June 30, 2020
By Keith Wood
For years, shooters and hunters have been turning to CZ for lightweight and appropriately scaled bolt-action rifles with a full-length Mauser-style extractor. The CZ 527 has been around for decades as the company’s micro centerfire and has served as a handy package both afield and on the range in its various chamberings.
As handy as they are, these rifles haven’t been particularly well suited for long-range shooting, thanks to the slow twist rate of the rifles chambered in .223 and the mild velocities of the 7.62x39 variants. No longer. With the addition of the 6.5 Grendel Varmint MTR rifle to the CZ 527 lineup and faster twist rates on the .223 models, making hits at long range just got much easier.
The 6.5 Grendel cartridge was developed by Alexander Arms to maximize the long-range performance of AR-15 rifles. The objective was to launch a 6.5mm projectile at the maximum velocity that the AR’s magazine—and thereby its case capacity—would allow.
To accomplish this goal, Bill Alexander and his team necked-up the .220 Russian case to .264. The .220 Russian case is derived from the 7.62x39 and is therefore wider at the base than the 5.56x45, which allows plenty of powder capacity while allowing long, high-ballistic-coefficient bullets to fit in a standard magazine.
The result is a cartridge capable of pushing 120-grain bullets at more than 2,500 fps, which is just about ideal for use on deer-size game. At 500 yards, the Grendel nearly matches the trajectory of the much larger .308 Win. with far less recoil.
CZ has been chambering its 527 series of rifles in 7.62x39, so it was an easy decision to adopt such a promising cartridge that used the same magazine and bolt face dimensions. At the heart of the 527 series is the forged steel micro-Mauser action, which combines a full-length non-rotating extractor, a fixed ejector and a two-position safety to create a strong and eminently reliable package adapted from the 1898 Mauser design. CZ’s big bores are the workhorses of African safari camps for a reason: They offer sturdy, reliable rifles at reasonable prices.
The Varmint MTR differs from other 527 models in several meaningful ways. For starters, it wears a relatively heavy-profile, cold-hammer-forged barrel with a diameter of 0.866 inch at the muzzle. Compare this to the 0.570-inch measurement on my little 527 American and you’ve got a significantly different animal.
Not only is the barrel heavier than on previous models, but also it’s longer at 25.6 inches. The twist rate is 1:8, which can easily stabilize any bullet that this cartridge can accommodate, particularly one that will fit in the detachable magazine. (Notably, CZ has also updated the twist rates on its .223 rifles as well, going from a slow 1:12 twist to a much more useful 1:9 twist.)
The barrel on this model is threaded 5/8x24 and covered with a knurled thread protector when a muzzle device isn’t attached. My SilencerCo Omega suppressor spun on easily and made the rifle extremely pleasant to shoot.
Another departure is the stock on the Varmint MTR. This beefy, target-style Turkish walnut stock features a wide beavertail fore-end ideal for sandbag use, a high straight comb and a vertical grip that allows the right-hand thumb to ride on the top of the tang or on right side of the stock. Many shooters, particularly precision shooters, grip their rifles in this thumb-forward manner, and this stock makes it feel very natural to do so.
The grip panels and fore-end are stippled rather than checkered and provide a nice grip without being overly abrasive. A pair of sling swivel studs on the fore-end allow for both a sling and bipod to be used. A slight curve in the recoil pad surface helps ensure that the rifle sits high on the shoulder, putting the comb where it belongs. The length of pull is 14 inches.
As I mentioned, I’ve owned a CZ 527 American for many years and have tested several other of the firm’s rifles. Like all of them, this Varmint MTR was well built and attractively finished from steel and walnut, with no polymer in sight. It feeds from a five-round single column detachable box magazine that is stamped “7.62x39” on the follower, indicating it can be used for either chambering.
There are rifle brands out there that claim to offer “controlled-round feeding” that are really just push feeds with full-length extractors. This isn’t one of them. As the cartridge exits the magazine, the rim slips under the extractor, which holds it firmly until it is ejected from the action.
There is nothing wrong with a push-feed rifle, but a well-executed rifle of this type offers an additional layer of reliability that is always welcome. To test the extractor tension, I removed the bolt from the rifle and slipped a round onto the bolt face. It held the cartridge securely. Feeding was smooth, and I encountered zero malfunctions along the way.
Unlike most 527 rifles, the Varmint MTR does not use a single-set trigger but instead uses the single-stage trigger found on the CZ 557. The trigger is adjustable using a set of three small screws that control pull weight, overtravel and sear engagement.
