July 17, 2012
When I saw Benelli had come out with a ComforTech version of its MR1, as a Californian I was intrigued. Here was a sharp-looking .223 carbine that, thanks to its lack of a pistol grip, is legal in California even though it has a detachable magazine. (California prohibits semiauto centerfires that have, for example, both a pistol grip and a detachable magazine. Don't get me started.)
David Fortier had reviewed the pistol-grip version of the rifle in our September/October 2010 issue, and I thought it presented a cool option for Golden State gunners or anyone who wants a short, handy defense rifle.
At the heart of the MR1 is the Auto Regulating Gas Operated system or ARGO. It's a piston-driven setup, with the gas port located just forward of the chamber, which the company says results in cleaner, hotter gas driving the piston and making for a cleaner, more reliable system.
The gun functioned 100 percent through hundreds of rounds of various .223 ammo. It does seem to run cleaner, too, but you'll still have to scrub carbon from the piston.
Disassembly takes less than two minutes. Unscrew the barrel retaining nut, remove the fore-end, then use the cap retaining spin--a spring-loaded metal projection in the fore-end--to remove the gas retaining nut and its spring. Pull the barrel and remove the arming bolt handle; the bolt assembly comes right out and is super easy to strip.
Reassembly is a little trickier. It took me a while to get the hang of installing the barrel assembly onto the fore-end, but even a klutz like me could reassemble the rifle in 3.5 minutes with a little practice.
The MR1 ComforTech sports a rear sight and a Picatinny rail attached to the receiver, and a post front with protective wings. Because I wanted to put a normal-size scope on the rifle for 100-yard accuracy testing, I had to remove the rear sight assembly.
I wish the rail ran the full length of the receiver and featured a folding, back-up type rear sight on it instead of a sight that's screwed into the receiver. That combination would give shooters more optic-mounting options. However, you can easily affix a red dot sight (as I later did), and with some red dots you can get it to co-witness with the irons.
For accuracy testing, I clamped a Burris 3-10x40 onto the rail. Results are shown in the accompanying table. The trigger has a slight take-up, followed by a consistent but heavy six-pound, nine-ounce pull (average of 10 pulls on a Lyman digital scale). I didn't mind the take-up, but the overall feel of the trigger is "shotgunny," which I didn't care for--at least for benchrest testing.
The rifle tended to string when it got hot. But, overall, for a rifle with a short, light-contour barrel, I thought it shot fairly well. The gun weighs just shy of eight pounds, but it doesn't feel that heavy in the hands--and in fact I much prefer its handling qualities over an AR-15's. With both iron sights and a Weaver variable dot I was able to transition quickly on close targets and ring steel out to 200 yards with ease, and that solidifies my opinion of the rifle as a good defensive carbine, recreational shooter or a decent option for multi-gun competition.
Much of the rifle's excellent handling is due to the ComforTech stock, which combines gel stock chevrons, gel comb and a gel recoil pad to reduce recoil and muzzle rise significantly. The system works like a charm, creating an incredibly comfortable .223/5.56 carbine.
The rifle is supposed to take AR-15 magazines, and Fortier had no issues with a number of mags he tested. However, I tried a 10-round steel mag and two 10-round Magpul P Mags (20-round bodies blocked to 10 rounds), and they were difficult to pull from the rifle. My sample worked well only with the supplied five-round magazine.
Shooters who are wedded to the AR-15 and its manual of arms may not like the MR1's controls. The right-side mag release isn't reachable by the firing hand from a firing grip. However, the left release can be activated by the support-hand thumb while keeping the firing hand in position.
The bolt lock/release on the forward part of the trigger guard takes some getting used to (you can also release the bolt by tugging on the arming bolt handle when there's a loaded magazine installed), but I found the lock/release to become second nature fairly quickly.
Unless you're some kind of high-speed/low drag "operator," I think this is all moot. Those who train with the MR1 and make it their primary carbine won't have a problem.
Gun services provided by Turner's Outdoorsman. Range facilities provided by Angeles Ranges.
Specifications Benelli MR1 ComforTech
Type: gas-operated, piston-driven semiauto
Caliber: .223 Remington
Capacity: 5-round detachable mag supplied; accepts AR mags
Barrel: chrome-lined 16 in.; 1:9 twist; no muzzle device
Overall length: 37.1 in.
Weight: 7.9 lb. w/o mag
Trigger: single stage; 6 lb. 9 oz. pull
Sights: adjustable aperture rear, front post; Picatinny rail
Importer: Benelli USA
Accuracy Results: Benelli MR1 ComforTech
55-Gr. Winchester BST: Vel. (fps): 3,240, SD: n/a, Avg. Grp (in.): 2.03
50-Gr. Black Hills Red V-Max: Vel. (fps): 3,300, SD: n/a, Avg. Grp (in.): 2.38
64-Gr. Winchester Power Pt: Vel. (fps): 3,020, SD: n/a, Avg. Grp (in.): 2.39
55-Gr. Black Hills FMJ: Vel. (fps): 3,200, SD: n/a, Avg. Grp (in.): 2.71
Notes: Accuracy results are averages of three three-shot groups at 100 yards off a Caldwell Fire Control rest. Due to chronograph malfunction, velocities are nominal published values fired from test barrels. Velocities from the MR1 will be lower due to shorter barrel length. Abbreviations: BST, Ballistic Silvertip; FMJ, full metal jacket