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Best 5.56 Rifles That Are Not AR-15s

Tavor Vs AR-15
Love 5.56 but don't want to be like all the other AR-15 guys? Don't worry, we've got you. Check out the best 5.56 rifles that aren't ARs!
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    Updated April 2024: Marcolmar Cetme LC and KelTec RDB removed.

    We all know in the world of tactical 5.56 rifles, the AR-15 rules.

    Oftentimes it seems like the only choice for a modern semi-auto 5.56 caliber rifle. 

    Favorite AR-15s
    So. Many. ARs.

    What if I told you it didn’t have to be

    What if I told you there were better or, at the least, alternative options? As a natural-born contrarian, I have a hard time settling for the rifle in use by everyone else. 

    So I seek out alternatives. I’ve even found some of what I consider the best 5.56 rifles that aren’t AR-15s. 

    Tavor Vs AR-15
    Like… the IWI Tavor X95!

    The rules are simple when it comes to selecting 5.56 rifles that aren’t the AR-15. If you can read the title, you know the rules — it must be in 5.56 and can’t be an AR-15.

    Believe it or not, there are lots and lots of non-AR-15 rifles in 5.56, but many of them are hard to love.

    I’ve found a handful worthy of being called AR-15 replacements in various configurations and designs. But before we start, I also want to address the elephant in the room. 


    1. Best AR-15 Alternative

      Sig Sauer MCX Spear-LT

    2. Best 5.56 Bullpup

      Steyr AUG A3 M1

    3. Best Budget Option

      Kel-Tec SU-16

    Table of Contents



    I’ve spent a lifetime shooting, starting with a family that hunted every season they legally could. From there, I joined the United States Marine Corps and spent five years as an infantryman.

    Streamlight Travis Test (7)

    In the middle of my Marine Corps career, I began writing and have never stopped. I soon earned my NRA instructor certification and used my knowledge to help guide students.

    I love shooting, and I love guns — weird guns, old guns, new guns, tactical guns, you name it. I’m a continual student of firearms, and I strive to educate myself to provide the best information possible to the readers of Pew Pew Tactical.

    Ground Rules

    I love the FS2000.

    FN’s tactical tuna has been one of my favorite rifles for a very long time, and I can’t help but love it. It was a robust, ergonomic, and fun rifle. 


    It’s not on this list, though. Why? 

    Because it’s been discontinued

    Sad goodbye
    Farewell, sweet Tactical Tuna.

    This article could be filled with guns discontinued or almost impossibly hard to find.

    Guns like the aforementioned FS2000, the Sig Sauer 556, the C93, etc…but because they’ve been discontinued, they can only be found on the second-hand market

    So, we’re keeping to guns that you can actually find out in the wild without having to promise your firstborn.

    Best 5.56 Guns That Aren’t AR-15s

    1. BRN-180 


    • Compatible with AR-15 lower receivers
    • Highly accurate
    • Mild recoil


    • Not available as a ready-to-shoot model

    This is a wildcard choice because the BRN-180 can use a standard AR-15 lower receiver.

    At the same time, Brownells does make a dedicated BRN-180 lower, and since the BRN-180 uses a completely different operating system, I don’t consider it an AR-15. 

    The BRN-180 is a clone of the failed Armalite AR-18 and AR-180 series rifles.

    BRN-180 Fighting Rifle and Kit
    BRN-180 Fighting Rifle and Kit

    These guns have a storied history but were never very successful. The BRN-180 modernizes and changes the design a bit to make the upper compatible with AR-15 lowers. 

    BRN-180 gas system
    BRN-180 gas system

    This rifle uses a short-stroke gas piston that loses the need for a stock with a buffer system, which allows you to use a folding stock with the ability to still operate the weapon.

    The internal buffer system is contained in the upper receiver with a dual spring design that makes the BRN-180 a soft shooting rifle. 

    Field Stripped BRN-180

    The BRN-180 uses a traditional right-side charging handle, has a flat top upper receiver, and an M-LOK handguard.

    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Honestly, the modernized BRN-180 is an awesome and fun gun that’s highly accurate — and it could be said, as an Armalite design, to be the real successor to the AR-15. 

    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Check out our full BRN-180 Fighting Rifle Build.

    2. CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine


    • Cold hammer forged barrel
    • Folding stock
    • Short-stroke gas piston system


    • Price
    • Minimal aftermarket

    As a tactical hipster, I can’t make this list without adding CZ.

    The CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine is the latest generation of the Bren series.

    Though the original Bren was designed for a military contract, the Bren 2 (Electric Boogaloo) was made for civilian and law enforcement sales. 

    CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine
    CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine

    Being outside of a military contract allowed CZ some room to grow.

    The Bren 2 is incredibly lightweight and uses an aluminum upper with a carbon fiber composite lower. And the rifle variant weighs 7.3 pounds. I do appreciate a good light rifle. 

    CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine
    It’s just so lovely…

    The controls also outperform most guns in its class. Its nonreciprocating charging handle can be swapped from left to right.

    After that, everything is truly ambidextrous. This includes the magazine release, bolt release, and safety. 

    CZ Bren 2 MS Pistol
    It also comes in a pistol model, but we ain’t here to talk about that today. (Ballistic Magazine)

    The MS model has a modular handguard system that allows the end user to shorten or extend the handguard as needed.

    Also, barrel swaps are very easy, so converting this gun to an SBR is a real possibility. 

    Available Coupons

    The Bren keeps the short-stroke gas piston system, and the gun uses a folding stock to shrink the gun to a mere 28 inches.

    Both rifle and pistol variants are now available, and pistol variants are begging for a brace. 

    3. Sig Sauer MCX 


    • Accurate and reliable
    • Fully ambidextrous
    • Large caliber


    • Expensive
    • Heavy

    You have to appreciate that Sig doesn’t do things in a small way.

    The company introduced the MCX and then started pumping out variants of all different sizes and furniture configurations.

    sig mcx rifle
    Ain’t she purdy?

    The design influence seemed to be based on making the gun as modular as possible, which, as an upgrade junkie, I can wholeheartedly get behind. 

    Sig proclaims the MCX series has 500 different possible configurations that can fulfill a wide variety of mission profiles.

    The MCX uses a short-stroke gas piston system that allows for folding stocks.

    sig mcx pistol
    Sig MCX Pistol Model

    Because of its popularity, this rail-based stock mounting system has become an almost new standard for short-stroke gas piston guns. 

    The MCX also mimics most AR-15 controls, so the transition from the AR-15 to the MCX can be seamless.

    This includes the charging handle, the safety, the magazine release, the bolt release, and the forward assist. The safety and magazine release are also ambidextrous. 

    Best AR-15 Alternative
    at Kygunco

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Of course, the MCX offers standard rifle options, SBRs, and various pistol systems, including the very cool Rattler model.

    Because of the very modular system, it’s very neat and innovative — as far as 5.56 rifles go. 

    Check out our review on the pistol version of the Sig MCX.

    4. Steyr AUG 


    • Compact
    • Quick-change barrels
    • Rugged


    • High MSRP
    • Sub-optimal trigger

    The Steyr AUG is one of the most successful bullpup designs ever.

    It addressed many bullpup problems in its design and allows for comfortable use for both lefties and righties. The ergonomics are absolutely outstanding. 

    Steyr AUG A3 M1
    Steyr AUG A3 M1

    The AUG first entered service in 1978, so for a rifle in its 40s, it’s held up rather well.

    Steyr currently sells the AUG A3 M1 model. This model offers various length sections of Picatinny rail to attach your favorite optics as well as the famed integrated optics options. 

    Now, the details!

    The AUG uses a clean running short-stroke gas piston system that vents excess gas forward and out of the rifle. It’s incredibly reliable and surprisingly modular.

    Steyr AUG
    Steyr AUG

    Dedicated Steyr fanboys have made numerous changes to the rifle and have enhanced its ergonomics, so you’re bound to find plenty of fun ideas on the web on how you can customize your baby.

    Irish Army marching with Steyr AUG rifles
    Irish Army marching with Steyr AUG rifles

    Steyr also embraces these companies and builders, seemingly supportive of their efforts.

    Can you say customization one more time for me? Customization. Hells yeah.

    Best 5.56 Bullpup
    at Bereli

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    The AUG has maintained its status as an excellent combat rifle and has more than proven itself.

    Check out our Steyr AUG Hands-On Review.

    5. IWI Tavor…Everything


    • Short overall length
    • Reliable


    • Gassy when suppressed
    • Mediocre trigger

    Staying on the bullpup train, let’s talk IWI’s Tavor line. When I say Tavor, I mean all the 5.56 models, from the old standard to the newer X95.

    Tavor Vs AR-15
    Tavor X95 vs. AR-15

    The Tavor series is likely the most popular 5.56 bullpup in the States. 

    Out of Tavor’s line, the X95 has one of the better bullpup triggers and is considerably lighter than the competition.

    Timney and Geissele produce drop-in Tavor triggers to make the trigger even better.

