Gun Review: The IWI Tavor SAR Bullpup

Gun Review: The IWI Tavor SAR Bullpup
Easy to handle, takes time to love. The author found that the bullpup design required some getting used to while testing it at the range.

IWI Tavor SAR Review.

One of the immutable laws of firearms is that if the Israelis make or design something, it is sure to be of high quality and reliability—absolutely drop-dead battlefield reliable. The IWI Tavor SAR is exactly that.

However, one of my personal immutable laws of firearms is that if I don’t like a particular firearm, I will tell you how I feel and why I feel that way. I don’t like the Tavor.

Easy to handle, takes time to love. The author found that the bullpup design required some getting used to while testing it at the range.
Easy to handle, takes time to love. The author found that the bullpup design required some getting used to while testing it at the range.

It isn’t for me, but it might be just the rifle you are looking for.I will start by saying that I am a traditional kind of guy when it comes to firearms, particularly long guns. They have to feel and point right for me, and operate in a “me friendly” manner.

A short list of my preferred defensive shoulder arms is the Ithaca M37 Defense Gun 12-gauge pump with bead sight, the M1 Carbine, the M16 A1 rifle and the M4 Carbine. Why? They all point and swing well, and snap up to the shoulder easily.

All can be fired from the right or left shoulder without doing anything more than moving them there. The exception is the M16A1. It has no case deflector, but aftermarket deflectors can easily be attached to the carry handle.

IWI Tavor Review: Designed for Close Combat

After Israel was established in 1948, their military relied on a plethora of arms supplied to it by its allies, arms that included the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine and the M16.

Close-in warfare and warfare in open deserts taught them that these weapon systems might not be ideal for their combat missions, and that it might be wise to find something that met their military needs more precisely.

From 1972 until the 2009, the Israeli Military fielded the 5.56mm Galil, a highly modified AK-47 variant. The Galil has been in service for 40 years and has served well, but the Israelis thought they could do better.

They needed a 5.56mm weapon system that was more compact and maneuverable and ready to go at a moment’s notice. This time they built one of their own designs, the Tavor TAR-21. The Tavor SAR is the semiautomatic-only civilian legal variant of the TAR-21.

The SAR is different, radically different from most American combat rifles primarily because it is of bullpup configuration, where the action sits to the rear of the trigger assembly in the buttstock of the weapon.

This makes bullpup rifles much shorter than standard style combat rifles and outstanding for maneuvering in tight spaces, such as inside armored transport vehicles, aircraft, ships or tight hallways. That capability is the main reason for choosing a bullpup over conventional designs. Its compactness can improve the ability of soldier or a civilian in accomplishing their mission or defending home and property.

There has only been one bullpup rifle that I really liked—the FN PS90 Standard 5.7x28mm carbine. It shoulders well, is compact, drop-dead reliable, has zero recoil due to its cartridge and weight and is truly ambidextrous.

There is nothing to switch or change to enable the PS90 to be used by left-handed shooters. Its empties are ejected straight down. The magazine is removed from its top position by a central release, the safety switch is on both sides of the pistol grip, and the backup iron sights are mounted on the right and left side of the receiver. It is in some of these areas that the SAR has a few issues that must be understood from the outset.

Every battle rifle ever made has characteristics that draw criticism. Look at the M16—even with 50 years of criticism, it is still our primary battle rifle and the most popular sporting rifle ever made. Before that we had the M14, which was too long and too heavy and couldn’t be fired controllably in full automatic mode.

The great M1 carbine, the handiest battle carbine ever fielded, was hampered by its relatively low-powered cartridge but still stayed in service for 40 or so years. Then there was the M1 Garand, the “greatest battle implement ever devised.” During WWII it was criticized for its eight-round en-bloc feeding system, but it served as long as the M1 Carbine. Every firearm designed for use in life and death situations has its issues and your appreciation of them depends on which issues you are willing to overlook and adapt to.

Retired SWAT officer Sgt. John Groom aided the author with a second opinion during testing. He admired the SAR the most for its compactness and agile handling.
Retired SWAT officer Sgt. John Groom aided the author with a second opinion during testing. He admired the SAR the most for its compactness and agile handling.

Hassles for Lefties

The first and most critical issue is that the SAR can’t readily be changed to accommodate a left-handed shooter.

While this may not be a big deal for most civilian shooters, it can be for police—at least during their rifle qualification course of fire. Many such courses have a phase where you shoot from behind cover.

