Gun Review: Colt M4 Expanse Carbine CE1000

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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. IMG_3504

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.  IMG_3508 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.

IMG_3511

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. IMG_3512

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.

The forward assist hole is plugged with a Colt branded plastic plug, a nice touch that was no doubt cheaper to add in lieu of having an upper receiver made without the forward assist. IMG_3515 IMG_3516

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.IMG_3518

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.IMG_3520

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. IMG_3523

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. 5 4

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. IMG_3534 IMG_3575

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.



Patrick R

Patrick is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and works in the shooting sports industry. He is an avid recreational shooter and a verified gun nerd. With a lifelong passion for shooting, he has a love for all types of firearms, especially handguns and the AR-15 platform. Patrick may be contacted at tfbpatrick@gmail.com.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • marine6680

    I was under the impression that the budget Colt did not have a chrome lined bore.

    Is the carrier chrome lined?

    • Patrick R. – Staff Writer

      I said it was a non-chrome lined barrel. It appears the carrier is chrome lined.

      • marine6680

        Ok, I missed it the first time.

  • Darhar M.

    A bit late to the party.
    I own a Ruger 556 and added about $200 worth of after-market parts half of that money going towards a decent carry handle the remainder towards a diff. pistol grip and stock.

    I have had zero issues with my Ruger after 4500 odd rounds.
    I have had other shooters at the range I shoot at give it a go and they are impressed by how

    well it shoots as well as its accuracy.

    Had Colt come out with this rifle 2 years ago who knows I may have bought it instead of the Ruger. In any case I have a quality firearm I trust.

    • tb556

      I was just about to post about this. I picked up a AR-556 in July and have run about 600 rounds of various ammo through it but mostly Geco 223 as I found a case for $309 shipped. The only time I’ve cleaned it so far was when I took delivery and removed the packing oil. I started off shooting it in its stock formation and it worked just fine, but I found the GI trigger to be a bit heavy for my taste. I wanted a lighter trigger so I bought a POF drop in from AIM for $130 that breaks at 4.5lbs. It was extremely easy to install. The rear flip up sight that comes with the rifle is actually pretty good but when I examined mine and a few others I noticed my unit had some play in the peep which I though was causing some stringing so I emailed Ruger. This week they offered to ship me a replacement at no charge if I provided them with the serial number. If I was going to put optics on the gun I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I am going to take them up on it and save the replacement for another gun as I saw a great deal on a Troy unit on Amazon two weeks ago and went for it. The gun shoots great and is extremely tight and well balanced.

      Over Labor Day I took it out to a 200 yard range and with the current setup it was very easy to hit 10″ steel plate consistently with the Troy sights – was actually pretty easy to do off-hand because the gun is so light. I don’t think I would have any issue hitting steel at 300+ with irons but probably not an entire 20 round mag in a row. On a side note, I also took out my CZ 452 trainer which has graduated sights to 200 and was shooting at the same plate with RWS target ammo – the sights were about 8 inches off to the right but it was incredibly satisfying to hit a steel plate with .22LR at 200. I did have to turn my HLs way up to hear it…

      • Darhar M.

        I am old school ex-military and got so used to the carry handle peep sight on the M16 series that I knew it would be the first thing I added to my 556. Went with a BCM Carry Handle, MAGPUL Stock, and BCM pistol grip. Did a quick battlesight zero and 9 rounds later I had it dialed in.
        I took the Ruger peep sight and put it on my 10/22 stock and it worked out great.

        • tb556

          after I saw that real carry handle sights are $90 I went with the Troy for the same price in case I ever want to mount an Aimpoint because they have an A2 aperture but fold down. I think the stock is fine, I just mounted a Vickers sling and a GG&G QD Swivel on to the FSB. Kinda BS you have to buy the QD swivel but it wasn’t that expensive. At least it came with the front sight tool. If Ruger starts building an AR-10 with an 18.5″ or 20″ barrel, I’m all over it.

    • buzzman1

      Love mine but had to get rid of that crappy milspec trigger.

