The gun rush of 2021 shows no signs of easing off what 2020 started so I thought now would be a good time to revisit arguably the most popular factory AR-15 of 2020: The IWI Zion 15 from Israeli Weapons Industries. IWI has a storied history in the firearms world and created some of the most legendary modern firearms such as the Galil, the Tavor, and the Jericho 941. The Zion 15 is their first entry into the AR-15 market, introducing configurations with a 16″, 12.5″ pistol length and a 12.5″ SBR barrel.
IWI has also opened a U.S.-based manufacturing plant in Middletown, PA where the ZION 15 is built. In the times we live in, having a domestic production facility will serve consumers well as it enables IWI to pump these out and get them on shelves easier. Dealing with import limitations in the past, we’ve seen numerous dry-spells where IWI products were nowhere to be seen. I’m optimistic that this facility changes that.
Out of the Box
The Zion 15 comes with some really great features out of the box, especially considering it’s $899 MSRP when in-stock (thanks, 2021). In particular, IWI doesn’t skimp on furniture. The rifle comes equipped with the ever-popular B5 Systems SOPMOD stock as well as the B5 Systems Type 23 P-Grip which offers a vertical angled grip as well as aggressive texturing.
Here’s the TLDR:
- Operating System: Direct Impingement
- Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium HB
- Gas Length: Mid-Length
- Rifling: 6 RH Grooves, 1:8 Twist
- Trigger: Mil-Spec
- Weight: 6.9 lbs w/o Magazine
- Handguard: 15″ with MLOK Slots
We’re living in the Golden Age of firearms and to be honest, it’s really hard to go wrong with any of the offerings from any major manufacturer. The Zion 15 offers a higher level of quality at an accessible price point for most shooters looking for quality in the right places. I kept the rifle pretty much how it came from the factory with one exception: the trigger.
The mil-spec trigger is about what you’d expect. It’s heavy and gritty but it works. This is the one area the Zion 15 fell short. I learned how to shoot on mil-spec triggers but as I started on the never-ending quest for increased speed and accuracy, I grew out of them and I usually opt for something lighter in the 3.5lb – 4.5lb range. In this case, I decided to give the FailZero 3.5lb straight trigger a spin and it didn’t disappoint.
The Zion 15 handles like a champ. I zeroed it in using a Trijicon Ascent 1-4x LPVO with a Holosun 507c mounted at a 45-degree off-set. This is a pretty common set-up for 3-Gun competitions but I don’t really shoot much 3-Gun these days. Silly, I know. But I bought the rifle so I get to be as silly as I like with it 🙂
I tested accuracy using my rifle bag as a makeshift bench-rest but if I had remembered to bring a sled or even a bipod, I’m confident I can close these groups up nicely. The Zion 15 did its job. I just need to be a better shooter.
Next, I took it out on the range to test some dynamic shooting and saw 0 failures running thru ready-ups, Bill Drills, 1-5 Drills, and even shooting off a broken barricade we need to replace out at my range. In spite of using 2 optics on my rifle, the ZION 15 felt well-balanced, and transitioning to my sidearm, working off barricades, and going prone felt seamless and natural. It’s everything I’d expect from an AR-15 in this price tier.
Over the last 3 months, I’ve been shooting this rifle, I’ve run through around 800 rounds of PMC Bronze 5.56. As far as testing goes that’s a small sample size but ammo is hard to come by. However, the Zion 15 experienced 0 failures to feed or extract. The rifle functions like clockwork and lives up to the IWI reputation.
I mentioned the balance on this rifle and was really impressed with how it felt shooting steel plates at 50-100 yards off-hand. Now I’m not the greatest shooter in the world but usually, this can become a tiresome exercise. The ZION 15 did everything I could reasonably ask of it. No over-gassing, consistent groupings, no failures, and loads of fun.
What Could Be Better
The included trigger is the only weak spot in my experience testing the Zion 15. Not only was it heavy and gritty which is acceptable for a mil-spec trigger, I did have several occurrences where I had to manually reset the trigger. This is documented in the included video and would probably be easier to illustrate versus describing it here.
But in essence: I would pull the trigger, the bolt would cycle, I would ease off the trigger and it would fail to reset. I would then have to manually push the trigger forward for it to reset.
This isn’t a dealbreaker for me because all of my mil-spec AR-15 triggers get replaced. I’m also confident this is a one-off issue and not something endemic to all of IWI’s AR triggers. I’m sure I could have easily fixed it by reseating the trigger grouping but I went ahead and swapped out the entire unit. Not a huge issue for me but worth documenting here for new shooters looking to get into their first AR-15 rifle.
I’m ecstatic about the Zion 15 even with the trigger reset issue I experienced. Maybe I’m too forgiving of gun manufacturers and admittedly this is an issue that’s easy to prevent. However, I’m confident in giving IWI the benefit of the doubt due to their reputation and my past experiences with their products.
The ZION 15 truly is an upper mid-tier rifle for folks looking to get into something a little more capable than your standard entry-level AR-15 like the M&P15 or the Ruger 556, both of which I’ve owned.
I’m going to be using this rifle in an upcoming Run & Gun match and I’m confident it will hold up to the task. IWI’s first entry to the AR-15 market certainly lives up to the hype. If you’re on the fence, this is a fantastic rifle for the price and I’m hopeful retailers will continue to be able to offer it at that sub-$1000 price-point.