Often, it is required that you fire from both sides, shouldering your rifle on the weak side. If you fire the SAR from your left shoulder, you will get hot brass in the face, and there is no way to convert it for left-handed fire quickly. Here is what it takes to convert from the standard right-hand configuration to left-hand configuration:

  1. Remove the top flattop rail (Allen wrench required)
  2. Remove front swivel and lock
  3. Remove foregrip group
  4. Remove the cocking group
  5. Disassemble the cocking group and reinstall the cocking bar and handle on the right side
  6. Remove the barrel
  7. Covert the dust protection cover by removing the gas cylinder and dust reduction plate, then reposition the plate so that the cocking hole is on the right side
  8. In reverse order, reassemble the weapon and it is now ready for left-hand operation.

Obviously, this is not possible during a phase of qualification, or in a gunfight. So you will have to take hot 5.56 brass and powder in the face in the short term, just like soldiers firing pre-case deflector M16s.

Tight Mount and Watch the Mags

The second issue for me involves the “me friendliness” handling issue. When I began working with the SAR, I noticed that there is so much weight in the buttstock compared to standard carbines that it felt ungainly.

The stock weight wants to make the SAR slide downward off the shoulder, bringing the barrel up as you are mounting it. M4 and AR-15 rifle stocks weigh next to nothing, and the weight is well balanced and distributed more to the front.

The SAR needs to be mounted tightly into the shoulder, more tightly than the M4 before firing. This is an issue that can be overcome by spending time with the SAR, and understanding the handling difference involved. A single point sling, which I didn’t mount, would be helpful for keeping the SAR in a good position for mounting.

The final issue is the magazine release. The magazine release is a large lever located on the underside of the stock to the rear of the magazine well. It is exposed and can be bumped accidentally, resulting in an untimely dropping of the magazine.

That happened during testing a couple of times. But once we were aware of why the mag kept dropping out of battery, we were able to keep the magazine in place.

Let Loose the Bullpup

For live fire testing, I enlisted the help of an experienced SWAT officer, Sgt. John Groom, recently retired after a long stint as a team sergeant, sniper and training officer with the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department.

I wanted John’s input to balance any opinion that I had already formed of the SAR. Sgt. Groom had never handled one prior to our test at the range. The first thing he noticed and liked was its extremely compact size.

While the SAR came with a single 30-round polymer Magpul magazine, we opted to test it with standard aluminum 20-round magazines, in order to take the fullest advantage of its maneuvering capability.

We both felt that 30-round magazines hang down too far and could get hung up on gear. Sgt. Groom said that his team used 20-round magazines for their entry M4s for the very same reason, and never felt at a disadvantage.

The SAR comes equipped with a set of clever folding sights that disappear right into the top rail. In fact, unless you look carefully, you won’t even see them when they are in the closed position.

Since they are truly backup sights, I opted to mount a SIG STS 081 Mini-Red Dot sight on a rail riser. The extra boost was required to get the compact sight up to eye level.

A number of other folks who have tested the SAR had the biggest complaint about the trigger. As is true of all bullpups, the trigger assembly needs a connector to reach back into the stock, which imparts a mushy type of feel as opposed to the crispness that is possible on rifles whose triggers sit directly beneath the action.

Neither John nor I felt the trigger was an impediment. With just a bit of practice it was easy to figure out and get accurate shots on target. Make no mistake about it, however, the SAR will never be selected as a sniper rifle.

We fired the Tavor off the bench at 100 yards using 55-grain Hornady TAP, as well as 55-grain FMJ ammo. Accuracy hovered around the four-inch mark, and would likely have been better if I had not selected a close-quarter combat optic, but that is where the SAR works best.

We worked some close range drills, firing double taps, triple taps and going for headshots. The out-of-the-box reliability was high. As expected the SAR ran well and performed well as a close-quarter combat gun.

Sgt. Groom liked the SAR better than I did. In his case and mine, M4’s are what we are used to. If I was issued an SAR for SWAT use, I could certainly get used to it, but I might have to swear off M4’s for a while.

There you have it. The Tavor SAR is solid and reliable, but isn’t for everyone. If you have a need for a compact carbine, one that needs no adjustment of the stock before shouldering and firing, then the Tavor SAR would work. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to check one out at your favorite gun shop and take it from there.

