The AR-15 is the chief target of the current gun control frenzy created by opportunistic politicians and their mainstream media lap dogs, such as the New York reporter who infamously claimed to have gotten PTSD from firing an AR-15. I would suggest that, in this case, PTSD actually stands for Premeditated Truth Suppression Disorder. It’s a common affliction with members of the media.
Millions of Americans use AR-15s for recreation and self-defense. As events remind us with alarming frequency, an AR-15 could be the only thing standing between you and a criminal or murderous jihadist of either the homegrown or government-imported variety.
Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the value of owning a basic AR-15 probably thinks gun-free zones are a totally rational concept. At the other end of the spectrum are those who bolt enough accessories onto an AR to make it serviceable as a boat anchor.
For the rest of us, the basic AR offers the virtues of being handy, affordable, accurate and lightweight.
Those are the virtues embodied in Smith & Wesson’s new M&P 15 Sport II rifle—an updated take on the popular M&P 15 Sport. The new version has undergone some changes from the original, but the design goal remains the same: Offer a high-performance AR at an affordable price.
I happily took it for a test drive. Here’s a peek under the hood.
“ … the basic AR offers the virtues of being handy, affordable, accurate and lightweight.”
Upgraded, but Still Affordable
The original Sport rifle was popular because it was a well-made rifle from a reputable American manufacturer and could immediately serve in recreational and self-defense roles without breaking the bank. It was stripped down, to be sure, but it quickly earned a reputation for being highly reliable.
Two obvious additions to the Sport II, which is chambered in 5.56 NATO, are a dust cover and a forward assist, which weren’t included on the original. One change that might not please everyone is a switch from a barrel with 5R rifling and a 1:8 twist to a barrel with traditional six-groove rifling and a 1:9 twist. AR aficionados love to debate the merits of one barrel/rifling type versus the other, but in real-world use, I haven’t seen a huge amount of difference in performance.
One change that’s drawn some criticism from keyboard commandos is the fact that the barrel no longer has a Melonite finish. Instead, it’s treated internally and externally with Smith & Wesson’s Armornite finish. I’ll let you in on a small secret: They are essentially the same thing. Both are a nitride treatment that improves corrosion and wear resistance with the added advantages of decreased surface roughness, reduced light reflection and increased lubricity.
The Sport II’s barrel measures 16 inches and is made of 4140 steel, a low-alloy carbon steel known for its high fatigue strength, toughness, impact resistance and torsional strength. As you would expect of a carbine-sized, budget-priced rifle, the barrel has a somewhat slender profile. It is topped with an A2-style flash suppressor that’s screwed on using ½-28 threads.
Smith & Wesson has made the rest of the gun corrosion-resistant and, to the extent possible, resistant to the effects of fouling from powder residue. The bolt carrier and gas key are chrome lined, and the firing pin is chrome plated. Each is made of time-proven steels—AISI 8640 for the firing pin, Carpenter 158 for the bolt and 8620 for the carrier—and the carrier key is properly staked.
Functional, Not Fancy
Upper and lower receivers, made of 7075 T6 aluminum, are hardcoat black anodized. The upper fits snugly to the lower with just a faint hint of wiggle. An integral trigger guard is forged into the lower receiver, and there is plenty of room for a gloved finger. Controls are in their usual locations, and all have grooved surfaces to assist with sure operation in any weather.
The magazine release dropped magazines cleanly. The bolt catch operated reliably and had no annoying sharp edges. The safety selector lever operated with just the right amount of resistance and with a positive click when engaged and disengaged. The bottom of the magazine well is beveled to speed magazine insertion.
I used a variety of magazines from different manufacturers in testing, and they all worked equally well. The gun ships with a 30-round Gen M2 PMAG (except for a couple of state-compliant models, which come with 10-round magazines).
On top, you’ll find a single, integral 7-inch Picatinny rail for mounting optics. The rifle already has a folding MBUS (Magpul backup sight) rear sight in place, paired with an adjustable, A2-style post front site. The front sight is adjustable for elevation, while the rear sight is adjustable for windage. The spring-loaded MBUS pops up at the touch of a finger. Stowed, it protrudes only half an inch above the rail, leaving plenty of room to mount a scope or other optic with the right choice of rings.