    Tavor Rear View
    Tavor Rear View

    The gun has also proven to be an ergonomic bullpup with AR-like controls that are relatively easy to learn. 

    IWI’s Tavor series holds a more modern design over the AUG, offering an easier time accommodating accessories and rails.

    You also get a nice long, flat top upper with plenty of optics space. 

    Tavor sights
    That top rail, though… yum.

    This light and handy gun has quickly become a favorite on the bullpup market.

    The Tavor X95 is a mere 26.125 inches long with a 16.5-inch barrel. IWI even produces SBR variants with 13-inch barrels if you need to go even shorter. 

    Like the AR-15, the Tavor is modular, and conversion for 300 Blackout and 9mm are a thing should you desire them. 

    at Kygunco

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Check out our full review of the X95 here.

    What’s your take on the Tavor? Rate it here!

    Readers’ Ratings

    4.99/5 (1298)

    Your Rating?

    6. Kel-Tec SU-16 


    • Relatively affordable
    • Super lightweight
    • Ultra-reliable


    • Rough recoil

    So far, every 5.56 rifle alternative to the AR-15 has been a relatively expensive weapon.

    The AR market is so saturated that the prices are at an all-time low — even with post-pandemic pricing.

    kel-tec su-16
    Kel-Tec SU-16

    If you are on a budget but still want an AR alternative, the Kel-Tec SU-16 might be your choice. 

    The SU-16 is a unique rifle that’s unlike any other.

    Some variants feature fixed stocks, but the SU-16C sports a bizarre but cool, under-folding stock.

    Kel-Tec released a bunch of models that come with various features and barrel lengths. 

    Kel-Tec SU-16 Folded
    Kel-Tec SU-16 Folded

    For instance, the SU-16B is the carbine variant with a fixed stock and weighs a mere 4.5 pounds. Now that is a lightweight rifle. 

    Several models have a handguard that converts to a bipod or stocks that allow the storage of extra magazines.

    The SU series uses a unique gas piston design that allows for reliable operation.

    Kel-Tec SU-16B
    Kel-Tec SU-16B

    Admittedly the recoil is a little rougher than most, but a 4.5-pound rifle will do that.

    The guns are also often priced at under $500, some a little more depending on the features chosen.

    They are superbly small and minimalist in design, so they can be an excellent choice for someone on a budget or someone who wants to go as light as possible. 

    Best Budget Option
    at GrabAGun

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    7. Robinson Armament XCR


    • Uses AR-15 magazines
    • Easily converts to other calibers
    • Soft shooting


    • Expensive

    When it comes to high-end, modular 5.56 caliber rifles, the Robinson Armament XCR is tough to beat.

    It comes in many different calibers, barrel lengths, stock, handguard configurations, and more.

    Obviously, we are picking the 5.56 model, and to simplify things, let’s go with the XCR-L Standard with a 16-inch barrel.

    The XCR series utilizes a long-stroke gas piston combined with a heavy-duty bolt. Its famed bolt outperforms the AR-15 series and offers more reliable and longer-lasting performance.

    The absence of a receiver extension for the buffer allows you to use a folding stock — including a wire style stock, the Magpul Zhukov stock, and even ACR stocks.

    The XCR does use AR-15 magazines — a big selling point as far as I’m concerned.

    Aero Precision Thunder Ranch TR15 AR Mags
    All the mags!

    If 5.56 isn’t enough, converting to various calibers is hardly an issue. The ability to swap calibers without an armorer makes the weapon one of the most modular on the planet.

    Plus, it’s plenty accurate, soft shooting, and reliable with various barrel lengths.

    We get a fair amount of influence from some of the world’s best rifles to form one excellent option if the world of the AR-15 has largely bored you.

    at Robinson Armament

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    8. IWI Galil ACE Gen 2


    • Reliable
    • Accurate
    • Durable


    • Heavy
    • No included iron sights

    It’d be easy to leave us Galil fans clamoring, but IWI does more than produce a Galil. They produced a modern Galil in the form of the ACE Gen 2.

    IWI’s commitment to the Galil platform earns my respect.

    Since the gun makes the list, you can bet your bottom dollar it comes in 5.56. Better yet, it even uses AR-15 magazines!

    Galil ACE Gen 2 Folded
    Galil ACE Gen 2 Folded

    Now, what does the new Galil do to make the list?

    Well, that’s easy. It comes with a long M-LOK handguard, massive optics rail, side folding stock, and ergonomics that make AK fanboys whine.

    Yet we still get that AK reliability and the long-stroke gas piston design that’s proven to be rugged in the worst places the world has to offer.