      • Darhar M.

        Ya the trigger is something you either like or dislike.
        Personally I like the trigger.

        • buzzman1

          I changed mine to a 4.5 lb pull and love it. If you pull the trigger on your rifle very slow it feels like you are pulling it over a gravel road and may even catch a few times.

          • Darhar M.

            The trigger on my rifle is fine.

            To each their own.

  • Stinkeye

    “Firstly, the Colt name is a pretty large selling point…”

    Absolutely. I’m always eager to buy firearms from bankrupt companies with shaky future prospects…
    I’m hoping that Colt sells a bunch of these and gets back to firm financial footing, but the low-end AR market already has lots of great options, so another “Me, too” cheap AR15 may not quite be the magic formula that saves the company.

    • myndbender

      Agreed. All I want from Colt is an m4 roll marked stripped lower at a decent price

      • Anonymoose

        *M4A1

        • 40mmCattleDog

          Seriously dude. We need more stripped SOCOM M4A1 lowers. The perfectionist in me will forever be bothered if my Block II clone doesn’t one day have an M4A1 lower.

          • Anonymoose

            I think the Army is just grinding “A1” between “M4” and “Carbine” on their refurbished rifles now.

    • Gus Butts

      Not only the Colt name but also “Expanse” because it sounds like “ex-pants” which is what I call a pretty good Thursday evening.

  • Bill

    I really wonder how much deleting a dust cover and FA actually saved in cost. I’m assuming that the BCG has the same “teeth” in it for a FA to engage? I thought that bit of milling would be the expensive part.

    • Patrick R. – Staff Writer

      It does.

    • Anonymoose

      Maybe like $10.

  • tb556

    What forge are these coming from? Are both the upper and lowers marked?

  • Andrew

    Now that Colt has introduced the CE2000 with the forward assist and dust cover I wonder if the CE1000 will be discontinued. S&W did a similar thing when they introduced the Sport II. They both tried to save a few dollars by not including these parts but it seems pretty clear now that purchasers want the rifles to come with all the standard components and are not interested in having to add these parts themselves.

    • Rock or Something

      Not only did they include the forward assist, it seems Colt was so proud of it to the point they put the logo right on the surface plug. You can now remember it’s a Colt rifle every time you tap that forward assist!

      • iksnilol

        And considering it is a Colt you’ll be doing that often, right? 😉

        • itsmefool

          Perhaps if you run crappy reloads in it, then yes!

      • buzzman1

        Reality check here. Just when was the last time you actually needed to use your forward assist

        • Rock or Something

          For me, it was eight years ago when I was still in the Army during a FTX.

          • buzzman1

            How many blanks had you been firing?

          • Rock or Something

            Lots. Even a 240B went down from using blanks until it was cleaned out for the live fire portion.

          • buzzman1

            You should have been asking me how I knew that:-) In the almost 10 years I was in the Army the only time my rifle failed to feed properly was after firing a lot of blanks and from having to use old worn out mags.
            BTW you had to have fired a lot of blanks through the 240 to mess it up. Also if you ever get the chance fire an old 240 that doesn’t have the recoil device on it. Absolutely brutal.

          • Gunner4guy

            I could get mine to to fail using live ammo, never mind all the blanks I shot off much, much later on in the 80’s when I switched over to the ANG – crappy ammo is….crappy ammo whether live or blank. Agree about the mags too. Can’t speak for the 240 or 249 – we made do with M60’s.

          • buzzman1

            Lots of good and bad things to say about the M-60s, It was a dream to fire but changing the barrel was a pain. Didn’t help that the army used them up and rebuilt them until they couldn’t anymore. One of the things I love about the piston rifles is internally they tend to stay really clean. I had one that I put about 500 rounds through it before I got around to cleaning it and all I had to do it wipe it down a little when I did.

