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A Sub-$700 Colt M4? The 5.56mm Colt Expanse. Full Review.

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For more information, visit http://www.colt.com/.

To purchase a Colt Expanse on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Colt%20Expanse.

When it comes to ARs, it all goes back to Colt. Sure, Eugene Stoner at ArmaLite developed the 7.62mm AR-10 that would evolve to become the AR-15 in 5.56mm, but it was Colt who purchased the rights to the latter design and not only captured government contracts for it as the M16 family of firearms, but also brought it to the civilian market at first as the AR-15 SP1 and then as the “Sporter” family of AR-15 rifles.

The stripped down to the basics, the Expanse gives shooters an M4-style AR with the pony on the side and at an affordable price. Image courtesy of the manufacturer.

The stripped down to the basics, the Expanse gives shooters an M4-style AR with the pony on the side and at an affordable price. Image courtesy of the manufacturer.

Now, you should realize that while the AR is a well-accepted and extremely popular firearm today, it was extremely controversial in those early days. With a reputation for a perceived lack of reliability and power (compared against the more traditionally designed M14), the 5.56mm AR had heaps of criticism put upon it. And it was during this time that Colt was the only game in town for those who wanted a civilian-legal AR rifle, and it was not the huge market that it is today.

The CE1000 variant of the Expanse does not come with a forward assist button or dustcover door, but both can be added easily.

The CE1000 variant of the Expanse does not come with a forward assist button or dustcover door, but both can be added easily.

Fast forward to today. While it seems like just about everybody is making the AR, the name Colt still carries a lot of weight when it comes to this design. They were the “first” in the minds of many civilian shooters, and the company has a long history of producing the design’s martial sibling for the U.S. military.

In fact, the first AR-15 I ever purchased was a Colt, because all of the other platforms were just wannabe copies in my mind. The Colt AR-15 was “The Real Thing.” The choice was like Coke versus the Always Save house brand of “Cola.” As time passed, other companies began to improve their platforms, while Colt began to take actions that indicated a questionable level of interest in the wants of the consumer market.

No political correctness here. This rifle comes standard with that evil bayonet lug!

No political correctness here. This rifle comes standard with that “evil” bayonet lug!

It started slowly and then got ridiculous. Colt changed the bolt carrier so that it would not trip an auto sear. Then they changed the size of the pin so that the holes were the wrong size to accept standard parts. The company decided that we could have a gun, but we could not put a bayonet on it. It also took the flash suppressor off because it made the rifle too dangerous.

Colt was living off of government contracts and borrowed money, and no longer had a fiscal need for the civilian market; it would slip us a few guns, but they were coasting along, avoiding the product-sharpening whetstone of the free market’s influence. To add injury to—well, injury—each of these iterations seemingly came with a complimentary price increase every year! All this time, more and more companies were producing ARs with the features customers wanted, and at very good price points. Thanks, capitalism! And, while Colt has made moves in recent years to get back into the civilian market, these lower-priced competitors were a constant thorn in the side of these efforts.

The Future of Colt

In late 2015, Colt announced that it was pushing back into the consumer market in a big way. Its program was based on a three-step strategy. Step One: Reduce the cost of inventory in the system. Step Two: Cut the price of the most popular models until the retail price is competitive with others in the market; eliminate the heavy premium for the pony on the side of the gun. Step Three: The most controversial part of the plan; only sell to stocking dealers. This requires the dealer to keep Colts in stock rather than merely ordering from Colt individually as needed. This third step was intended to boost sales by getting them into buyers’ vision and hands while they’re in the store browsing.

The Expanse comes with one Colt-branded metal-bodied, 30-round magazine.

The Expanse comes with one Colt-branded metal-bodied, 30-round magazine.

SPECS

  • Chambering: 5.56mm
  • Barrel: 16.1 inches
  • OA Length: 32-35.5 inches
  • Weight: 6.44 pounds
  • Stock: Collapsible
  • Sights: Rear, none; front, winged post
  • Action: Direct gas impingement
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • MSRP: $699 (CE1000), $749 (CE2000)

In accordance with the natural laws of the free market, this three-step plan only works if Colt produces a quality, feature-complete product that people actually want. Colt’s acknowledgment of this fact is what brings us to the Colt Expanse M4. The line is made up of two variants: the CE1000 at an MSRP of $699, and the CE2000 at $749. Both are relatively straightforward 5.56mm M4 Carbine-style rifles with 16.1-inch barrels, collapsible stocks and carry-handle-free flattop uppers. The $50 dollar difference between the two models is that the more expensive CE2000 features a dustcover and forward assist button assembly. On the CE1000, both of these are removed. Importantly, you are not completely deprived of these features if you choose to forego the fifty-dollar increase and buy the CE1000; it is delivered with an upper receiver capable of installing both the forward assist button assembly and the dustcover should you decide to add them at a later date.

