Best 5.56 Rifles That Are Not AR-15s

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 seven of what I consider are the best 5.56 rifles that are not 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 has to 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 seven that I think are worthy AR-15 replacements in various configurations and designs. But before we start I also want to address an elephant in the room. 

Table of Contents

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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. 

FS2000
FS2000

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 556, the C93 could all be on this list, but because they’ve been discontinued they can only be found on the second-hand market

Gunbroker
Just a hint…

Likewise, guns like the SCAR 16S are still produced but hard to find and often sold for an above MSRP price. This also makes it difficult to suggest as an adequate AR-15 replacement. 

The SCAR 16S
The SCAR 16S

I self-imposed these rules to make me search out weapons that are both practical and obtainable. 

Best 5.56 Guns That Aren’t AR-15s

1. BRN-180 

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 to 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.

800
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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. 

130
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Check out our full BRN-180 Fighting Rifle Build.

2. CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine

As a tactical hipster, I can’t make this list without adding CZ to it. The CZ Bren 2 MS Carbine is the latest generation of the Bren series. The original Bren was designed for a military contract, but 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 carbon fiber composite lower. 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. The nonreciprocating charging handle can be swapped from the left to the 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. 

1999
at CZ USA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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 MCX 

You have to appreciate that SIG doesn’t do things in a small way. SIG introduced the MCX and then starting 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 with the ability to 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 the popularity of this rail-based stock mounting system, it has become an almost new standard for short-stroke gas piston guns. 

The SIG MCX also mimics most AR-15 controls so it can be a seamless transition from the AR-15 to the MCX. This includes the charging handle, the safety, magazine release, the bolt release, and the forward assist. The safety and magazine release are ambidextrous as well. 

1799
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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 

The Steyr AUG is one of the most successful bullpup designs ever. It addressed a lot of 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 than vent 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 out there on the web on how you can customize your own baby.

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

Steyr also embraces these companies and builders, and seems supportive of their efforts. Can you say customization one more time for me? Customization. Hells yeah.

Most Interesting Combat Bullpup
1900
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The AUG has maintained its status as an excellent combat rifle and more than proven itself. This is my all-time favorite bullpup rifle. 

Check out our Steyr Aug Hands-On Review.

5. IWI Tavor… Everything

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. 

The Tavor series does hold a more modern design over the AUG and has 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 tho… yum.

The light and handy little 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. 

1750
at Kentucky Gun Co.

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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

Check out our full review of the X95 here.

What’s your take on the Tavor?

Readers' Ratings

4.81/5 (78)

Your Rating?

6. Kel-Tec SU-16 

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 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 the choice for you. 

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 has 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 bucks, 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. 

549
at Gunprime

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Runners-Up

(Editor) We know there’s 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

The 5.56 Options 

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 bucks. 

Clips of green-tip 5.56 ammo

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

Do you guys agree with my list? What AR-15s 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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23 Leave a Reply

  • Mr M

    There are a few others I like: Bren Carbine SR-556 C93 Galeo/Galil Sig 556

    1 second ago
  • Erik

    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...

    1 week ago
  • Juan

    IWI/Galil ACE?

    4 weeks ago
  • Jack Doyle

    IMO you should have started with Ruger Mini 14 instead of stopping with it. One of the great, and affordable, rifles of our time. Interesting article. Thanks for the research.

    4 weeks ago
  • Nicholas

    Why didn't the Robinson XCR-L make the cut?

    1 month ago
  • meat servo

    Where's the CZ Bren? Galil?

    1 month ago
    • Nathan

      The CZ Bren is on the list

      1 week ago
  • Sylvain Corbaz

    The SIG SG55x series clearly has its place in the list. More than the MCX, which is an AR-15 hybrid. The B&T APC223/556 could have been part of the list as well ;)

    1 month ago
  • Ryan B

    Just out of curiosity why list the Kel Tec SU-16 and not the RDB, a 5.56 Bullpup that many have said has a better stock trigger than the Tavor SAR? I understand that you can’t list everything but I think the RDB deserves the SU-16’s spot.

    1 month ago
  • Scott Hannah

    Why no mention about the Bushmaster ACR Yes it's no longer made like the "tactical tuna" I wish I had bought one when they were still made:)

    1 month ago
  • Yogi

    OK Travis well written but IMHO way out in left field. The problem with the AR 15 is its looks! Most of the rifles you listed look enough like the AR that from a distance the gun grabbers couldn't tell one from another or the AR 15. The Mini14 is pretty much a rifle that looks like dear old dad's hunting rifle. (Only one I would have included on a list),

    1 month ago
  • S

    What about the Marcolmar CETME-L. I know they are a parts build rifle but they are currently selling them. $1350.00 ish. Galil Ace, not sure if they are currently being produced or not though. I had a Galil for awhile but it was SUPER picky on what ammo it would shoot and I was a novice shooter back then too, I didn't know much about it when I bought it and traded it off later because it was so picky. It had a skeletonized side folding stock.

    1 month ago
  • PCB

    The Bren is a great alternative. Just returned from AF, where the Czechs use their selective fire version. Terrific weapon.

    1 month ago
  • someguy

    Mossberg MVP ??? I was expecting a list of bolties and other types

    1 month ago
  • Walter Wade

    Why no mention of the Kel-Tec RDB in 5.56? IMHO better trigger, more accurate(in my limited experience with both) and I just like the way it operates. Just sayin’

    1 month ago
  • JP

    The title of your article is 'Best 5.56 Rifles That Are Not AR-15s', and it caught my eye. Even though you drifted into a narrower discussion on semi-auto alternatives only, it got me thinking about a rifle that I have found to be extremely fun, accurate, and very affordable - the 'Ruger American Ranch model 26965'. When God forbid Beto comes grabbing all the (ahem yup sure thing Joe maybe not AR-16s) 'assault rifles', I will still be flingin' 5.56 from my pre-Covid stockpile.

    1 month ago
  • roger fallecker

    Nice job on the alternatives. Not a lot of sources delve this deeply into the 5.56 alternatives.

    1 month ago
  • Mryfyh

    Why did you leave out Kel Tec RDB???

    1 month ago
  • iBurninoil

    How about the HK MR 556A1? For some reason you always leave if off these lists.

    1 month ago
  • IN Dave

    Robinson Armament xcr would be another consideration. Kind of in the bren2/ACR/SCAR style of weapons but conversion kits on market/available/reasonable affordable.

    1 month ago
  • earl

    Why the Kel Tec SU-16 and not the RDB? The RDB is awesome.

    1 month ago
  • olsarge

    Ruger Mini 14. It's been around for 50 years and is still being produced. It can be had for under a grand, and even though it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of some of the newer guns, I think it still has a great cool factor. I can remember how badly I wanted one in the 70's, but couldn't afford it on an Army privates pay(and where would I keep it since guns weren't allowed in the barracks?).

    1 month ago
    • John Paul

      I was able to keep a Glenfield .22 in my Fort Hoo barracks, in the Arm's Room on the first floor. It was an incredible hassle to get it out then check it in, but I put up with it for a year or so.

      1 month ago
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