    Galil ACE Gen 2 Shooting
    Galil ACE Gen 2

    It’s admittedly a heavy rifle, especially in the days of ultralight ARs. However, the Galil ACE Gen 2 gives you a smooth shooting rifle that’s plenty accurate and a ton of fun to handle.

    This gun gets you farther and farther from the AR platform, and when you’re bored of ARs, you might want to stay far away.

    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Johnny took the Galil ACE Gen 2 for a ride, so be sure to read his full review or check out the video below.


    (Editor) We know there are some perennial favorites that our writer didn’t choose…and that we’d be remiss not to include somehow!

    Mini-14 (4)
    A Pair of Minis

    Final Thoughts

    Admittedly I’d love to see more AR alternatives, but they are often a difficult sell in a market dominated by one rifle type.

    It takes a helluva good rifle to stick around in a market where ARs can be had for $400. 

    Green-tip 5.56 ammo

    The above rifles are well-tuned, well-designed, and made to last. They also offer you something different from the old standard AR-15 in how they operate, handle, and feel. 

    What AR-15 alternatives would you add? Or just check out Best AR-15 Alternative Calibers. Need to feed the beast? Check out the Best 5.56 Ammo.

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    70 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar

      all are great choices, but in my opinion, you would be better off just sticking with an AR. Mainly is because of modularity and price, for the most part you could buy three budget AR's, maybe even mid tier, even in different calibers, for the price of any one of those mentioned in this article. which is one of the biggest reasons that the AR is still reins King as America's rifle. not to mention reliability, durability, accuracy, for a price that cant be beat/

      February 22, 2023 5:45 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Sorry, all of these look like a rework of the "evil black gun". Want something really different in 5.56, how about the Henry Long Ranger or better yet the Long Ranger Express. All the range, power and availability in an inouquous lever gun! At least deserves honorable mention IMHO

      February 22, 2023 5:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      My 2 cents.. A dependable 5.56
      SU-16 CA , Parkerized internals and under 5 lbs. Folds up in a backpack. No pistol grip fin, no CA Mag lock , use P-mags .

      February 21, 2023 11:36 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Stunned you don't have a CZ Bren on the list somewhere.

      February 21, 2023 10:02 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Ruger Gunsite Scout in .556 (or .308). Rugged, Beautiful and Bulletproof.

      February 21, 2023 8:34 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I have two suggestions for the list though one may be in limbo at the moment. The Beretta ARX-100 and the Desert Tech MDR. I don’t know if you have reviewed either but I will peruse your site to find out.

      February 21, 2023 7:51 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Louis Lunetta

      Rugur Mini 14, the first non AR15. If you don't like the wood stock- the ATI stock works great.

      February 21, 2023 6:51 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Was surprised not to see this on the list. It's super popular.

        February 21, 2023 9:45 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Daniel Hilts

      Great article thanks for the info, also do you get to test out all the weapons that you write about?
      Thanks again.

      February 21, 2023 6:28 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I love your reviews and info, but you seem to always skip over the HK 556 in AR compares, any reason for that?

      February 21, 2023 6:24 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Brett Lybarger

      How about the Zastava M90 and M85. They are fantastic. I can't believe how many people in the comments aren't going through the entire list, mentioning rifles that are actually listed.

      February 21, 2023 6:23 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David Boerboom

      One that isn't so easy to find in the wild, the Para TTR... Now there's a rifle I wish I would have bought.

      February 21, 2023 6:12 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      John in VA

      You missed m6 favorite…the Mini 14.

      February 21, 2023 5:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Your list of 'alternatives to the AR' has AR platform rifles on it. For example, the Sig Sauer MCX and the BRN-180 and the Robinson Armament XCR are AR platform rifles, just with a different designation and some changes. Although not the specific AR-15 these are basically AR's.

      The AR-15 isn't special. Its just another AR platform rifle that was derived from an AR platform rifle called the AR-10 that originated as a platform concept and not a specific rifle but a rifle made using that concept was called the AR-10 because it was the `10th rifle design by Armalite in that platform series (not all of them made it off the drawing board) thus 'Armalite Rifle 10' or AR-10 for short. The AR platform was (for Armalite) and is today still just a platform, not a specific rifle.

      February 13, 2023 5:45 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jacki Billings

        Right, because this list isn't the best alternative to the AR platform; it's specific to the AR-15. So that's why there are AR platforms on the list. Thanks for reading!

        February 13, 2023 8:11 am
        • Commenter Avatar

          But the AR-15 is the platform, just a different rendition. So in effect this title is "the best alternative to the AR platform"

          February 13, 2023 8:59 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Now try this list again without the "Basically an AR" mentions. Like the BRN-180 and MCX.