Looking Toward Tomorrow

I received a CE2000 for testing and evaluation. When the Colt CE 2000 arrived, I unpacked it from its cardboard box and pulled out the gun that I believe to be the future of Colt as its combination of low price point and the pony on the side should really help it stand out in the market today. The rifle came equipped with one Colt metal 30-round magazine with a green follower. The buttstock is collapsible with four positions from which to choose. The top of the upper receiver is railed, allowing for optics or rear sights to be added. No carry handle/sight rear sight assembly is included. The upper and lower receiver are comprised of 7075-T6 aluminum and have a black, hard-coat anodized finish.

Anyone familiar with a stock M4-style gun will be right at home with the controls of the Expanse. The author added the carry handle.

Anyone familiar with a stock M4-style gun will be right at home with the controls of the Expanse. The author added the carry handle.

A four-position collapsible stock rounds out the package of the Colt Expanse.

A four-position collapsible stock rounds out the package of the Colt Expanse.

All of the controls are standard fare, with single-side controls and standard pistol grip. The barrel is a 16.1-inch, 1/7-inch twist, non-chrome-lined barrel, manufactured from 4150 CMV steel with a manganese phosphate finish, capped off with a traditional A2-style compensator/flash suppressor. The front sight assembly is an A2 post and gas block running the now-debugged direct-impingement gas system. A bayonet lug and sling swivel are attached to the front sight assembly.

the author found a low-mass hammer in the Expanse that serves to reduce lock time.

the author found a low-mass hammer in the Expanse that serves to reduce lock time.

Amongst the internals are a few nice surprises, starting off with a bolt carrier with a properly staked gas key. The charging handle is a basic part that fits and works as expected. When I examined the lower, I found a low-mass hammer that serves to reduce lock time. The first of these types of low-mass hammers I encountered was a JP Enterprises “Speed Hammer” on a rifle that cost $3,000.00 several years ago. The hammer spring is coated in a blue substance—I suspect to mark it as a low-mass hammer. The trigger and sear look to be standard issue for the AR-15 platform, but the fit and finish are excellent.

I proceeded to cycle and dry-fire the Expanse to get a feel for the gun and its controls. I immediately noticed that the trigger was excellent for a service rifle. I broke out my digital trigger-pull gauge and discovered that it broke consistently at 4 pounds, 10 ounces. If not for the gauge, I would have guessed it was closer to 3 pounds. There was a minimal amount of take-up with zero creep and a crisp break with the tiniest amount of over-travel. The reset was short but perceivable. Simply put: This trigger felt like it belonged on a much more expensive gun and was not what I have come to expect on a rifle in this price range.

A Real Gun at a Real Price

Amongst the internals are a few nice surprises, starting off with an M16 bolt and carrier with a properly-staked gas key.

Amongst the internals are a few nice surprises, starting off with a bolt carrier with a properly staked gas key.

I usually wait until the end of the article to discuss the price-to-value relationship. Without hesitation, I can confidently say that the Colt Expanse M4’s retail price of $749 is a fair price for a real gun. If I had to choose a single feature that should have been added, I’d go with a rear sight. However, this being the Age of ever-advanced optics, I think they made a smart choice to not charge the purchaser for a rear sight that might never be used. The only other cost-saving measure that’s apparent to me is the lack of a chrome lining on the barrel. I will acknowledge that a chrome-lined barrel certainly has desirable attributes, but most first-time buyers of an AR-15 rifle are not planning on firing 50,000 rounds through it. In fact, a few hundred rounds a year on average is more than most of these rifles will ever see in a lifetime. For those who want to save a few extra bucks, the CE1000 is a solid option as well. If you want the extra parts, you can just add them later.

On The Range

the author set the rifle up in a Caldwell Lead Sled solo and ran Aguila 62-grain ammo through it.

the author set the rifle up in a Caldwell Lead Sled solo and ran Aguila 62-grain ammo through it.

I tried to develop a plan for the Colt Expanse M4 that would test it in a way commensurate with what the gun is designed to be. I installed an A2-style carry handle, complete with two sizes of apertures that were adjustable for windage and elevation. To take advantage of the 1/7-inch twist rate of the barrel, I went with the Aguila 62 grain 5.56 X 45 full metal jacket boat tail long-range performance ammunition. The 1/7 twist rate would work to stabilize rounds all the way up to 77-grain projectiles.