Before ever taking the rifle to the range, I pulled the action out of the stock and adjusted the trigger until I had a safe and reliable weight of 3.25 pounds. There was still a hint of creep after adjustment, and this may or may not smooth itself out over time.
The two-position safety operates in the reverse manner to what many of us are used to, with the forward position being Safe and the rear position Fire.
Like other CZ bolt actions, the Varmint MTR has a 16mm dovetail on the top bridges of the receiver to facilitate scope mounting. This dovetail design goes back to the Brno ZG47 made by CZ’s predecessor company and is both simple and secure. Using a set of CZ factory rings, I mounted a one-inch Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS scope to the rifle and headed to the range.
Let’s get to some hard facts. Even in the 25.6-inch barrel on this CZ, the 6.5 Grendel is no 6.5 Creedmoor, nor is it designed to be one. The 123-grain Hornady Black load, for example, features a muzzle velocity that is 350 fps slower than a comparable 6.5 Creedmoor offering.
Put another way, the 6.5 Grendel’s muzzle velocity is about the same as the Creedmoor at 200 yards. Faster is not always better, and the Grendel was designed for a very specific purpose, which it does well: maximize the capability of small, .223-size actions.
There are at least 15 factory loads available in the United States for the 6.5 Grendel, making it a good choice for those not interested in handloading. Bullet weights range from Nosler’s 90-grain Varmageddon Varmint load to Federal Premium’s 130-grain Gold Medal Berger, though most hover at around 120 grains. I tested three loads from different manufacturers: the aforementioned Nosler product, American Eagle’s 120-grain Open Tip Match and Hornady Black’s 123-grain ELD Match.
I found the rifle to be shooter-friendly on the range, with a comfortable stock that matched the scope height and felt natural on the benchrest. Recoil was light, especially with the suppressor mounted, and, thanks to the long barrel, muzzle blast was minimal.
Accuracy ranged from good to great, with the 90-grain Nosler ammunition providing the best performance by a healthy margin. Punching holes in paper got boring quickly, so I harassed steel targets at varying distances out to 400 yards using the CDS dial on the Leupold. Both the rifle and scope performed well, with the sound of hit after hit echoing from downrange.
The SAAMI-specified maximum average pressure for 6.5 Grendel ammunition is 52,000 psi, which coincides with the bolt strength limits of the AR-15 series of rifles and is identical to the .223 Rem.
Early on in the cartridge’s life, there were warnings regarding its potential for being loaded in excess of the appropriate maximum, but these concerns have dissolved as factory loads have become more plentiful and standardized. Handloaders should nonetheless be cautious about leaning too hard on this cartridge, especially with cases formed from other cartridges.
One Load Issue
A rigid bolt action such as the CZ is capable of handling higher pressures than an autoloader, especially in terms of extraction, but I did encounter heavy bolt lift with the American Eagle load, even with air temperatures in the mid-50s. The ejector slot marks were visible on the headstamp, another indication of pressure-related brass expansion. Since the load didn’t exhibit particularly high velocity, my theory is that the cases were on the soft side.
As far as applications go, the CZ MTR in this chambering would be a good choice for anything from varmints and predators to deer-size game. I wouldn’t be afraid to use it on elk under reasonable circumstances.
Due to its size and weight, most users will view this rifle as better suited for static hunting or shooting. If a more portable option is preferred, the CZ 527 American uses the same 6.5 Grendel chambering in a 6.4-pound package. We found the Varmint MTR to be ideal as a long-range plinker and never got bored of smacking steel at extended ranges.
CZ has long had the reputation for building quality rifles at reasonable prices, and the 527 Varmint MTR certainly fits that description. Add in the option of the efficient and capable 6.5 Grendel and you’re got a package that stands out in a crowded rifle market. With everything from 90- to 130-grain bullets to choose from, the MTR is capable of taking a broad spectrum of game. This is a reliable, accurate and useful rifle suitable for a variety of needs.
CZ 527 Varmint 6.5 Grendel MTR Rifle Specs
- Type: Bolt-action centerfire
- Caliber: .223 Rem., 6.5 Grendel (tested)
- Capacity: 5+1, detachable box magazine
- Barrel: 25.6 in., 1:8 twist, threaded 5/8x24
- Overall Length: 44.5 in.
- Weight: 8 lb., 9 oz.
- Stock: Turkish walnut target-style, stippled grip panels, recoil pad
- Finish: Blued
- Trigger: Single-stage adjustable, 3.25 lb. pull (measured)
- Sights: None; 16mm dovetail for scope mounting
- Price: $879
- Manufacturer: CZ-USA, cz-usa.com
CZ 527 Varmint 6.5 Grendel MTR Rifle Accuracy Results