The AR platform is available in a variety of sizes that include rifle length, mid-length, carbine, and pistol. Each of these have different barrel lengths – generally ranging from 20” to 7.5” – but they’ve also got different length gas systems, and the right system is absolutely crucial for correct function.
If there is too much barrel length after the gas port, then too much gas flows into the receiver and can cause issues with excessive recoil and wear on the rifle. If there is not enough barrel length after the gas port, then too little gas flows into the receiver and the rifle may not cycle or may jam.
There are pros and cons to each size configuration, and while the technical definition of “carbine” has the gas port at 7.5” and mid-length is 9.5”, we see a lot of guns marketed as “carbines” with mid-length gas systems. So, with that in mind, the guns on this list will not all have gas ports at the 7.5” mark in the barrel, but they won’t have barrels any longer than 16”. You might disagree with that decision, but hey, this is my list!
Obviously, your mileage may vary, but here are some solid options if you’re in the market for an AR carbine.
Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II
All of the big name gunmakers have gotten in on the AR market, and Smith & Wesson is no exception. Their M&P15 line of rifles has something to offer for everyone in the market for an affordable AR.
They even offer some variations of the model that allow you to get exactly the kind of base gun you’re looking for. They have versions with an A2 front sight and BUIS, complete flat top rails for the optic of your choice, handguards that use Picatinny or MLOK, and even compliant versions that don’t require any modification to be legal in certain states.
The setup with an A2 front sight and included BUIS can be had for as little as $464.
LWRC International IC-SPR
Guns made by LWRC are known to be top-notch, and this one is no different. It’s so popular, in fact, that it has become their flagship gun. Built with their patented self-regulating short-stroke gas piston system, the IC-SPR has two incredibly important qualities in an AR: reliability and ease of maintenance.
As the flagship gun and most popular model by far, the IC-SPR is a solid choice. This carbine comes ready to shoot with a set of LWRC’s low profile Skirmish Sights.
Customize your color, too, since the IC-SPR is available in black, gray, brown, FDE, and OD green. MSRP: $2,371.99.
Retro is all the rage right now, and this one is the granddaddy of all AR carbines. In terms of military arms, the 605 predates the M4, the CAR-15, and the XM177. Made by Brownells, this retro replica of the Colt Model 605 has a 15.5” barrel that enabled the design to retain its rifle-length gas system (but these have an enlarged gas port for increased reliability).
The lower receiver has the partial fence around the mag release, and the upper has a forward assist but no shell deflector. The entire bolt / carrier group is chrome plated, again like the original. As an added bonus, the standard 3-prong “duckbill” flash hider is pinned and welded in place so you don’t have to contend with NFA short-barreled rifle (SBR) regulations.
MSRP for the Brownells BRN-605 is $1,398.99, but is often on sale for less than $950.
If retro stuff like the BRN-605 lights your fire, then you should also take a look at the XBRN177E2. Yeah, the model name is quite the mouthful, but gun itself has a neat history.
Right off the bat, this carbine is instantly recognizable by the XM177 “Moderator” muzzle device. Considerably longer than the normal flash hider, the Moderator is pinned and welded to the 12.7” barrel to avoid any NFA issues. The distinctive CAR buttstock also adds to the rifle’s recognizability.
True to the original design, the forward assist has the original teardrop shape, and there’s also no shell deflector on these forged aluminum upper receiver that just so happen to have been machined by Aero Precision.
The Brownells XBRN177E2 has an MSRP of $1,397.99, but is often on sale for less than $1,100.
Colt M4 Trooper
I know, I know, Colt has stopped selling ARs to the civilian market. With that said, the announcement was made recently enough that you can still find brand new ones at stocking dealers before they disappear from shelves completely.
Even if you can’t find one new, if you can locate one for the right price, then you’d be silly not to add one to your safe. Especially if you’re the kind of person who likes “name brand” products, then you’ve simply got to have a Colt-made AR carbine. It’s as simple as that. Really, it is.
