In theory, bullpups are the obvious next step in the evolution of shoulder-fired firearms. They offer shorter overall length, excellent balance and faster-handling than their conventionally-configured counterparts – without sacrificing crucial aspects of firearm design like accuracy and magazine capacity. Nearly four dozen nations have adopted a Bullpup design for at least some of their forces with Great Britain, France, China, Australia, Israel and Austria selecting the compact design as their armies’ primary carbine.
Still, these guns aren’t perfect, pure upgrades from conventional rifles and carbines, as they sacrifice ergonomics to achieve their compact nature. Yet, some designs have managed to mitigate aspects of their awkward manual of arms to achieve greatness. Two of the most popular designs are the Austrian Steyr AUG and the Israeli IWI X95 Tavor with IWI being a good friend, sponsor and plank-owner participant at Big 3 East events. While both are phenomenal firearms in their own right, they achieve their greatness in two different manors. As such, we’re putting these two paragons of compact firearm design in a head-to-head competition to see which is the king of modern bullpups.
Both carbines are chambered in the same caliber – 5.56mm. Which itself is capable of tremendous accuracy and is suited to mid-to-long-range combat because of its high-velocity, flat-shooting nature. This is the same caliber employed by American armed forces in both their M249 SAW and the ubiquitous M16/M4. Unlike the direct impingement M4/AR15 series of firearms, both of these rifles utilize a long-stroke, piston-driven method of operation.
While this makes them more reliable and less susceptible to failure when dirty or when foreign material is introduced, it isn’t conducive to accurate shooting.
Just the AKM that uses the same system, the massive one-piece piston/bolt carrier combo causes a great deal of weight to rapidly travel the distance of the firearm. This internal movement can cause movement in the barrel which changes the round’s point of impact to shift unpredictably.
Both Steyr and IWI knew this when producing their respective firearms, and attempted to compensate for it with moderately-heavy-profiled barrels. Arguably both did a good job of doing so, as both carbines tend to be capable of much better accuracy than other long-stroke piston-driven rifles in the same caliber like the AK-101 or the Israeli Galil. In testing, both guns achieved groups around two inches at 100 yards with 55gr M193 ammo. However, the x95 produced slightly smaller groups presumably due to its lighter, crisper trigger.
While this may not impress bench-rest shooters accustomed to sub-MOA groups from custom-made guns firing hand-loaded ammo, it surpasses the mil-spec requirement for the M4. Keeping it well within acceptable parameters for a combat weapon. But what about reliability?
In testing, both guns were fed 500 rounds of mil-spec M193 55gr FMJ ammo with no extra lubrication than what the rifles ship with. Neither firearm experienced a major failure throughout either test, but both encountered minor malfunctions.
In the case of the X95, all failures encountered were magazine-related. Usually an especially dirty magazine would fail to feed a round into the chamber after the previous round was properly ejected. This happened because the follower would bind with all the carbon buildup, but cleaning the magazine wells fixed all those malfunctions.
The AUG on the other hand, needed its gas valve set wide-open to function reliability after the first 200 rounds. This produced mildly-increased felt recoil, but since the carbine is chambered in the soft-shooting 5.56 cartridge, it didn’t really matter. That is, except when the rifle was suppressed. There, the increased back pressure combined with the wide-open gas setting produced notably more recoil, and regularly caused violent ejection that would undoubtedly lead to premature wear of the rifle over time.
Bullpup rifles are notorious for having sub-standard ergonomics. From awkward reloading procedures to heavy, sponge-like triggers – ergonomics have always held the design back from achieving wide-spread adoption by either major military/law enforcement or among civilians.
With both designs being the latest iteration of a previous bullpup firearm, shooters should realistically expect improved controls. However, only the X95 delivers on this front. The Steyr still utilizes the awkward magazine release, heavy cross-bolt safety and spongy trigger that give bullpups a bad name.
The X95 goes above and beyond in this category. Equipping their carbine with a push-button magazine release near the trigger like on traditional carbines, an AR15-type safety lever and a trigger pull superior not just to other bullpups, but to many traditional mil-spec firearms. While the first two categories are much closer, the X95 objectively has better ergonomics and is more user-friendly than the Steyr.
Both the Steyr and the X95 have 9mm conversion kits available for them, which makes them among the best pistol-caliber carbines on the market. However, the AUG’s kit runs a little more than 50% more than the X95’s and this kit lacks a threaded barrel. Sorry suppressor owners, Steyr’s kit will require a gunsmith to thread.
Not that gun’s normal thread pitch is ideal either. While the X95’s barrel is threaded to the M4 standard 1/2×28, while the AUG uses a proprietary 13x1mm LH pitch. Shooters who want to change the AUG’s muzzle device or attach a suppressor will have to purchase an adaptor or have their barrel re-threaded. A minor cost, but an annoyance for sure.
The other major aspect that effects modularity and cost of ownership is the magazine used by both firearms. The X95 uses STANAG or standard AR15 magazines, while the AUG uses ultra-durable, high-impact polymer mags. Though shooters who want to use their AR15 magazines, can purchase a version of the AUG that utilizes STANAG magazines or a conversion for their standard AUG.
One advantage of the AUG over the X95, is that it has a few barrel lengths available and they are all quick-change. So installing one literally takes seconds and doesn’t require any tools. The downside is that the barrel assembles are prohibitively expensive – a 24-inch LMG assembly for the Steyr runs around $1500 when shooters can find them. More common barrels are more affordable at $400, but still by no means cheap. Still, spare X95 barrel, bolt kits are about $50 more expensive than that, so these prices aren’t abnormally high.
So which of these two military-inspired bullpups should a shooter in search of compact, reliable firepower choose? If you own a suppressor, the answer isn’t a clear choice. While the X95 uses a common thread pitch which makes finding a suppressor easy, it lacks an adjustable gas system. So shooters can’t readily dial their gun to function flawlessly with a can. Thankfully the system in my experience, runs great without need to adjusted, almost like the self-adjusting gas system on an AKM/AK47.
Overall, the X95 and the Tavor have very similar in terms of reliability -which is to say excellent. Accuracy is pretty close, with the X95 having a slight edge. Ergonomics are grossly in favor of the X95, and cost of ownership is cheaper on the Israeli gun as well. I would personally recommend the X95, but wouldn’t feel under-armed or ill-equipped with a Steyr AUG by my side. Neither is a bad choice, but the X95 is a more pragmatic one.
For more information please view https://steyrarms.com/ and http://www.iwi.us/.