I’ve heard impressive things about the famed Smith & Wesson Performance Center custom shop, so I was very keen to see how well these models performed. I recently received a S&W M&P15 Performance Model for testing and was pretty excited to find out if the rifle lived up to the hype.
What’s in a Name?
True to form, the M&P15 is an AR-15 style rifle, though the Performance Center badging begs the question of what performance S&W enhanced; after all, the AR-15 is one of the most diversely functional rifles in the world. Having the Performance Center tune a rifle is like having Chip Foose overhaul your hotrod! Taking a look at the upgrades the rifle received, I got an immediate sense the plan had everything to do with accuracy.
First up, the barrel measures 20-inches and is a stainless steel, match-grade, variety with a 1-in-8 twist. There is no device on the end of the muzzle, but a lovely 11-degree crown. The barrel is nestled in an aluminum, free-float forend made by Yankee Hill Machine. The forend features knurled rings in its outer surface for grip but is otherwise solid. There is no M-LOK present for mounting, though there is a sling swivel underneath. A small Picatinny rail sits atop the gas block, just forward of the forend.
The receiver is fairly standard and houses a standard bolt carrier group with a properly staked gas key. The M&P15 PC offers a Hogue pistol grip and standard controls like firing selector, forward assist as well as a Mil-Spec charging handle. The trigger, however, is a two-stage match, yet another clue pointing toward the ultimate goal of accuracy. Finally, the buttstock is a standard A2 style complete with a storage compartment and sling loop. The rifle, with scope added, weighed in at 9.2-pounds.
How does the M&P15 PC run?
Knowing this rifle wasn’t designed for concealment or CQB style engagements, I mounted a Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-12x40 scope on the rail and bore-sighted it before heading to the range. Due to the current ammo shortage, I was only able to obtain Wolf 55-grain 5.56 NATO for testing. I usually prefer shooting a few different brands and weights, but Wolf was all I could find.
Starting at 25-yards, I placed the M&P15 PC in a CTK Precision Ultimate Gun Vise. I loaded up the Wolf 55-grain in the AICS 10-round magazine that came with the gun. My first group was high, but after an adjustment, I pulled a couple of 1/4-inch groups. Pushing out to 50-yards, I adjusted the Vortex a bit more and the rifle managed 1-inch groups or less. Finally, I reached out to 100-yards consistently averaging 1.5-inch groups while at times battling a crossing tailwind. I was impressed with the accuracy.
The controls were a mix of standard to great. I really liked the grip. The rubber texture and finger grooves were outstanding and allowed me to establish good contact before relaxing my hand. The trigger would move back about a millimeter before hitting a firm wall, then break crisply around 4-pounds of pressure. My Lyman Digital Gauge averaged it at 3.14-pounds. Reset was tactile and audible upon release, and the space before the wall was inserted once again for the next press.
The fire control selector was standard as was the charging handle. I find the Mil-Spec charging handle to be a bit anemic though admittedly this is a personal preference. Based on the intent behind the use of this gun, you wouldn’t necessarily need an upgraded charging handle.
To test feeding and reloading, I fired five rounds from several brands of magazines including Magpul, Hexmag, old aluminum mags, even new polymer mags from KCI -- all of which fed reliably and held the bolt open on the last round. I found they entered the magwell easily and also cleared it without issue if I kept the rifle horizontal upon release. This drill did heat up the aluminum forend to the point I needed to set it in the shade for a bit. Between accuracy and general function testing, I fired just a bit over 500 rounds through the rifle.
A Real Hotrod
This gun is extremely accurate. I would imagine it capable of sub-MOA groupings with different ammunition. The 1-in-8 twist lends itself favorably to a heavier bullet which would generate more flight stability, particularly out of a 20-inch barrel.
You can let your imagination run wild as far as the applications go for the M&P15 PC, but I see a strong hunting role, particularly varmint hunting, with the 5.56 NATO caliber. In fact, Smith & Wesson offers a full camouflage Realtree Max-1 finish.
Priced around $1,579, all you’ll have to do is add a scope and a sling, and you’re off to the races.