When I got to the range, I unpacked my Caldwell Lead Sled Solo Rifle Rest and Aguila 62-grain ammunition. It was time to see what the rifle would deliver from the bench. After a few zero-shots, I switched to a M16A1 25m Qualification Target that I like to use from 100 yards. This target is a sheet of differently-sized targets that work well for open sights, red dots and magnified optics.

 

The author used an M16A1 25m Qualification Target at 100 yards and produced a four-round group that fit within the 1-inch inner circle.

The author used an M16A1 25m Qualification Target at 100 yards and produced a four-round group that fit within the 1-inch inner circle.

The combination of the great trigger, small aperture rear sight and the lead sled enabled me to produce a four-round group that fit within the 1-inch inner circle. These results surpassed those I had experienced from other rifles that cost more and had magnified optics installed.

I loaded 10 rounds up and did a walking fire drill from 50 yards, and was able to get all 10 rounds to fit in a circle the size of a pie plate. This confirmed that the rifle was able to perform when driven hard. This gun just wanted to be shot hard and fast. I loaded up the 30-round magazine and ran it hard, followed by a repeat. The handguards may not be the latest KeyMod, super-cool model, but they worked to keep my hands from needing gloves. I noticed that the gas tube heated up and had some discoloration near the gas block.

By the end of the day, there had only been one hang up: I should have brought more ammunition! The gun was fine. It did everything I asked without so much as a hiccup. There was no shake, rattle or even a loose pin on the Colt when the day was over. This was the Colt quality I grew up with! I stress the quality here because of an incident I experienced recently while I was doing some training with a team that was proud to show off their new rifles. Before the day was over, one of them went down when the trigger pin came out. All of the operators were grabbing gloves throughout the exercises because the super-low-profile slotted handguards were way too hot to hold after only a few rounds. These rifles were of a brand that you would recognize, but I am bound by my training agreement to not discuss details. In this market, quality is as important as pricing and features.

The Future Looks Bright

If the full line that Colt is bringing to retail is going to offer high quality at a competitive price, then the road to recovery will be a win for both Colt and the consumer. I will be the first to acknowledge that Colt brought many of its problems on itself by abandoning loyal civilian customers. I am not advocating for charity, just good old-fashioned free market competition. I predict that this horse will be in the winner’s circle with the Colt Expanse M4.

For more information, visit http://www.colt.com/.

To purchase a Colt Expanse on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Colt%20Expanse.

The author tested the CE2000 variant of the Expanse that comes with the forward assist and dustcover door. He added the carry handle/rear sight system.

The author tested the CE2000 variant of the Expanse that comes with the forward assist and dustcover door. He added the carry handle/rear sight system.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • dj November 25, 2016, 4:39 am

    IS THE Colt Expanse M4 5.56 NATO Rifle – CE2000 A CALIFORNIA COMPLIANT RIFLE ?

  • Greg September 22, 2016, 12:21 pm

    There is no way I would buy any Colt product and there is no reason too. In ALL categories’ of firearms there are way to many cheaper, better choices to be had. No, I will never forget how Colt caved in to Liberal thinking. Let them go out of business because nobody would miss out on anything really good or important!

  • jim persinger September 22, 2016, 5:55 am

    I can tell you this much,,I have a Bushmaster i bought back before receiver blocks were put in them many years ago when they were first coming out,loved it still have that gun,I do not know the man who wrote this story and I have never owned a colt AR-15,But am what most folks would call a firearms expert. I Bought a Colt LE1000 as my dealer had them for $669.00, I have shot many AR-15,s over the last 35 years now and if you can put behind you any bad blood you may feel about colt,You may want to go pick one of these up and give it a try,Consider this if you do not like it take it back,Personally I found everything in this mans story on the colt to be correct,I hate to say it but I realised how much better a rifle the colt was than the Bushmaster is,much more accurate also a chrome lined barrel actually hurts accuracy and only provides protection against corrosive ammo which you almost never encounter in .223 caliber anyway . Ill put this colt rifle up against any of the ones you all have named above and out shoot you with it no problem ,My Bushmaster is chromed lined and nowhere near as accurate.What id suggest is you check out one of these rifles before you blast it as being junk or bad etc,,You may just be pleasantly suprised like i was.