Furniture on the Sport II is strictly functional, not fancy. That’s partly why Smith & Wesson is able to offer the rifle at an affordable price. The modified GI-style handguard and grip are basic designs made of polymer. The rifle comes with a six-position, M4-type telescoping stock. Fully extended, the rifle has an overall length of 35 inches and a collapsed length of 32 inches. There’s a single sling attachment point on the butt of the stock and one just forward of the handguard.
“The M&P Sport II is designed for a wide variety of recreational, sport shooting and professional applications,” says Jan Mladek, general manager for the M&P brand. “The buttstock style, grip and handguard are all components that can be further easily customized.”
Adverse Conditions, Good Results
For testing, I mounted a Leupold Mark AR Mod-1 3-9X40mm scope on the rifle with the rock-solid Burris PEPR mount, which is pretty much my standard setup for accuracy-testing MSRs (modern sporting rifles). I ran five different factory loads, with bullet weights ranging from 55 to 77 grains, over my CED chronograph to see what kind of velocities the 16-inch barrel produced.
The Federal Fusion MSR 62-grain load ran 150 fps faster than the factory-stated velocity and easily outran all tested loads—except the Hornady Varmint Express V-MAX load with a lighter, 55-grain bullet. That round stepped out at 2,968 fps, which is some 272 fps slower than the factory-claimed velocity, but that’s because Hornady uses a 24-inch barrel in testing.
Before testing for accuracy, I pushed about 50 rounds down the tube to give the rifle a chance to settle down; it turned in a respectable performance, even though testing was done on a day when 20 mph wind gusts gave me mild fits. All tested loads turned in average groups that ranged from just over an inch to slightly more than an inch and a half at 100 yards. Two 55-grain loads—the Barnes VOR-TX 55-grain TSX load and the Hornady Varmint Express V-MAX load—turned in sub-MOA best groups. The Federal Fusion MSR 62-grain load was close behind.
The rifle seemed to have a slight preference for 55-grain bullets but shot all tested loads reasonably well in the wind. Functionally, it digested everything I fed it without complaint. There were no malfunctions of any kind.
That’s the good news.
I was less than happy with the rifle’s trigger, even though it’s perfectly acceptable for most applications. It broke at an average pull weight of 4 pounds, 13 ounces, which is a little heavy for my liking. It was slightly mushy and had a little creep before stacking and breaking.
This isn’t a deal-killer, however, because I usually replace triggers on factory ARs anyway. It’s the first thing I would change on this gun, and I suspect that doing so would shrink group sizes a bit.
With an MSRP of $739 (and a real-world price of around $600), the Sport II, like the original, represents a real bargain, especially when you consider that it’s backed by Smith & Wesson’s warranty and lifetime service policy.
If you’re in the market for an affordable AR, the Sport II is a good choice. My advice is to get one before those who would destroy our freedoms decide that you—and the Constitution—are no longer relevant.
Action: Gas-operated, direct-impingement semiauto
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Capacity: 30 + 1 with supplied magazine
Barrel: 16 inches, 4140 steel, 1:9 twist
Upper material: 7075 T6 aluminum
Lower material: 7075 T6 aluminum
Front sight: Adjustable A2 post
Rear sight: Folding Magpul MBUS
Overall length: 35 inches extended, 32 inches collapsed
Weight: 6.45 pounds
Furniture: Polymer handguard and pistol grip
SMITH & WESSON M&P SPORT II 5.56 NATO PERFORMANCE
Avg. Muzzle Velocity (fps)
|Avg. 100-Yard Group (inches)||Best 100-Yard Group (inches)|
|Barnes VOR-TX 223 Rem.
55-grain TSX FB
|Black Hills 5.56mm
|Federal Fusion MSR
223 Rem. 62 grain
|Hornady Varmint Express
223 Rem 55grain V-MAX
|Winchester PDX-1 Defender
223 Rem 60 grain
Note: Velocities were measured with the Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph. All groups fired in 8 to 20 mph wind.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2016 print issue of Gun World.