Caracal Pushes Piston Rifles Forward

A new brand is raising the bar for top-tier short-stroke piston rifles.

Caracal Pushes Piston Rifles Forward

Caracal has an interesting background. In the company’s 15-year history it has become an internationally recognized small-arms manufacturer and designer of high-precision, battlefield-proven firearms. The development of their CAR816 is even more interesting. 

Caracal is part of EDGE Group's Missiles & Weapons cluster that spans air, land, naval and electronic warfare systems headquartered in Abu Dhabi, but has separate independently owned subsidiaries globally. Caracal USA is the exclusive U.S. producer of Caracal firearms in Nampa, Idaho, and leverages all the global design and engineering resources for the 100% U.S.-based production of Caracal firearms. 

It’s apparent that Caracal has recruited some of the best engineering and design talent globally to create the best firearms and weapons in the world; the creation of the CAR816 reflects that strategy.

The story of the CAR816 starts with the German engineers who were originally part of the famous HK416 development and later the Sig 516, 716, MPX and MCX platforms. Those engineers now work for Caracal and developed the next evolution of the piston-driven format, the CAR816 a2. The result is a firearm that has passed all global military trials requested plus other more extreme tests including bore obstruction, over-the-breach safety tests and a 20,000-round torture test combining fully automatic and semi-automatic fire for the military version of the platform. The Caracal’s CAR816 is gaining a reputation usually reserved for the class of military-grade firearms such as FN, Sig, HK and IWI, which have delivered features, design, engineering and durability far beyond a rack-grade Mil-Spec M16 or AR15.

Design Quality

Like those top-tier brands, the Caracal CAR816 design and features have strayed away from standard Mil-Spec in terms of functionality, reliability and ergonomic enhancements. Those upgrades include strengthened and ergonomically enhanced upper and lower receivers that are both backward compatible with Mil-Spec lowers and uppers. The 7075 forged receivers have a clean updated Mil-Spec style reminiscent of billet receivers. According to Caracal, beyond looking cool, these receiver enhancements improve strength and overall handling of the CAR816.  

Ergonomically, the enhancements continue with a Strike Industries bolt catch and latchless charging handle, ambidextrous selector, Lancer magazine, and stakeless PWS end plate with integrated QD mount. The Magpul STR Carbine Stock is the perfect fit for the overall CAR816 design. The Caracal offers rifle and SBR modes with 16-, 14.5- and 11.5-inch barrels all with 9-inch M-Lok handguards, integrated QD points, and a unique anti-rotation design that locks the handguard into the receiver. 

Internally, an upgraded powdered metal tungsten buffer is used to smooth cycling and enhance reliability of standard Mil-Spec parts. The bolt carrier group is QPQ-coated with a Carpenter 158 bolt housed in an anti-tilt carrier. Notably, Caracal has designed a low-mass carrier, thereby reducing the gas pressure required to cycle the action and ultimately reducing recoil — all a very nice touch. Caracal also includes the exceptional Hiperfire EDT Sharpshooter 5.5-pound trigger, which contributes to better-than-expected accuracy for a military-grade rifle. 

The gun is made from 4150 CMV, QPQ coated and chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO. The barrel is a unique, modified, lightweight M4 profile I have not seen on a rifle before. This was the barrel profile that passed the international abuse testing and Caracal USA carried over the design. The barrel features a 1:7 twist and a standard A2 flash hider with 1/2x28 threading. 

The short-stroke push-rod gas piston design is controlled by a three-position gas valve and delivers an extremely clean and cool-running gun even after 1,000 rounds of testing. Disassembly is a simple tool-less process for field cleaning though the system is designed for prolonged and sustained fire in harsh environments without maintenance. All that is required for push-rod disassembly is a push of the gas adjustment release button and turning the adjustment lever 180-degrees. Similar to the HK and Sig push-rod systems, the CAR816 design has an adjustable gas-block barrel, with the spring-loaded push-rod pushing into that barrel. What is a bit different is a small O-ring seal that further enhances system durability and reliability according to Caracal. The gas system provides settings for Suppressed, Standard and Adverse. Notably, Adverse is only used temporarily when proper function is hampered due to some type of system blockage.