          • Gunner4guy

            None of mine are piston, all direct impingement-1 is as close to the A1 I carried for years altho it DOES have the detachable carrying handle, #2 is a mid-length carbine and #3 is a semi-auto clone of the XM177 I had for 3 or 4 months till I was told I didn’t need it for my assignment(but the E7 who took it ‘lost’ it to an O4 who wanted it more…LOL!). Agree about the M60, seen them re-assembled more than once with the piston in wrong and the clip on trigger group messed up too. They were rugged even with cracked receivers – it would put out a LOT of suppressive fire when you wanted it. However, using blanks IS hard on them, didn’t learn that till I’d transferred to the Guard where we burned up a bunch of ’em….

  • SlowJoeCrow

    The Colt name is the only selling point. S&W and Ruger already own a huge piece of the budget AR market, and they throw in a Magpul rear sight for the price too so they are ready to go. I could see this beating a Bushmaster, DPMS, or Anderson price leader with no sights, and possibly a polymer lower but not the AR556 or M&P 15 Sport II.

  • Bub

    I’ve been considering buying the new CE2000 as a build out kit. If from what I understand is their typical AR except for barrel. The price would seem right.

  • RSG

    The barrel is the only thing stopping me. Colt could save their company if they could figure out how to get this gun to market with a chrome lined barrel with a street price of $699

  • Twilight sparkle

    That castle nut and the staking doesn’t look quite right to me
    This is how my 6920 looks in comparison, maybe Colt change a few things lately?

    • itsmefool

      Maybe because the Expanse has a slightly different castle nut…notice the receiver side of the nut doesn’t have fully cut gaps in it like the stock side? They’re dished; makes me wonder if the staking will have the same purchase as the typical part.

      • Twilight sparkle

        When I get off my lunch brake I’ll go and check out the expanse rifle at our store and see what’s up with that castle but because the finish seems a little off on it too.

        • itsmefool

          I’m curious to see what you find…I’m certainly no AR expert, but none of the black rifles I own in that pattern have a nut quite like that one! Of course, my .308 ARs from DPMS can’t even be staked as they completely lack those cuts on the receiver side!

          • Twilight sparkle

            It was almost identical to the ones around it.

            At first I thought the one in this article may have been a utg castle nut but our expanse was phosphate coated and it didn’t look like the utg castle nut on the mossberg mmr. A few of the ARs I checked had the dish looking slot for staking and even my 6920 has it but it’s hard to see because of how deep they are. I suspect whoever made this one just let their machinery get a little out of spec.

      • Patrick R. – Staff Writer

        When I took the rifle apart the castle but was a bear to get off. The staking was rather good.

        • itsmefool

          Yep, its looks a lot better than the job I did with my $8 Stanley punch, but I’d expect no less from the factory…especially Colt!

    • Core

      It seems as though they use a smaller tool to stake the Expanse.

  • mazkact

    Right now for the same money a S&W M&P 15 Sport II can be had with a forward assist and dust cover.

  • Juanito Ibañez

    “Looking at the fire control group everything seemed pretty normal with the exception of the hammer.”

    The original AR-15 hammer was the M16 hammer, but with the autosear notch milled off at the factory.

    The one pictured eliminates the remnants of the M16 heritage – and with the hammer’s reduced weight should result is somewhat faster lock times.

    “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.”

    Of course, the original Rob Roy-designed aluminum CAR-15 stock had two positions: Collapsed and Extended. 🙂

  • steveday72

    “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.”

    Yes, well, appearances can be deceiving…. The magazine catch is one piece because it is injection molded, not cut from a billet of tool steel that you may have in mind. In this case I’d rather have a traditional mil-spec hardened tool steel design than one made from porous MIM metal.

    MIM can be perfectly fine and hardwearing, but it has to be used in the right places. For example, you wouldn’t want your extractor to be made from MIM materials (though some manufacturers do to save costs – and it wouldn’t surprise me if Colt did on this budget rifle either).

    I’m no engineer, but I feel MIM is better suited to the stresses of compressive forces, not used in shearing or pulling roles.

    • Patrick R. – Senior Writer

      I wasn’t implying that it was better, just that it is different.