The M4 Trooper has a 16.1″ barrel with a 13″ M-LOK Centurion Arms forend with a picatinny rail at 12 o’clock and M-LOK slots at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock.
MSRP for the Colt M4 Trooper is $1,049, while they last.
Aero Precision AC-15
Aero Precision is well-known for their high quality upper and lower receivers and build sets, you can also buy complete guns from them if you don’t want to put one together yourself.
Designed to be budget-friendly but with the same high quality upon which Aero has built their reputation, this is a solid entry-level gun that doesn’t skimp on quality or features.
Ready to go right out of the box with an A2 front sight and Magpul MBUS rear sight, all you’ve got to do is load up some mags and go shooting. Then, when you want to upgrade some parts, you’ve got a solid base already established.
MSRP for the Aero Precision AC-15 is $699.99.
PSA M4 Classic Rifle
Palmetto State Armory offers a lot of different configurations for their ARs. The “Classic Rifle” model discussed here, for example, is available in a variety of barrel and gas system lengths. This particular model, however, features a 16″ chrome-lined barrel with a carbine-length gas system.
The handguard is PSA’s own free float 13.5” lightweight M-Lok design with Picatinny rail at the very front for mounting a front sight of your choice to accompany the back sight of your choice which mounts to rail on top of the receiver.
Some entry-level carbines at this price point don’t have a forward assist or dust cover, but PSA didn’t skip those little details.
The PSA M4 has an MSRP of $524.99, but is on sale frequently for $499.99.
Faxon Firearms Ascent
Faxon turns out some wild colors on their gun parts; from iridescent chameleon colors to titanium nitride, their stuff turns heads. However, not everything they offer is so flashy. If you’re looking for a standard “black rifle,” Faxon has you covered.
Offered in two tiers – First Line for first-time buyers and Summit Line for more specialized purposes – the Ascent AR from Faxon is part of the Summit Line. The receiver set is forged and the 16″ barrel is surrounded by a 13.5″ M-Lok free float handguard.
With an MSRP of $688.75, it’s a solid option that won’t break the bank.
While AR-platform carbines are usually associated with the .223/5.56 chambering, they are also available in other calibers. So, why not round this list out with a couple carbines in a bigger caliber? Specifically, those chambered for the .308 cartridge, because it is most widely associated with the “big brother” variety of the AR.
The 15” free float Key-Mod handguard surrounds a 16” barrel fitted with a dual-purpose flash hider / compensator. This helps tame the somewhat heavier recoil of the .308 in a smaller package, making it a very manageable carbine.
The AR10TAC16 has paired well with Magpul, featuring their MBUS sights, MOE+ furniture, an STR stock, and a 25-round PMAG.
Undoubtedly, this Armalite AR-10 fits in comfortably with the flexible definition of a carbine that we’ve established for this list.
MSRP for the AAR10TAC16 is $1,999.
Adam Arms P2
There are four different kinds of guns in Adam Arms’ P-Series (P1, P2, P3, and PZ), but this carbine in their P2 series is geared toward tactical and self-defense uses.
The completely-railed flattop upper receiver comes with Defiance flip-up sights set up for a nice, long sight picture right off the bat. Plus, there’s still plenty of room for you to mount your choice of optics and accessories, such as lights or lasers. The 16” barrel is encompassed by a free float Adam Arms M-LOK handguard that also covers the new Low Profile Adjustable Piston System that was recently introduced by Adam Arms.
With an MSRP of $1,749.99, it’s a solid option for an AR carbine in a larger caliber.
So there you have it – my list of 10 AR carbines that has enough variety to pique the interests of just about anybody in the market for such a gun. If nothing else, perhaps it’ll make you look a little closer at specs online to see if the gun you’re thinking about has a true carbine-length gas system, and if it really makes a big difference to you or not.