Based on my testing, all of these settings are tuned for reliability, and I had no issues with function even with the very broad selection of extremely light to very hot ammunition used. Caracal has obviously done a lot of testing to ensure the CAR816 is reliable even with a low-mass carrier and reduced gas pressures powering the short-stroke gas system. As expected, the CAR816 rifle ran flawlessly suppressed and unsuppressed throughout the 1,000 rounds of testing using a variety of MFT, Magpul and Lancer magazines. Hornady, Winchester and Federal provided all the ammunition used in testing and MFT supplied extra Extreme Duty Magazines for testing.

What the Caracal CAR816 delivers is the next evolution of the famed HK416 and Sig 516 designs. It's just tweaked a bit more, the recoil feels smoother, it’s flatter shooting and it weighs less at only 7.4 pounds. It’s a few ounces lighter than the Sig 516 and up to a pound less than the HK416 and nearly 2 pounds lighter than the IWI Galil II. For a piston rifle it’s the lightweight, which will be a very big deal for many prospective buyers.

All Caracal USA products are proudly manufactured in the U.S. in Nampa, Idaho, and all offer lifetime warranties. For dealers who want a high-quality and more advanced version of the HK416 and Sig 516, the CAR816 offers high availability with U.S.-based production. 

Adding Optics

Testing was completed primarily with a very fast-shooting Primary Arms SLx 3X MicroPrism optic with ACSS Raptor Reticle, and an Armasight Contractor 6-24 Thermal Weapon Sight during a predator hunt. I would definitely compare the CAR816’s accuracy with the IWI Galil and Sig 516, which similarly deliver a bit better than the Mil-Spec 1-2 MOA standard. Most groups were around the 1 MOA range, and I was able to achieve some sub-MOA groups with match-grade ammunition and higher magnification courtesy of a Hawke Optics 6-24 Frontier riflescope. For testing, I wanted to simulate some potential field swappable configuration changes that included longer-range precision with the Hawke optic, night shooting with the Armasight, and faster closer-range shooting with the Primary Arms and some Trijicon sights. Notably the CAR816 felt comfortable and performed well in all those scenarios. 

The $320 Primary Arms SLx MicroPrism is about the same size as a standard red-dot sight but offers a number of impressive features that include improved clarity and field of view, an etched reticle, eye-focus adjustment and BDC reticle design. It delivers an extremely clear 3x magnified optic in the industry's smallest prismatic optic size with a 20K-hour runtime and etched reticle that can be used even without power. The ACSS reticle offers a full BDC 0- to 600-yard compensating reticle with 5 mph wind holds. It was well tuned to military-velocity 55-grain .223 rounds. 

The Armasight Contract 6-24 Thermal Weapons Sight allows instant identification of a target’s heat signature even in complete darkness. Armasight’s simple and intuitive interface with a very limited number of buttons really makes it stand apart from more complex electro-optics. The sight is ready to use right out of the box and offers simple zero options, shot-activated recording, inclinometer, compass, level, firearm profiles to allow use on multiple firearms plus all the regular features expected on feature-rich electro-optics. 

The CAR816 Delivers

I am sure that as a dealer you have the same skepticism of new brands and products that I do as a writer in the industry for the past two decades. In this case, Caracal is delivering an impressive short-stroke piston rifle that sets it apart from others in the industry. And they promise something other competitors do not: very high availability. 

Historically, similar competing designs have been on constant backorder and have low availability. Caracal says they can usually ship the CAR816 within 10 days for approved dealers, which is a huge improvement for a high-tier piston rifle. Caracal is delivering a very light, reliable, and high-quality rifle platform that premium buyers will seek.


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