  • Not a sheeple September 20, 2016, 6:53 am

    Colt left “us” in search of high profits from govt contracts and the like. now they come out with this outdated overpriced junk that they want to push, well i will never buy ( unless its a bargain i can then resell lol ) another colt ever and i say NEVER!! if tbey were the only manufscturer out here i wouldnt buy from them i would buy something else simply on principle which some of us still stick to

  • Mark September 19, 2016, 5:37 pm

    Did anyone else notice that this “expert” pointed to an AR15 bolt carrier and said it was a M16 bolt carrier? I’m not impressed.

  • Vince Black September 19, 2016, 5:33 pm

    Not a great review. More like an advertisement. Too much like magazines now a days. On a tactical ar15 who buys one with a non chrome, non nitride treated/lined barrel? Get a clue colt! If you guys really want to sell guns do something to mend your relationship with American Shooters. Then put out a modern ar15. Not some stupid m4 clone that was popular ten years ago.

    R

  • Glenn61 September 19, 2016, 3:26 pm

    Any mil-spec M4 is going to perform perfectly, but if it makes you feel better to pay extra to have Colt, S&W or Sig-Sauer stamped on the side, then open your wallet and have at it….. they all buy their barrels from the same manufacturers….
    A Timney Trigger and a G2 heavy buffer will improve your accuracy on any M4 variant…..

  • Bob September 19, 2016, 12:09 pm

    I just took delivery of a S&W M&P15 Sport II, very happy with the build quality, and it already has what the Colt lacks in the same price range.

  • Mark Wolfson September 19, 2016, 11:46 am

    WOW, I hope y’all are hammering Hillary like you hammered this review! But, I think a Colt AR for $699, even Chelsea Clinton would buy one with her $250k contract she received from MSNBC to knock the NRA.

    • jim persinger September 22, 2016, 5:40 am

      I Bought mine for $679.00 which the savings of $20.00 bought my forward assist and my dustcover as I bought the LE1000 so i could make it my way i wanted it with sites etc So all i had to buy was a good rear site and I found a great one for $29.00 delivered.Put it on my colt fired a few rounds and it was right on target.Guess that rail they put on was put on nice and straight !

  • Walt Swartz September 19, 2016, 11:34 am

    I have had poor experiences with Colt in the past, with customer support so bad I know gunsmiths who turn down working on their products. I’ll never buy any more of their guns. My “clone” and “Frankenrifle” M-4s are fine.

  • Wake_Up_America September 19, 2016, 10:00 am

    I don’t know but I don’t like giving my business and my money to firms that seem to have had a habit of shafting people over the years from the consumer market to the military to the tax payers – us! I will stick to the like of S&W, Daniel Defense, BCM…

    • The best is Glock September 19, 2016, 11:20 am

      I agree . I will never buy another Colt after what they did in Connecticut during the semi auto ban , Just to many better makers now that do support gun rights and not there share holders.

      • steve September 19, 2016, 12:56 pm

        what did they do during the ban?

      • jim persinger September 22, 2016, 5:42 am

        Your going to complain and you live in a state like that? Be smart and get the hell out of there if you want real second amendment freedoms

  • John Dalton September 19, 2016, 9:08 am

    As with all “manufacturer sponsored” gun reviews this one is predictable. It does not tell us what corners were cut to make this item cheaper, nor does it truly talk about performance in a true application environment. Seems that if a manufacturer sends a reviewer a firearm, that reviewer is obliged to write exactly what the manufacturer wishes. Sometimes I wonder if the review is written by the manufacturer.

    Clearly, the price point is achieved by making product “changes”. Clearly the firearm is a “cheaper version”…….please, have the intellectual honesty to tell us what changes were made to produce this “non-knockoff, knockoff”.

  • David G September 19, 2016, 8:58 am

    I HAVE ONE OF THESE GUNS AND SOME OF THE $1200.00 VERISIONS NONE ONE HAS PROVED TO ME THAT COLT IS THE BEST GUN FOR THE MONEY. EVEN THE ONE I CARRIED IN VIETNAM KEEP IT CLEAN IT WILL NOT LET YOU DOWN.

  • Martin Davis September 19, 2016, 8:34 am

    I agree with JLA, us readers want the accuracy tested vigorously. While its a informative article on Colts re immanence into the market by different process changes, to me the rifles look the same but with a different price point. Note to author and Colt- consumers will pay a little more for quality and accuracy.

  • Matthew Bain September 19, 2016, 8:19 am

    I love the US made AR platforms period. Unfortunately, they look kinda dangerous though so hurry up and get one soon. I’m sure they’ll be the first target of Hillary types once they come to power.

