I love a true AR-15 rifle. The classic 20″ barrel with a rifle-length gas tube and rifle recoil system is a joy to shoot. One of my perpetual favorite rifles is an FN M-16A4 Military Collector model topped with a 3.5x ACOG. That rifle accompanies me on almost every range outing. When the opportunity came to test a similarly-configured PSA gun I jumped at the chance. For convenience, in this I will be referring to this rifle as an AR-15A4 after the similarly-configured Colt AR-15A4.
Palmetto State Armory @ TFB:
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- [Big 3 East] PSA AK-V: A 9mm AK That Works
The heart of this upper is a 20” hammer-forged FNH-USA barrel. It has been magnetic particle inspected and is chambered in 5.56 NATO with a 1/7 twist rate. The markings appear to have been applied with a laser, while the markings on my M-16A4 were applied as an engraving or roll mark of some kind.
Muzzle threads are standard 1/2×28 pitch, and a properly-indexed A2 birdcage flash hider was installed with a crush washer. The upper itself is a standard flat top A4, with a small PSA logo on the left side. A2-style handguards are fitted to this upper. Those handguards are fitted with heat shields.
FedEx delivered the upper before the lower, so I did the logical thing and put it on a dealer sample machine gun lower. The rifle-length gas system made the recoil very smooth and the rate of fire was noticeably slower than carbine or mid-length uppers.
As delivered, this upper is all about shooting with iron sights. The carry handle has standard A2-style sights which are windage and elevation adjustable, and the front sight is also adjustable for elevation. Some people prefer the simplicity of A1-style sights, but I appreciate the added capability the A2 sights provide. Once the rifle is zeroed, you have the ability to shoot with a standard 300 meter battle zero, or to dial up for 400, 500, or 600 meters. The aperture also features two openings, a small aperture for general shooting and a ghost ring for shooting in low light. A close examination of the A2 sights could be an article of its own so I will not get into too much detail. Setting the sights up in my preferred method required me to pull out a tiny screw accessed from the top of the sight. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the screw had been installed with red thread locking compound. That was a detail I did not expect from a gun in this price bracket.
PSA provided an A2 complete rifle lower receiver for this review. The lower passed the basic function tests on the safety and disconnector, but the safety did not snap positively between the safe and fire position. When moved gently, the safety would stop at about a 45 degree angle.
The lower is equipped with a standard mil-spec trigger. It is not a competitor for a Geissele or TriggerTech. But, compared to standard-issue triggers in other rifles like the HK-91 or AK-47, the trigger in this PSA is very good. There is a little take up and a tiny bit of creep, but it breaks cleanly right about 7 lbs.
The fixed A2 stock is equipped with a trapdoor storage compartment for a cleaning kit (or batteries, or snacks). The latch is very tight and it requires the point of a cartridge or something similar to open the door. Fixed stock assemblies have different buffers and recoil springs than used in collapsible stocks, but they tend to be very comfortable under recoil. The PSA was no exception to this rule.
The only other notable flaw on the lower receiver was the rear trigger guard pin, which had not been fully seated. The pin stuck out from the side of the receiver and it was a minor annoyance, but it is also a very easy fix with only a punch and a hammer.
BLUF: It shoots well, is not overly picky on ammo or magazines, and does fine when it is dirty.
I did an informal poll on Instagram to see what kind of tests would be of interest. This generated many terrible suggestions, several unrealistic suggestions, and some decent suggestions. Tons of people wanted to know what magazines would drop free from the gun. I tried a wide range of mags to see if there were any issues. Everything tested dropped free, including Magpul, Lancer, Surefeed, Duramag, ASC, Colt, Brownells, D&H, and E-Lander magazines of varying capacities. My personal favorite are the Surefeed or Colt 20-round options. They just look right in this gun, and they are easy to use from a supported position.
Many people wanted to see a wide variety of ammunition fired through the gun. Most ammunition worked, including Wolf M193, Armscor 62-grain .223, my bulk training .223 reloads (55-grain FMJ over surplus pull-down powder), and my target .223 reloads (77-grain Nosler Custom Competition over 8208 XBR). The only failures during this test were with the audience-requested Tula steel case .223 ammo.
There was one failure to feed with the Tula ammo. But that failure was from a very old and janky USGI aluminum magazine, which was likely the culprit. I removed that magazine from the rotation and did not have any other feeding issues.
The biggest issue during the test was a failure to extract with the steel case ammo. A fired case became stuck in the chamber and I was unable to remove it with the tools I had at the range. I successfully removed the stuck case at home with a steel rod and hammer. I do not subscribe to the notion that “a gun that won’t cycle steed doesn’t deserve brass” and I have experienced this kind of malfunction with other, more expensive, rifles in the past.
Accuracy was about what would be expected from a gun without a free-float handguard and with iron sights. The 55- and 62-grain ammo all grouped around 3″ to 4″ but groups shrunk to 2″ with 77-grain ammunition. Those groups would surely shrink with a magnified optic or a more refined trigger.
Durability was another highly-requested topic. This is a very difficult thing to test when ammo prices are high and availability is low, and without taking years to test the gun in different environments. What I could do was get the rifle dirty and avoid cleaning it. That began on day 1. I did not clean the rifle when it first arrived, or at any point thereafter.
One of my range days provided an unanticipated, real-world version of the “sand tornado” test done by Robski at the AK Operators Union. That range day was spoiled by 40 mph winds and abundant blowing dirt and sand and remnants of plants that had burned in a wildfire the year before. Those conditions were very poor for accuracy testing, but were great for seeing how the rifle dealt with being dirty. In short, it was fine. It just kept shooting. I gave up and went home before the rifle gave up. The dirt from this outing is still visible in some of the pictures
The unscheduled durability test continued on my next range trip. While moving steel targets I dropped the rifle into rocky dirt from shoulder height. As with the dust test above, the AR-15A4 was completely unbothered. There were a few small scuffs in the anodizing but that is what happens when any aluminum part hits a rock. The iron sights kept their zero as well. That little spill also added a fair amount of dirt to an already dirty gun.
My overall impression of the gun is very good. I was not gentle with it, I did not clean it, and it still worked in some pretty bad conditions. The only issues were caused by steel case ammunition which has a poor reputation in the AR-15 platform for a reason. If you are wanting to join the Carry Handle Gang, or just enjoy a simple rifle that’s fun to shoot, this PSA AR-154 is worth a look.