Imported 5.45x39mm rifles have been scarce and expensive lately, so we’re taking a look at the more affordable American-made PSA AK-74.
If you had told me five years ago that I’d be recommending an American-made AK, I probably would have laughed. But both Palmetto State Armory and the AK market have changed a lot since then. While I used to unwaveringly promote imported AKs over domestically produced ones, the value that Palmetto’s AKs now offer is too good to ignore.
When the company’s AKs first came on the scene, they had plenty of issues and used materials that are widely considered to be subpar. Other American companies that have attempted to make Kalashnikovs have traditionally balked at criticisms like these, but PSA proved to be different. The company accepted feedback and made incremental improvements with each rifle generation, eventually resulting in a totally solid yet very affordable line of 7.62×39 AKs.
While I already own plenty of 7.62 AKs, I’d been thinking about adding an AK-74 to the safe for some time. Unfortunately, the availability of imported 5.45 rifles has been low in recent years, resulting in prices inflating to above what I was willing to pay. So, when Palmetto announced the PSA AK-74 in 2020, I was intrigued given it would undoubtedly be more affordable than an import.
Much like the company’s 7.62 rifles, however, its 5.45 line started life with some hiccups. Now that PSA has had the time to address them, I asked for a review copy to take a closer look at the revised product.
Generation 1 PSA AK-74 Issues
When talking about the PSA AK-74, the elephant in the room is Garand Thumb’s initial review from 2021. You can watch his video for the full breakdown, but in a nutshell, his rifle experienced early and excessive wear on the front trunnion and bolt, broken firing pins and popped primers.
PSA asked him to send the rifle back to them for further testing, and it resulted in internal changes made to the design. Garand Thumb did a follow-up review with the updated rifle and found no more issues after putting thousands of additional rounds through it. Of the AK-74s that PSA has sold since then, the issues seem to have been successfully remedied given the lack of user complaints online.
Would it have been preferable if the PSA AK-74 was perfect from the get-go? Sure, but new firearms rarely are. What’s more important is PSA has—more than once—proven its ability to competently respond to feedback and implement improvements with each generation of AK it releases.
First Impressions And Rounds Downrange
From the first time I laid eyes on it at my FFL, I was impressed with the PSA AK-74. The metal finish is an attractive glossy black, the action was noticeably smoother than average and the folding stock worked like a dream.
Over the course of a couple of range sessions, I put a total of about 500 Golden Tiger 59-grain FMJs through it. Not a torture test by any measure, but 5.45×39 is expensive these days. Regardless, I didn’t experience a single malfunction of any kind throughout my testing.
That’s almost surprising because the rifle felt under-gassed compared to other AK-74s I’ve shot. AKs are heavy and 5.45 is a light round, so AK-74s are already known for being soft shooters, but PSA’s had essentially zero recoil. Taking aimed shots with it felt more like directing a laser, and during rapid fire, it stayed so still that it just made me wish the third selector position was actually functional.
Despite this, the rifle’s flawless reliability with both live ammo and blanks proves that it’s been gassed perfectly. Perhaps the enhanced potential reliability of military-gassed AK-74s has some appeal in muddy trenches, but for the range, the PSA AK-74 couldn’t be better.
Continuing with the laser beam analogy, the rifle’s irons were also perfectly zeroed from the factory. While I didn’t use it to put any groups on paper, it rang a half-torso steel target at 100 yards all day long with minimal effort. The trigger feels like a standard AK trigger, but that’s just fine with me.
Based on what I was able to test, the PSA AK-74 also has good magazine compatibility. It came with a PMAG which worked without issue, but that should be expected since it’s likely the magazine PSA designed the gun around. New-production Bulgarian steel-reinforced polymer mags worked perfectly as well.
My rifle had no issue accepting or feeding from surplus mags (both Russian and East German), but all were quite tight to remove. This could easily be fixed with a bit of file work, however.