  • Greg September 19, 2016, 8:03 am

    As far as I’m concerned colt can shove this rifle. They climbed in bed with the government and screwed the civilians. They ran around with the Wine and Cheesing tasting crowd in DC overcharging the Government for rifles that the Tax paying public had to pay for and if a tax payer wanted a personal colt they had to drop their drawers and bend over.
    Even with all the over charging they still could not keep up with the cost of wine and cheese and had to file bankruptcy screwing their creditors. Is there anybody Colt hasn’t screwed or tried to screw??
    Colt screws everybody and now the wants to be friends with all the folks they screwed, let by gones be by gones??. Umm, I don’t think so. There are plenty of ARs out there that are equally good or better than colt, and they haven’t screwed the people who support them.
    If Colt wants to make a come back with the beer drinking crowd they have a lot of penitence to do, like maybe I’m a buyer at 499.00.

    • Arthur Nicholas September 19, 2016, 12:34 pm

      Hi Greg, Have I met people like you at knife and gun shows. I am the vendor that informs you that you are not at a flea market, but at a gun show where you can find genuine guaranteed American made parts that you can send back to be fixed or a refund if they do not perform well. If you want a quality Colt product, you have to pay for it. And Colt never got in bed with the Government. They played diplomatic lip service to then President, Bill Clinton and put thumb hole stocks on their rifles, removed flash suppressors and bayonet lugs which had no effect on capacity, accuracy or quality. You can keep buying disposable Chinese stuff and hurting your fellow American if you feel it is the wiser thing to do, but I am letting you know that my Colt M-4 never failed to feed and never misfired (I use US. made Green Tip .223 ammo). I only sell American made products to American citizens that appreciate quality and superior performance. I can name many gun companies that have actually done what you accuse Colt of doing, but the time has come to unite, defend and save our economy, Constitution and freedom.

      • Steve Bendixen September 21, 2016, 12:20 am

        Well said Arthur

      • Greg September 25, 2016, 11:22 am

        ” but the time has come to unite, defend and save our economy, Constitution and Freedom”???
        And buying a Colt will “defend and save our economy, Constitution and Freedom”??? Really??
        Sounds like you are a stocking Colt dealer. There are other American made choices and I have chosen to unite, defend and save our economy, Constitution and Freedom by buying them.
        I have met arrogant gun dealers like you at the gun show and I always move on to another table, like Colt, you think your customers are just a bunch of Dumb asses.
        You sound like a Hillary voter, you know that don’t you??

    • Glenn61 September 19, 2016, 3:33 pm

      recently at a gun show one of the local dealers was selling S&W M4s for $499,,, they sold out fast,, I bought a mil spec lower for $199 and a complete M4 upper for $339,, paying $200 extra to have Colt stamped on one side is dumb…

  • Randy G September 19, 2016, 7:20 am

    get rid of that ridiculous, loud, shouting music .. you don’t need it .. you make a nice review all by yourself.

  • Rob September 19, 2016, 6:01 am

    Colt, everything else is just a copy! Good article.

    • Randy September 19, 2016, 10:05 am

      “Colt, everything else is just a copy! Good article.”
      Armalite, everything else is just a copy

    • Bob September 19, 2016, 12:10 pm

      Don’t you mean Armalite, everything else is just a copy?

  • JLA September 19, 2016, 3:29 am

    The author has hit one of my biggest per peeves here. I don’t care how the author thinks a rifle is intended to be used. If you’re going to test a rifle it should be tested right, including a real accuracy test! ‘Testing’ a rifle with iron sights or a red dot when that rifle is perfectly capable of wearing a real scope is seriously shortchanging the reader. It doesn’t tell us what the rifle’s mechanical accuracy is. On the contrary, it tells us only how well the author can or can’t shoot. (‘One four round group’? Seriously?!) I think I speak for most readers here when I say that I don’t care how well the author can or can’t shoot with iron sights. I care only about how well the rifle will shoot, and testing that requires the use of BOTH a solid rest and an actual magnified rifle scope!

    • Richard September 19, 2016, 10:22 am

      I agree with ya. Additionally, A walking drill with 10 rds at 50 yards constitutes “hard Use”????? 2nd, A non chrome lined barrel is what gave the M16 its terrible reputation in Vietnam to begin with

    • mach37 November 14, 2016, 5:23 pm

      JLA; so a rifle that is very accurate with its iron sights might shoot worse with a scope? Get real!

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