I have been fascinated with the idea of a budget Colt rifle since I heard about the Expanse Carbine a while back. After Colt’s recent financial speed bumps I am of the opinion that as long as Colt can get the Expanse into just about every gun shop out there, it may go a long way towards getting Colt out of financial trouble.
My father found himself in need of a rifle kit to build the AR-15 lower that was given to him for his birthday earlier this year and asked me to locate one for him. After some searching, I found that good quality build kits were a bit scarce at reasonable prices, disheartened I checked my email one morning to find an ad for the Expanse rifle priced at just under $600. Some quick mental math determined that I was more than willing to pay the delta between the cost of the rifle and the normal price of a good kit if I retained some of the Colt parts for my bin of AR-15 parts.
After placing the order, the rifle showed up about a week later. I headed out to the range with the Expanse rifle to see what I thought before tearing it down to rebuild with my father and decided to have an impromptu review.
At a quick glance, the Expanse is no different than any other AR-15 on the market with a price point under $600 (street price), but there are a few features that I feel set the rifle apart from the competition. Firstly, the Colt name is a pretty large selling point, also the fit and finish of the rifle is exactly you would expect from Colt. Out of the crappy cardboard box the rifle came in and onto the table I was left with a pretty basic setup.
I think that it was a brilliant marketing move for Colt to move to an M4 Carbine roll mark on the Expanse lowers. My suspicion is that the LE serial number might mean the Expanse receiver comes from the same stock as the law enforcement line of rifles.
Something else of note is the one piece mag catch, normally there is a threaded rod that is pressed into the flat plate, it appears to be a lower quality one piece part on the Expanse. The F marked front sight was of the same quality that you would expect on one of Colt’s legendary LE6920 rifles. The skinny handguards were an interesting choice; I am not sure how much money they save over the plentiful fatty style of handguards that almost every other manufacturer uses.
At the muzzle end, you find a quality A2 style flash hider. A visual inspection tells me that this is likely the same part that makes its home on military contract rifles. The heavy profile non-chrome lined barrel does make the rifle a bit nose heavy, but for the average shooter, it is perfectly adequate.
The CE1000 series of rifles is missing a few bits that we have come to expect on an AR-15, the dust cover, and forward assist. Thankfully the provisions to add either are still in place making it easy for shooters to add the missing parts. Since buying this rifle, Colt has released the CE2000 Expanse that includes the missing parts.
When I pulled the bolt and charging handle out, I was quite impressed with the quality of the pair. If I were to wager a guess, I would say these come from the same forgings as the higher end parts found on mil-spec rifles. The carrier is a full auto unit, a bit of a departure of the old Clinton Ban era guns that have most of the bottom of the carrier milled flat.
Looking at the fire control group everything seemed pretty normal with the exception of the hammer. In addition to its strange shape, it appears to be coated with a nickel boron type of coating like some of the enhanced triggers that have come to market in recent years. The trigger feels like a well made standard mil-spec trigger that registered 6 pounds 11 ounces on my trigger scale.
The very nice staking job on both the lock plate and the bolt carrier is again, what one would expect to see from Colt. Staking the castle nut with the lock plate is something that many budget rifles are often lacking, Colt’s attention to this small detail is a refreshing change of pace when looking at rifles in this price bracket.
I did find the four position mil-spec diameter receiver extension to be a bit odd. Since every other rifle in their lineup has a six position tube, I would assume that it isn’t that cost effective to remove two of the holes from the tube.
Shooting the Expanse rifle was rather pleasant with the exception of not being able to run the stock in the length I prefer. I mounted an Aimpoint on the rifle and started to burn through the 500 rounds I had allowed for this test. I did find that the handguards don’t do so well under sustained fire and heat up quite fast. I set up some paper targets to see how the extra weight on the barrel affected how the rifle swung from target to target.
When transitioning from target to target the extra weight was a bit noticeable, but I don’t feel it was detrimental in the least. At this point, I was starting to respect this bargain rifle a lot more than I expected.
Since I wasn’t planning on a review, I was forced to use an ammo can as a makeshift rest for a rough accuracy test at 100 yards using the Aimpoint instead of a proper scope. The results were pretty decent given the hasty ammo can rest.
After spending an afternoon with the Expanse rifle, I am sold on the idea of a quality sub $600 rifle. The Expanse ran perfectly throughout the test and provided perfectly acceptable accuracy results at 100 yards with a 4 MOA Aimpoint perched on top of it.
I can see this rifle as being a good alternative for cash-strapped police officers and recreational shooters that are looking for a decent rifle for not much money.
The Colt CE1000 Expanse carries an MSRP of $699 as tested but can be found with a street price of $599 or less if you shop around. If you want to learn more about the Expanse, you can head over to Colt’s website HERE.