      Every article I come across that are "Alternatives to ARs" seem to immediately mention firearms that are, full all purposes, STILL ARs.

      Try harder.

      January 16, 2023 10:25 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Sadly, my favorite is no longer being produced and or sold in the USA. The South Korean Daewoo. I had one and loved it but in a moment of stupidity sold it.

      June 22, 2022 8:33 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jonathan McMahan

      so i'am new to guns but my dad has 56 in total so i'am learning is a FN Scar better than a AR 15

      March 14, 2022 2:01 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Joshua L Poppell

        In certain aspects yes, others no. I was in the Infantry and most guys I met that got to use the scar weren't a fan of it. The M4 is more versatile in what you can do with it. The scar is a good weapon don't get me wrong, just not good at the price asked I feel.

        August 26, 2022 1:39 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Absolutely, Jonathan.

        November 30, 2022 3:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jon Lamont

      A great alternative to the AR-15 is an Finnish made, Valmet m/76 FS in 5.56.

      While being an AK variant, it is (or was) the finest, most well-made, and beautifully constructed rifle not being an AR.

      Pew Pew Tactical has offered many great articles, photos, and information, so a huge thumbs up and a Thank You.

      January 10, 2022 3:45 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Brian D

      Nothing from PWS and their long stroke AR’s?

      January 6, 2022 2:41 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I'm guessing reading is not your strong suit. It literally says in the title in bold letters NON AR rifles.

        March 11, 2022 6:29 am
        • Commenter Avatar


          August 6, 2022 2:03 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Pws I believe would fall under "PISTON DRIVEN AR15" and so would be better suited for PEW PEWS "Best Piston Driven AR15 RIFLES" Article. Not their "BEST 5.56 NON-AR15 RIFLE" article. Hope that makes sense friend.

        P.s. Also little buddy, I believe they hand out popcorn, and bouncy balls for "special" readers like yourself to play with in the corner, while the rest of us discuss the article at hand.

        August 6, 2022 2:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Euhm... FN SCAR?
      Anyone? Only the gun of choise of SOCOM.

      January 6, 2022 1:50 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Travis L Pike

        Socom dumped the 5.56 scar years ago

        January 6, 2022 2:28 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          Boom exactly, but but but they still use them in call of duty omg. Are my eyes bad or is choice spelt with a c?

          March 11, 2022 6:31 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        The only one they actually ran for a bit was the 7.62 variant. The 5.56 got dumped quick. Most Socom gents hated them.

        March 11, 2022 6:30 am
        • Commenter Avatar

          Gents? Hahahahahaha! And thanks for the English lessons.

          June 8, 2022 5:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      What about Robinson armaments XCR? It runs on a shorr stroke gas piston and is a very comfortable highly modular rifle that comes in a standard 556 model with changeover kits for 6.8 SPC 6.5 Grendel 300 Blackout and more. Also a larger 308 based XCR is available to as well as its many caliber change kits. It's an excellent rifle and should have been included for sure.

      January 29, 2021 7:39 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        #7 on the list.

        January 7, 2022 11:58 am
        • Commenter Avatar

          Probably one of those tards that skimmed through it so he could insert his own comment into the list. Think glock fan boys on forums lol.

          March 11, 2022 6:32 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        What rifle is #7?

        January 12, 2022 5:28 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Everything listed here is named in the Biden/Feinstein ban legislation.

      The only item not on the list is the plain Ruger Mini 14... no barrel threads, no muzzle device, no bayonet lug, no pistol grip and no collapsing/adjustable/folding stock.

      I purchased one earlier this month.

      November 28, 2020 4:53 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Damon Schlott

        I believe Kel Tec makes a fixed stock version of SU 16 which would be compliant.

        January 23, 2021 5:39 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mr M

      There are a few others I like:

      Bren Carbine
      Sig 556

      October 16, 2020 10:08 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I think if i'm not retarded and can open my eyes the Bren is number 2 on the list. As for the others you listed, I had a sig 556. Loved it especially the xi modular one. I think this list might be only comprised of weapons you can buy new from manufacture 556 and a few others you labeled you can only buy used.

        March 11, 2022 6:34 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I like your choices, but one of my favorite guns is the Kel-Tec RDB. A great .556 option in my opinion. Bullpups are awesome, and the RDB is a great choice for lefty’s as well. Decent trigger, and oh so nice to shoot. That being said, the Tavor is still on my list... And the Bren is missing, a bit of a surprise...

      October 6, 2020 7:53 pm