surfaces and reshape geometry to get a better result. Aftermarket companies quickly realized the need for better triggers, and a host of companies developed different approaches to offering clean and light performance. When experience proved that a trigger can be too light, a happy medium evolved that is now the standard for third-generation rifles. The Beretta ARX falls into this category with a single-stage trigger that sends the hammer forward after 5½ pounds.
The Beretta ARX action is completely housed in a molded plastic shell and feels lighter than its seven-pound total weight. There are four web sling slots—two on each side of the ARX body—a 180-degree, rotating sling swivel in front of the gas block, and four QD swivel sockets for many sling carry options. Beretta will offer QD sling adaptors as an optional item. Slung or not, the weight of the ARX is distributed a little forward toward the muzzle.
Since there is no stock-housed buffer tube and spring assembly on most third-generation rifles, they typically feature a folding stock that collapses to the right. The ARX 100 uses the same four-position adjustability featured on the ARX 160. It is extremely comfortable and seems faster to use than a collapsible AR-type stock. It’s intuitive to put your hand around the aggressively checkered buttplate and use your index and middle fingers to squeeze the release lever to collapse or extend the stock 2.56 inches. For shooters who like the prone position and are six feet or taller, it’s difficult to get a firm cheekweld due to the short overall length of pull.
Originally developed to exceed the standards of the U.S. Army’s Individual Carbine test, the ARX 100 proved ultra-reliable. I’ve tested them extensively—twice. The first test session took place on a private range near Las Vegas following the 2013 SHOT Show. More recently, I took delivery of a new-in-the-box production sample and have had it to the range a number of times. With a variety of 5.56 loads, the ARX 100 occasionally produced sub-MOA groups but averaged 1½ to two MOA. Why the disparity? Well, consider the fact that the barrel is not free-floated and carries a self-contained gas-piston assembly designed for a specific barrel length.
Maintaining the ARX 100 can’t get any simpler. There are no pins to punch out and misplace, and it’s designed to operate lubricant free. In my time with both sample rifles, never a drop of oil was applied. And that’s a good thing. Those of us who have visited the Sandbox can attest to the fact that airborne dust and sand can turn oil into weapons-grade glue. With the ARX, problem solved. Even the piston is finished with a nickel boron treatment to resist carbon buildup from the venting gas at the barrel port. The only thing you’ll have to pay attention to is wiping off debris and brass shavings from the bolt face and the extractor claws after a high-volume ammo dump.
The ARX arrives with one Italian-made 30-round STANAG magazine free of markings. These are steel mags with an anti-tilt follower. I tested Magpul Gen 1 and Gen 2 PMAGs, and both function reliably in the ARX. However, Gen 3 magazines have unique feed lips that tend to rub underneath the bolt carrier and can induce a failure-to-feed malfunction. I experienced two of them while using Gen 3 PMAGs. I also evaluated the ARX with EMAGs, which presented no problems.
Beretta USA suggests a bright future for the ARX family. Beretta waited until rifles were in the warehouse (that’s why we’re seeing a mid-year introduction to dealers).
If you’re in the market for a relatively affordable third-generation battle rifle, the ARX 100 is it. It handles well, is super reliable and offers the greatest tactical flexibility of anything out there. The bench shooter looking for a single-hole paper puncher should look elsewhere, but the ARX 100 is a practical and effective carbine for dynamic shooting scenarios—and is quite capable of pinging steel silhouettes at 600 meters.