      • steveday72

        After re-reading that paragraph it’s clear that I had the wrong end of the stick. That’s what I get for not proof reading or writing comments while tired (which is often).

  • Old Vet

    I have always liked the mid-length gas system best, but I might give this one a go.

  • buzzman1

    Hey did you notice the hammer retained the bottle opener:-) For most people this is more than good enough and at an fordable price. A bullet coming out of this weapon will kill you just as dead as out of a $2000 rifle. Might not be as pleasant to shoot but so what

  • Sasquatch

    I would like to see the Expanse be compare to the S&W Sport II and the Ruger 556. Seems to be the top sellers in AR15’s these day.

  • Core

    Milspec Colt’s come with a 4 position milspec receiver extension /buffer tube made out of 7075 forged aluminum, versus the commercial is 6061 extruded aluminum which is a less dense aluminum with thicker walls (different dimensions). Magpul’s new tube is made using 7075 Impact Extruded aluminum, if you look up the process versus forged and machined it yields a stronger formed product. But Colt doesn’t cut corners by using forged 7075 aluminum and it’s really tough stuff. And you could argue the commercial 6065 aluminum is thicker with higher tensile strength yet heavier, but the strength is basically the same at added weight. SIONICS also has a similar product and probably many others with Impact Extruded 7075. The Colt or milspec 6 position forged 7075 tube can be ordered separately and comes standard on special application military models.

  • buzzman1

    According to its website it says the bore isn’t chromed. Didn’t they learn their lesson in Vietnam?

  • tb556

    Yes but DI with a longer barrel. I’ve got no interest in a .308 with such a short barrel. My personal opinion is that you might as well just go with 7.62×39 at 16 inches barrel length. 20″ barrel 308 would be ideal for me.

    • buzzman1

      I can respect that. Guns are like women, neckties, and whiskey. Everyone has their own preference.
      The loss of velocity between 16 and 18 in barrels in is only about 120 fps. and ballistics are really close out to 250 meters. Personally I prefer the piston rifles as the recoil pulse is less so youre back on target faster.

      • tb556

        I agree, a lot of my concern is due to noise/blast. I have an M1A NM right now, but I’m probably going to replace it soon. Unfortunately there aren’t a terrible amount of options out there. The DPMS GII Hunter looks nice but I’m not sure about the brand.

        • buzzman1

          All I can say is ask around. DPMS is a good brand and haven’t heard anything bad about their rifles. They pretty much own the AR-10 brand. If you know other guys who have AR-10’s ask them what they think.of them. The noise is not something you can get away from. The 20 inch barrel just gets it a little further from you. One thing that might help is if you are shooting at a range with overhead cover try to get the barrel out from under the overhang. People have forgotten that wood is a great acustic reflector and the noise/blast will come right back at you. You could even try one of those fake suppressors as it will direct the blast and noise forward.
          And some people may not like hearing it again but whatever you get, get rid of the milspec trigger.

  • CavScout

    Aren’t these actually made on contract by Walther? Or someone that ISN’T Colt?

    • Patrick R. – Senior Writer

      I have no idea. I doubt Colt would tell me.

  • Greywolf

    I guess everyone just got carried away with test and forgot the reason for this purchase. If you will look at Midway USA you will find complete uppers for WAY LESS than $600. Check Midway out and signup for their e-mail specials, you’ll be glad you did! And no I don’t work for Midway. I’ve been a customer of theirs for about 30 years.

    • Patrick R. – Senior Writer

      What does the price of a complete upper have to do with a complete rifle?

      • Greywolf

        The article started out with the expressed need to build up the lower your father just obtainted, that’s what. You did not need a complete rifle (as you stated). You said you weren’t able to find an upper at a decent price. I simply pointed you in the direction of some. Pay attention and don’t be so thin skinned.

        • Patrick R. – Senior Writer

          While yes, there are uppers cheaper than the rifle I wanted the upper and lower for a clone build.

          I happened to get my hands on a rifle that hadn’t been reviewed in the process.

          Thanks for clearing the confusion.