The only magazines I tried to test that my rifle absolutely would not accept were AK-12 mag clones from AC-Unity.
In a word, this gun is fun. When you level your sights on a steel plate, squeeze the trigger and hear that first ring, it takes enormous self-control to not keep blasting as fast as you can. Just like when you get behind the wheel of a sports car and can tell it’s begging to go faster, you can tell this rifle wants to shoot more ammo than you can afford to feed it.
Customizing The PSA AK-74
While the rifle did look great right out of the box, I couldn’t resist the urge to start swapping parts. The factory nutmeg wood furniture will surely appeal to some, but AKs just look wrong to me unless they’re dressed in original surplus. On that note, the first thing I did was replace the handguards with a set of Soviet blonde laminate and the pistol grip with surplus bakelite. I also added an original AK-74 sling.
Palmetto sells a wide variety of AK-74 variants ranging from basic to classic to tactical, and although the model I chose would definitely be considered a classic, PSA makes no promises of historical accuracy. For AK pedants like me, there are a couple of small parts that I wish were different.
Firstly, the rifle comes with a smooth dust cover, the appropriate style for newer models like the AK-103. Since the model I received has a triangle stock like an AKS-74, however, it should really be ribbed. Thankfully that was an easy and cheap part to swap.
These rifles also come sporting an enhanced selector lever with an extended shelf. This isn’t true for the original either, but it is a nice feature to have. Speaking of the selector, PSA’s is probably the smoothest I’ve ever felt on any stock AK.
PSA also includes a side optics rail on its AK-74, something that has become pretty standard on AKs sold in the U.S. While I don’t plan on utilizing mine, I tried mounting various optics and all went on without a problem. That includes both original Eastern Bloc optics as well as aftermarket mounts from RS Regulate.
Finally, I mentioned earlier that I also tested the rifle with blank ammo. That required the installation of a surplus blank fire adaptor and it screwed on flawlessly. This shows that PSA did the threads correctly and that you should be able to install any M24x1.5 RH muzzle device that you desire.
In short, this PSA AK-74 is close enough to spec that it had no issue accepting original Soviet furniture, optics, muzzle devices or magazines. Some minor fitting was required along the way, but that’s typical for all Kalashnikovs.
Should You Buy?
If you’ve been in the market for a 5.45x39mm rifle, I’d definitely recommend the PSA AK-74. For the money, I don’t believe there’s a better option out there. Are imported models better on paper? In many ways, sure, but they also cost substantially more. Plus, as far as I’m aware, there’s currently just one other domestically produced AK-74 available and it only costs marginally less than PSA’s despite being generally accepted as using worse quality components.
If you’ve been wanting an AK in general but aren’t particular about the chambering, then this rifle isn’t the one for you. As great as 5.45 is, the cartridge will simply never be as affordable to shoot in the U.S. as 5.56 NATO. PSA makes 5.56 AKs too, but I haven’t had the chance to play with one personally. It, unfortunately, seems that due to things like the Russian ammo ban, all Soviet calibers are on the decline stateside.
That said, if 5.45 appeals to you specifically, there is some hope still. That’s because Palmetto is in the process of setting up a domestic ammo plant for Soviet ammunition, including 5.45×39. When the factory comes online, it will hopefully be able to churn out enough affordable ammo to let these PSA AK-74s get the range time they truly deserve.
PSAK-74 Triangle Side Folding Rifle, Nutmeg
- Caliber: 5.45x39mm
- Barrel Length: 16.3 Inches
- Thread Pitch: M24x1.5 RH
- Muzzle Device: AK-74 Style Brake
- Stock: Metal Triangle, Side Folding
- Furniture: Nutmeg wood handguards and pistol grip
- MSRP: $1,099.99
More AK Stuff:
- 7.62 AK Mags: What You Need To Know
- AKM: The Acme Of AKs
- The Best AK-47 Rifles You Can Find In The U.S.
- SKS Vs. AK-47: If You Could Only Have One