Benelli's MR-1 .223 Autoloader: A Game-Changer?

By Randy Wakeman

Benelli MR-1 Autoloading Self-Defense Carbine
Illustration courtesy of Benelli.

There has a been a lot of interest over the last couple of years in AR type rifles, whether it is just the look or one of the seemingly endless variations of the hoary old Eugene M. Stoner design. E. M. applied for his patent back in 1956, a patent finally granted on September 6, 1960. There has been no shortage of M16 critics, notably Jim Sullivan, leader of the original design team.

In a PBS News Hour broadcast of September 24, 2007, Mr. Sullivan notes that:

"They're right exactly where they were when we gave them the M-16 in 1960. They haven't advanced an inch. That AK-74 out-hits the M-16 by two to one on full automatic. And the reason that there was 100 million AK's made wasn't to equip the Russian army. It was to give to our third world opponents so the United States can't win ground wars anymore. It's the rifleman and his rifle, that's what decides ground wars.”

The Army's own tests showed that the M-4 finished dead last in sandstorm reliability testing versus the M4-based HK416, the FNH USA-designed Mk.16 SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle and the H&K XM8 carbine. The HK416 was 3.77x more reliable than the M4, the FN SCAR 3.85x more reliable than the M4 and the XM-8 was 6.95x more reliable than the M4. The failure of M4 barrels confirms SOCOM objections from the Feb 23/01 report M4A1 5.56mm Carbine and Related Systems Deficiencies and Solutions, which concludes that the “M4A1 Carbine . . . does not meet the requirements of SOF.” The M4 had more stoppages in the November 2007 test then all three of the other rifles combined.

Problems persist despite the 62 changes to the M4 since the U.S. fielding the weapon in the mid 1990s, as weapons officials maintain. From their inception, the M-16 / AR-15 / M4 series of rifles has earned a reputation for being finicky. It isn't hard to grasp this when you have a filthy action that poops where it eats, blowing carbon all over itself with a gas tube that is not so lovingly referred to as “direct impingement.” It has been this way for fifty years, although it seems that only recently has it become common knowledge. The M4 problem has been illuminated in recent years due primarily to the efforts of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. It is cause for serious debate, if not outrage.

The .223 Remington / 5.56mm NATO cartridge and its variants has always been accurate. Accuracy doesn't mean a whole lot with a jammed gun, however. Anytime you want a firearm that is intended to be used as a general purpose utilitarian rifle or a home-defense piece, you want reliability, ease of use and intuitive functionality. That is where the Benelli MR-1 comes in and begins to shine. Left-handed shooters will appreciate that the safety is reversible and the bolt release is ambidextrous, as is the magazine release.

Benelli has used “ARGO” as a generic term for its gas guns. The best way I can describe the MR-1 system is to say that this version is very similar to the Benelli R-1 Argo high-power centerfire rifles, using a single piston as opposed to the dual piston array found in the M4 Argo shotgun. The pistol grip stock of the MR-1 does look very close to the stock from the Benelli M4 12 gauge, but the action more closely comports to the R-1 rifle.

The direct predecessor to the MR-1 isn't really the M4 shotgun or the R-1 rifle, but the Beretta RX4 Storm. Unlike other piston designs, the MR-1 needs no adjustments. It is the clean, one piston gas system combined with the Benelli rotary locking bolt. It neither has nor requires any peculiar "forward assist" as found on most AR type models.

In stark contrast to the various twirly safeties out there, the Benelli has a very quick, easy to access button safety that comes off instantly without fishing for it. Also, in contrast to the typically ridiculously heavy triggers found on quasi-military rifles, the Benelli MR-1 trigger breaks at about five and a half pounds, unacceptable in a sporting rifle, but better than most of its peers.

Although there is no such thing as an ugly gun to me (as long as it works), too many guns of this genre look like they were made from old Buick grilles combined with worn-out electric razors. The primary difference is that Buicks tend to come with far better lights than do most of their look-alike rifles.

I really have to wonder, at what audience are some of the black rifle ads directed? I am referring to the heavy drumbeat videos showing well-geared urban commandos “fighting” their way though abandoned warehouses, finally discovering a well-appointed firing range in the middle of it so they can make some brass with the background music growing ever louder. Seems to me, no one really needs to fight through an abandoned warehouse. If the empty warehouse bothers you, just give it a couple more years and it will likely fall down of its own accord.


    ·        ITEM NUMBER: 11800

    ·        ACTION: Gas operated autoloader (ARGO)

    ·        CALIBER: .223 Rem.

    ·        BARREL LENGTH: 16"

    ·        TWIST: 1 in 9", right hand

    ·        STOCK: Black synthetic w/tactical pistol grip

    ·         SIGHTS: Military-style aperture sights with picatinny rail.

    ·         OVERALL LENGTH: 37.1"

    ·        WEIGHT: 7.9 lbs. (w/o magazine)

    ·        OTHER FEATURES: Hard chrome lined bore; Rotating bolt.

    ·         MSRP: $1299

The MR-1 shoots like a dream, with no recoil of consequence. The action is slick, smooth and the ejection of spent brass is reassuringly positive. Using common Federal American Eagle ammo, the MR-1 as supplied had no trouble firing inside 1-3/4 inches at 40 yards using the fairly thick factory peep sight. That is about as good as these old eyes can hold with a front blade that obscures the bull. Suffice it to say that better results can be obtained with optics, with premium ammo, or both. For home defense, though, the MR-1 has more out of the box accuracy than you probably need. Forty yards would be beyond typical urban self-defense range, to be sure, if well short of what might be required in a rural setting.

Although the Benelli comes with a 5-round magazine that looks good, I ended up hating it. Only four rounds are easily loaded, not five. While it may look comfortable to cradle the rifle with your left hand around the magazine well, don't do it. I say that because I did it and the resulting pinch and nasty gash on my left hand palm just below my thumb tells me it wasn't a particularly smart move. The MR-1 is a reliable palm-pincher if you shoot it held that way. This is a very simple, proven premise. Randy does something dumb and bleeds a bit. People read and laugh. It is called entertainment.

The Benelli MR-1 takes standard AR type magazines. Of the many different makes of magazines out there, I like the Brownell's 30 round magazines the best and they work like a charm in the Benelli. As you can probably tell, I don't think five round clip-fed mags make much sense in this type of rifle. The bleeding hand was just a little added bonus.

Everyone who shot the Benelli MR-1 was impressed. It handles well, coming to the shoulder quickly, and has almost nonexistent muzzle rise. It has a comparatively simple and clean gas action, far superior to the old AR type. It is easy to operate with a safety that you can take off instantly without twirling a lever and it has a bolt handle right where it belongs, on the bolt. The bolt release is also effortless to get to, as it resides on the front of the trigger guard.

There isn't anything to dislike about the MR-1 rifle. Easy to use, accurate enough out of the box to place multiple head shots on anything you need to put a head shot on out to forty yards, amazingly soft-shooting and reliable. It also is hundreds of dollars less than the two thousand dollar genre of .223 autoloaders. The trigger is the best I have seen in this type of rifle and the rifle itself is a lot easier on the eyes than most tactical rifles. The Picatinny rail is already in place, so you can quickly add an Aimpoint, Holosight, or more conventional optics. The MR-1 is a smooth-running, delightful .223 autoloader that anyone would enjoy at the range, as an all-purpose ranch type rifle, or for home defense. It is a well made, easy to use, handy little rifle; the best of its kind I have recently tested.

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Copyright 2010, 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.