Okay, I have to admit even though I was raised on the Lee-Enfield, FAL and G-3 there is something about bullpups that is just seriously cool. Sean Connery James Bond cool. I was able to test drive the Microtech Small Arms Research 5.56 (MSAR-E4) from Steyr when my friend and training partner announced he had purchased one and offered to torture me by letting me try it but not take it home afterward.
The MSAR-E4 takes AR-15 magazines and that is the first of its well thought out features. I have to admit the idea that magazines are AR interchangeable is a big thing for me so multiple weapons can share the same magazines. If you have a good group of friends who you work or train with regularly this is a real bonus.
It has a last round hold open and release, which should be an essential for any combat carbine or battle rifle. It has extensive rails built into the design with top, front, side and 45-degree rails that are user configurable—a very nice feature that allows you to load it up or keep a minimalist approach.
The safety is a cross-bolt style and is easy to manipulate for left hand use. The magazine release is an ambidextrous design as well, accomplished through a lever behind the magazine. While the reloading is nominally slower than an AR, you can control your magazine with a full hand grip while hitting the lever and put your magazine into your dump pouch rather than dump it on into the ground where loss or damage is probable. Attempting the speed dump-twist technique I often utilize on ARs for magazine changes however does not work well with this design.
You can convert the MSAR to left handed use by putting in a left-hand bolt face and swapping the port cover, much the same way the Beretta Storm allows you to. The major downside is that cross-shouldering the weapon is a no-go in the context of room clearing and, for that manner, you’ll have to leave behind other transition based techniques.
The trigger group is heavier than the AR but better than expected given the past experiences I have had with some bullpup styles. Having said that, as a combat oriented weapon, the trigger is easily within the parameters for most combat ready platforms.
There are no sights with the E4 model, so Ed mounted a Burris 3X Prism sight, with a nice reticle structure. It is much smaller that you would expect for a sight with BDC capabilities (which means a Bullet Drop Compensation dial on the scope). Ed calls it the “poor mans ACOG” (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) running around $300 but I found it rather difficult to adapt to from my ACOG sights. It seemed to work just fine for Ed, who has more time on that sight. I would prefer and Elcan, Trijicon or EoTech myself but that is just personal preference. The Burris is definitely better close range than over distance for quick target acquisition, although hitting bowling pins at 100 yards was easily accomplished from an offhand position.
The trigger pack is in the butt section, and it stays very clean no matter what ammunition you are running. The trigger pack is mostly polymer and, given the service record of the AUG systems which have been use a similar structure and material since 1977, we have not experienced any major issues with it.
A nice feature is the adjustable gas port. You will want to run it on high if you run steel case ammunition, and I would really recommend brass if it can be done. The steel case ammo produced a few failures to feed/hold the bolt open (similar to my experience with ARs I have shot), while the brass ammunition produced no failures and ran beautifully. The gas system uses a tappet to push the op/carrier rod on the right hand side and I was pleasantly surprised at how clean everything stayed even with dirty ammunition.
Barrel removal and field breakdown is very quick and easy. To remove the barrel, you simply depress the plunger, twist and pull it out. The bolt and receiver come out, pushing into the lock bar and pulling the entire assembly out. The trigger pack removes through the butt.
The polymer feels incredibly durable and the gun is surprisingly heavier than you would expect from its compact frame, weighing in at roughly 8 pounds. Accuracy stayed within 4” groups using the 3X donut site. I think a better optic would probably produce sub-2 MOA groups.
Overall length runs about 6-8” shorter than a 16” AR with the stock collapsed. The weight distribution is to the rear and is very quick to maneuver and comes to the shoulder quickly and efficiently, making high-ready an easily maintained position. Honestly, when the MSAR is tucked in at the shoulder, you can corner and maneuver with this platform as if you were operating a sidearm instead of a carbine. Can’t wait to run some timed courses when the winter clears out of hear to compare its performance to the AR.
The sling mounts on the E4 are multiple and moveable featuring number of push-in ball, detent-style sling swivels. I shot with the set-up for a single point, sling at midpoint on the gun.
Since New York State believes in keeping high capacity magazines out our hands, this one shipped with 10 round magazines. Additionally a muzzle break is welded on. Unless you travel, I would forgo the Pelican case option and take the $175 savings to the ammo store. Ed spoke quite highly about Michael Wyckoff, the dealer he used (email@example.com or on GunBroker.com). His price for the MSAR was substantially lower than anywhere else to be found on this unit and he was professional and ethical from start to finish. My contact with Mr. Wyckoff would suggest the same conclusions.
Ed tells me emphatically that he would buy another should his finances permit it. I for one consider that high praise as I know him to be performance and function driven when it comes to gun purchases and his input has always been sage, i.e. I might soon own an MSAR myself.