Tavor SAR
Caliber:    5.56mm
Action Type:    Semi-automatic bullpup
Operation:    Locking bolt, long stroke gas piston
Barrel:    16 ½ inches and 18 inches
Magazine:    30-round polymer Magpul
Rate of Twist:    1:7
Sights:    Folding iron sights
Stock:    Bullpup design, synthetic
Weight:    7.9 lbs
Overall Length:    26 1/8” or 27 5/8”
Accessories:    N/A
SRP:    $2,000

This article appeared in the January 13, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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  1. I’ve got a Tavor…usually run it with a YHM suppressor. It’s a great rifle….but, yes, it takes some getting used to…I usually run AR’s with the occasional AK. I love the compactness of it with the suppressor! The only issue I’ve had was some bad malfunctions, only with suppressor on… after tests I isolated it to Privey Partisan ammo….my guess is its too “hot”…causing double feeds and stovepipes….was NOT related to magazines…as I said I tested many ways to figure it out. No problems with any other ammo or mags. On a side note….GearHeadWorks is a guy making parts for the Tavor…he has a side cover that eliminates the gas venting in your face…if I can install it…anyone can. He also has a foregrip with flashlight mounting space…he does very good work. I too have had an issue with being unable to run it left handed…I’ve got a long face I guess….with a slight tilting of rifle issue can be resolved…I tried an aftermarket deflector…didn’t help. All in all…its a great, reliable rifle…just takes some getting used to a new manual of arms….btw…I get 2 moa groups easily with all types of ammo….usually using 62 grain PMC.

  2. Despite the fact that Mr. Wagner tried to emphasize how UN-ambidextrous the Tavor is, he actually missed a couple of items on his list. So here we go:

    1) You must buy a left handed bolt from IWI-US. The bolt is about $110. They used to send you the bolt. Now, they are afraid of headspace issues. So you need to send the rifle in to them to have them fit the new bolt. Figure $60 for insured shipping.

    2) If you were lucky enough to get a bolt while they would still ship them to you, there is one extra step. You need to reverse the safety/selector from one side to the other. You could buy a second lever and have one on each side, but that would be another purchase. Also, then your trigger finger would have to go over the trigger finger side selector when its in the fire position.

    3) Remember all those great conversion kits IWI is going to be coming out with? Right handed only.

    4) I am a lefty. I wanted a 18″ gun, so I bought a RH gun and swapped bolts. Before I swapped bolts I tried to shoot it from my left shoulder. Brass did bounce off my face occasionally. But its worse. Out of a 20 round mag, 3 pieces of brass bounced off of my chin and BACK INTO the ejection port, jamming the gun.

    With all that said, now that Timney and Geissele have triggers for it, it should be able to be made into a fine shooting gun with these caveats.

    With that said, I still like my SCAR better. Part of it is familiarity, since it works just like an AR. But there is no denying that the Tavor has its plusses.

    My 18″ Tavor is shorter than a 10″ AR15 SBR with a collapsed stock. Do some research, the terminal ballistics of .223 are MUCH better with an 18″ barrel vs a 10″ barrel.

    Another thing. The author parrots the age old cliche about bullpups and bad triggers. In this case, there should be no corelation. The Tavor’s trigger works the sear through a connector that is in TENSION not compression. Go take a Ruger Mk 1,2,or 3 apart and you will see just such a connector. Nope. The Tavor has a crappy trigger, just because it has a crappy trigger. Geissele and Timney will prove that.

    I hope this helps.

    • One other thing.

      The Tavor would seem to be a natural fit for suppressor use, since its so short. But there’s another problem. The piston is pretty much right in front of your face. When shot with a suppressor, the longer pressure dwell time means that there is still pressure in the piston when it reaches the point in the cylinder where all the extra gas is dumped.

      This vents significant gas right up under your face. 5 fast shots with a tavor with a suppressor on it and your eyes will be watering like you were dicing onions. No joke.

  3. I first encountered the Tavor at Shootists Holiday 2013 at the NRA Whittington Center. There was someone on the firing line shooting this odd-looking bullpup, and he offered to let me try it. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this was a right-handed gun. I’m left-handed, and I’ve never been accused of having a tiny nose. In spite of that, I had a great time shooting the Tavor. It tends to eject cases slightly forward, anyway. I was so impressed, I ordered one, set up for a southpaw. I’ve been using it with an EOTech holographic sight. It is made to order for use as a “car gun,” since it can be handled like an oversized pistol.

    • If you shoot the Tavor with your head up, there isn’t a problem. But if you are used to the old AR style “nose to the charging handle” head position, then you will have contact problems with brass.


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