In my book, the 6.5 Grendel is the top performer when it comes to AR-15-sized cartridges that can reach longer ranges. This is a strong statement that will inevitably hurt some feelings, but the math says I’m right.
Alexander Arms recently unveiled their Highlander Pistol in 6.5 Grendel. This pistol comes with an 11-inch barrel, one of the best stabilization braces on the market and allows the shooter to put the hurt on fur and steel out to several hundred yards. It’d be hard to pack more performance into a smaller package.
An 11-Inch 6.5 Grendel?
Nothing makes a firearm faster and handier to use than shortening the barrel. If you look at the number of AR-15 rifles that sell, the overwhelming majority of them have the shortest legal barrel (16 inches) that requires no National Firearms Act (NFA) paperwork.
The reason short barrels are popular is life gets easier with a shorter barrel. Guns get lighter, are easier to swing on target and are more convenient to transport and store with a short barrel.
Thanks to an unexpected outbreak of 2nd Amendment promotion at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), it is now possible to enjoy an even shorter barrel on an AR-15 without having to pay an extra $200 tax. This is the only time in my life where government bureaucracy saved me money and allowed me to have more fun at the same time.
This 11-inch 6.5 Grendel creates more energy at 200 yards than any 5.56 load offers at the muzzle from a 20-inch barrel. At almost half the length, the 6.5 Grendel has considerably more energy at all distances when compared to a 5.56.
My top pick for a factory load out of this pistol would be Hornady’s 123-grain ELD Match. It leaves the muzzle at 2,300 feet per second (fps) and has a G1 ballistic coefficient (BC) of .506. The higher the ballistic coefficient, the easier it is for the bullet to retain velocity. This tidy little combination yields good terminal performance out to 450 yards, and it stays supersonic to 1,050 yards (assuming a standard atmosphere).
In addition to retaining velocity well, the ELD Match has a polymer tip that ensures the bullet fragments or expands on contact. Match bullets have thin jackets on them, which is advantageous at these modest velocities. However, without a mechanism to quickly make the bullet perform, a match bullet can function identically to a full metal jacket (FMJ).
Putting a polymer tip on the ELD Match combines a thin jacket with rapid expansion. The polymer tip quickly opens the bullet on contact, maximizing terminal performance.
Shooting steel with the Highlander is no problem out to 1,000 yards because it stays supersonic the whole time. Also, the bullet stays above the 1,600-fps minimum-impact velocity necessary to get the bullet to open up out to 450 yards. This one gun could do everything a guy needs for hunting thin-skinned game or defense and still handle dinging steel at 1,000 yards. All this is in a package that measures 26 inches long and only weighs 5.5 pounds.
One of the things I like about Alexander Arms is the amount of testing and research that they conduct prior to bringing any product to market. They invented the 6.5 Grendel in 2003 and have been building rifles for it ever since. All of the knowledge acquired from that testing and development goes into each rifle they make.
The company has spent a lot of time testing bolt materials for their AR-pattern firearms. The 6.5 Grendel uses a bolt with the same external dimensions as one chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, but the bolt face had to be opened up from .376 to .439 inch. That leaves only a thin band of bolt material surrounding the cartridge case head. Removing material for the bolt face puts some additional strain on the bolt lugs, so Alexander Arms wanted to find a better material than the Mil-Spec Carpenter 158 chosen for use in the AR bolt back in 1957.
Carpenter 158 has low amounts of sulphur and phosphate, so it has a very predictable wear cycle. However, this makes it sensitive to the heat-treating process, and if done incorrectly, Carpenter 158 bolts won’t last long in any rifle. Unfortunately, there is no way to look at an AR bolt and tell if the heat-treating process was done correctly.
Alexander Arms started testing 9310 steel as a better choice and found that bolts lasted longer when made from 9310. This material, depending on grade, has a little more sulphur and phosphorus than Carpenter 158. This makes it easier to heat-treat correctly. The 9310 steel also contains vanadium, which gives the steel a tighter grain structure. The tight grain structure makes it very hard for cracks to form, so bolt lugs stay attached to the bolt for a lot longer and is used in every 6.5 Grendel bolt they make.
While the size, chambering and component materials selection of this pistol make it eminently usable out past 1,000 yards, there are a number of details that bring tremendous value to the consumer. The places where Alexander Arms could have gone wrong but didn’t were the handguard, trigger and stabilizing brace.
The handguard on the Highlander is a 9-inch Manticore Arms Transformer. This is the Gen II version of the Transformer rail, and it shows. The barrel nut is big and beefy and acts as a good heat sink for the chamber.
The most unique feature about the Transformer rail is the ability to change out the three side panels at the 3-, 6- and 9-o’clock positions. The options for these side panels are M-LOK (ships on the pistol from Alexander Arms), KeyMod, Picatinny rail or textured polymer. This allows the shooter to stay with whatever attachment system is used the most. If no attachments are needed, the textured polymer panels provide a low profile that is still well insulated, a handy feature when shooting in high volume.
The trigger that came on the Highlander I tested was a two-stage Geissele. These triggers have been a prominent feature in the AR landscape for about a decade and for good reason. Geissele triggers have been thoroughly vetted by the military and law enforcement units around the country and stand up to hard use. While they are very robust, they also have very crisp let off and minimal overtravel.
Lastly, the stabilizing brace on the Highlander is the SB Tactical SBA3. An added perk to the build is Alexander Arms Cerakotes the brace to match the rest of the rifle.
The SBA3 rides on a standard Mil-Spec lower receiver extension (buffer tube) and has five adjustment positions. There is a quick-detach sling swivel socket on either side of the brace, and the sockets are close to the comb and buttpad, an ideal location should you desire to attach a sling to this pistol. With the SBA3 installed, the length of pull adjusts from 10 to 12.5 inches.
Range time proved the Highlander was very accurate and consistent with two of the three loads tested.
The Highlander comes with a threaded muzzle but no muzzle device. The muzzle blast with no device was about what I expected from a short-barreled firearm chambered in a rifle cartridge. I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in muzzle blast from a 5.56mm and the 6.5 Grendel. However, putting a muzzlebrake on an 11-inch 6.5 Grendel would mean double-bagging the ear protection. That’s going to make a lot of noise.
When guys start talking about their favorite pistols, many will likely pick a compact 9mm. That’s a very traditional selection. However, when it comes to pure performance and capability (at the cost of some concealability), other pistols will find it tough to beat a short-barreled 6.5 Grendel like the new Highlander from Alexander Arms.
Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel Highlander Pistol Specifications
- Type: Direct-impingement, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 6.5 Grendel
- Capacity: 10, 17 rds.
- Barrel: 11 in.; 1:7.5-in. twist
- Overall Length: 26 in. (collapsed), 28.5 in. (extended)
- Weight: 5 lbs., 8 oz.
- Handguard: Manticore Arms Transformer
- Brace: SBA3
- Grip: Ergo
- Finish: Cerakote
- Trigger: Geissele two-stage
- Muzzle: Device none
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $1,660
- Manufacturer: Alexander Arms, alexanderarms.com