There is a reason that the AR is one of the most popular rifle configurations available on the market today—it is intimately tied to the longest-serving U.S. military rifle in our country’s history, the M16. In semi-automatic-only form, the AR-15 offers civilian shooters a chance to own a street-legal version of this battle-proven classic. Another reason for its popularity is the very nature of its design. Inherently modular, the AR can be reconfigured into a completely new rifle by simply swapping out parts. In response to this popularity, numerous manufacturers have stepped up to offer seemingly limitless choices of variants of this platform.
To say that today’s AR market is a bit saturated would be an obvious understatement. As a result, it can be difficult for manufacturers to stand out from the crowd. That has not been a problem for Daniel Defense. Started in 2000, the company has quickly built a reputation for making top-notch tactical AR carbines that offer a great deal of performance at reasonable prices. No, these are not entry-level-priced ARs, but considering the level of quality they provide, the pricing is extremely competitive.
Above and Beyond
The heart of what makes a Daniel Defense AR so unique is summed up in a simple combination of words: Mil-Spec+. This succinct tagline adorns a hangtag attached to each and every carbine that leaves the factory’s doors. With the semi-automatic AR-pattern carbine being based off of the M16, what constitutes true “Mil-Spec” quality can often be a point of contentious debate.
According to Jay Duncan, vice president of sales and marketing for Daniel Defense, what qualifies the company to make this claim is the fact that it has numerous military contracts under its belt, both with the U.S. government as well as allied governments. Furthermore, he points out that the skills and expertise required to manufacture under these stringent “Mil-Spec” requirements, combined with the fact that Daniel Defense maintains a significantly large portion of the manufacture of its rifles in-house, give the company the confidence to claim that it not only attains Mil-Spec quality but exceeds it.
Having had the opportunity to take a factory tour of the company’s manufacturing plant in rural Georgia, I can attest to this fact. The place is run more like a laboratory than like a traditional machining facility. Packed wall to wall with cutting-edge CNC machinery, the facility immediately conveys precision manufacturing. I was given the opportunity to observe each step of manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished product, with numerous quality-control checks along the way.
Going into the visit, there was one particular stage of the manufacturing process that I was extremely interested in seeing—the cold hammer-forging of the barrels. As I stepped into a stairwell to proceed onto the factory floor, I felt a strong vibration start. Jay, my tour guide, explained that this was the hammer-forging machine operating. He also said that they had to build a separate floating foundation for it because the vibration would have eventually destroyed the building’s foundation.
The cold hammer-forging produces extremely strong, dimensionally consistent barrels that have extremely long service lives. The Daniel Defense barrels are manufactured from 4150 steel, are chrome-lined and feature a 1-in-7-inch twist. To ensure that the best possible final product is offered, all barrels are magnetic particle tested (as is the bolt carrier group). These barrels, along with the rest of the top-quality parts put into each and every Daniel Defense AR, result in a very desirable tactical carbine.
The basic Daniel Defense AR platform is the M4, which, as you probably will surmise, indicates that it is a Daniel Defense carbine in a general M4 Carbine pattern. Apart from their semi-auto operation and 16-inch barrels, they represent a very close rendition of the flat-topped M4 Carbine.
The first offering from Daniel Defense was named, fittingly, the M4 V1. This 5.56mm carbine features a carbine-length gas system, stepped M4-profile barrel, Magpul six-position collapsible stock, fixed front sight base and the company’s A1.5 rear sight unit, which combines A1-style adjustments with A2-style apertures. Most unique to the carbine is the free-floated, railed forend that “cages” the front sight assembly, offering rail space forward and around the front sight assembly.
The M4 V2 took the V1 and added a more traditional short Picatinny forend that ends at the front sight base, resulting in a very compact and handy 5.56mm carbine. In addition to being offered with the standard M4-profile barrel, the company also offers a lightweight version dubbed the “M4 V2 LW,” which features a thin-profile barrel for even more lively handling characteristics. The M4 V3 added in the option of a mid-length gas system, with an alternative lightweight model offered as the M4 V3 LW.
The M4 V4 took the carbine-length variant and added in a slick, optics-ready flattop with no iron sights. A lightweight version is offered as the M4 V4 LW. The M4 V5 and M4 V5 LW offered the same, but with mid-length gas systems.
The M4 XV EZ was developed to offer all the quality of the M4 series but in a simplified and more affordable version. This carbine-length M4 features a standard six-position buttstock, a short quad-rail forend, A1.5 rear sight assembly and fixed front sight base.
The newest variant is the M4 V7, which takes the mid-length M4 V5 but adds the Daniel Defense Modular Float Rail 12.0. A free-floating system, the forend is designed to offer a customizable approach to configuring a carbine while still remaining slim and light. The rail is made up of a 12-inch-long tube with an upper rail that matches up directly with the carbine’s optic rail on the upper receiver.
The forend itself, manufactured from aluminum, is designed to accept short 3-inch sections of modular Picatinny rail (the carbine comes standard with three strips). The sections affix to the forend through slot interfaces located along its length. The slots are spaced roughly 1 inch apart horizontally along the handguard (each rail strip requires two slots), and are arrayed around the circumference of the hanguard at 2-, 3-, 5-, 6-, 7-, 9- and 10-o’clock positions.
The result is a forend that is slim (1.75 inches wide) with a smooth surface that can be configured exactly how the user desires. It also conceals the low-profile, mid-length gas block of the carbine. The overall weight of the M4 V7 is a feathery 6.5 pounds, approximately.
I recently had the opportunity to try out the M4 V7 for myself. The carbine that I received for testing exhibited the excellent attention to detail and quality I have learned to expect from Daniel Defense products. In addition to the belled Magpul triggerguard, which nicely removes that unpleasant little gap forward of the pistol grip that is common to standard ARs, the M4 V7 sports a Magpul MOE six-position collapsible buttstock.
The barrel on the carbine is of a “heavy” profile, but it is by no means a clunky bull barrel. It features a 5.56mm NATO chamber, and the chrome-lined barrel has a 1-in-7-inch twist rate, topped off with an A2-style “birdcage” flash suppressor. Internally, the carbine features M4-style feed ramps cut into the barrel extension, an “H” buffer and a single 30-round polymer Magpul PMAG. The V7 I received for testing came with a set of the company’s iron sights, made up of the A1.5 fixed rear sight and matching fixed front sight.
For testing, I had an Aimpoint PRO non-magnified red dot and a Leupold Mark 4 HAMR 4x24mm optic topped off with a backup 7.5-MOA DeltaPoint I wanted to try out. On the forend, I equipped the short rail sections with a SureFire Model M720V light with a pressure pad control and an Accu-Shot Flip Grip foregrip from B&T Industries. I headed out to the range with the carbine and a selection of American Eagle, Hornady and Winchester ammunition and, once set up, began to put the M4 V7 through its paces. I started out with the Aimpoint PRO and ran the rifle through its paces for accuracy. I also tried the Leupold HAMR out on the range as well. Both optics proved to be quite impressive.
The M4 V7 functioned with perfect reliability. Recoil was pleasant and manageable, and accuracy was good, even with a trigger that weighed 8 pounds and had a little creep (particularly for using a non-magnified optic at that distance).
The bottom line is that the M4 V7, like all Daniel Defense M4 carbines, offers users all the quality and performance for which the brand has become known. If you are interested in picking up a top-quality AR and want to go with a known quantity, then take a look at Daniel Defense’s line of excellent 5.56mm carbines. I am sure you will not be disappointed.
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