A no-bells-and-whistles semi-automatic M4 carbine... from Colt Defense? Possible? Yes it is: new for 2016 is the Colt Expanse M4, Colt's first true entry-level rifle! affordable and fully customizable.
The struggle for a crowded market
For decades, the Colt's Manufacturing name has been the only one - both in north America and worldwide - on the AR-15 based rifles market. But that was the past. With dozens of small, medium and big enterprises in the United States alone manufacturing and selling clones of the AR-15, M16 and M4 rifles and carbines for both civilian and MIL/LE/Gvt./Professional purposes, and with producers of variants of the same platform popping up everywhere else from Europe to the Far East and even Russia, it's becoming harder and harder for the Hartford-based company to maintain a leadership position.
The competition over Colt on such a crowded market is also due to quality and price issues. While Colt's standards are out of discussion, they are challenged by many other high-grade manufacturers Worldwide, with an increasing number of competitors offering something that Colt has been lacking for quite a while: an entry-level AR-15 variant that is not only easily customized by the user, but most important of all, affordable.
The challenge of the Expanse M4
With competition taking over the north American market just as far-eastern manufacturers did in Europe with AR-15 type rifles and carbines manufactured under brands such as Norinco or SDM, Colt had to even the odds once again. And it did so with the Colt Expanse M4 semi-automatic carbine, conceived to provide quality and affordability under the Colt brand.
The Colt Expanse M4 was first introduced in Las Vegas at the 2016 SHOT Show, and almost immediately made available for commercial sales in the United States. The Colt Expanse M4 is now available also in the European market through the Italian-based Prima Armi S.r.l. company.
The Colt Expanse M4 is built on forged 7075 T6, matte black hardcoat anodized upper and lower receivers, and comes with a 16.1" long barrel that is manufactured out of 4150 CMV steel, and features a surface manganese phosphate finish and a standard GI-style flash hider.
The bore is not chrome-lined, and features six right handed grooves with a 1:7" twist; the barrel sports a lightweight profile and lacks the all-too-familiar "step cut" that is present on the barrels of many M4-type semi-automatic civilian-grade carbine despite having been conceived for the installation of an M203 grenade launcher on military rifles and serving no other practical purposes.
The working system is a standard direct gas impingment, kept brutally simple: mastering an enduring basic working system like Colt did for around sixty years allows to keep manufacturing costs low while providing the reliability and accuracy that the M4-type variants are known for - even among civilian users.
Furniture on the Colt Expanse M4 is otherwise minimal: a standard black polymer pistol grip with front finger grooves and side checkering; a standard six-position M4-type collapsible buttstock mounted on a MIL-SPEC buffer tube; and a two-piece polymer handguard with a standard single-layer inner heat shield, installed through a classic Delta ring.
The front sight is a fixed A2-style post, while the rear is a Colt original flip-up, adjustable for windage, installed on a flat-top MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail which also provides a mounting point for aftermarket optical gunsights.
Controls on the Colt Expanse M4 are not ambidextrous: the magazine release and safety switch are located on the right side of the lower receiver, the hold-open device is on the left, the cocking handle is a baseline model with none of the fancy quick-charging or extended latches so common these days.
Also, the Colt Expanse M4 in its CE1000 version comes without a dust cover on the ejection window, although the receiver is ready to accept one. Similarly, while the upper receiver of the Colt Expanse M4 CE1000 sports a forward assist guide, it is plugged: yes, you heard correctly, the Colt Expanse M4 comes without a forward assist.
The reason behind the decision to ditch these two features is that average shooters have shown not to need them in normal situations.
Even Police operators are not exactly likely to face environments when they need to protect the ejection window from elements in order to avoid jamming. The forward assist instead, was originally conceived to force the bolt shut in the event of an incomplete locking - but modern operations and gun safety rules make the forward assist more or less useless. Nowadays, a standard "tap-rack-bang" technique is considered far safer than forcing the bolt shut.
Sky is the limit
The Colt Expanse M4 is not minimal just for the sake of being so; the AR-15 platform has recently been compared to a "Lego for grownups", and the Colt Expanse M4 is the equivalent of a basic set. It does provide what a vast pool of shooters may need from a standard, all-round target shooting, hunting and even Police patrol rifle, but it also lays the grounds for any kind of custom modification that a more demanding user may seek from his or her rifle.
Even components that are missing from the baseline model (such as the dust cover and the forward assist) can easily be installed.
Any type of aftermarket accessory or furniture will be compatible, including - but not limited to - handguards, pistol grips and stocks; STANAG magazines of any capacity and magazine funnel accessories; enhanced controls and trigger groups, replacement flash hiders, optics and other tactical accessories, and even gas piston conversions.
The AR-15 handyman will find in the Expanse M4 anything he/she needs to build a dream Modern Sporting Rifle whose foundations will solidly rest on a Colt product. And at a very competitive price.
The Colt Expanse M4 is a real Colt Defense rifle, and this means that it has alwasys been ready for the battle or sport shooting fields.
At a glance
Handling the rifle, the slightly longer barrel makes the rifle a tad more nose-heavy than a 14 incher. The military grade single stage trigger is quite heavy and has marked slack after the hammer release. We are left with a strong feeling that with a match trigger the rifle could do much better. But, after all, customization it’s what this model is meant for.
Military grade finish, all the bells and whistles without any undue frippery. A stout anodizing protects the metals. Markings are deep and regular, with a laser-printed dot matrix 2D barcode.
Nothing to cry out for but, on the other hand, nothing to cry for if it gets scratched and dinged during rough handling.
Are you tempted to compare the Colt Expanse M4 to anything else in the market? Drop the problem! The Expanse M4 is a “true” Colt rifle, with all you need at a very competitive price.
Rather than comparing this rifle with others, it’s the other rifles that should be compared to this one. Colt is back as the new baseline.
The Colt Expanse M4 CE1000 carbine bears a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $699 in the United States. The Colt Expanse M4 CE2000 comes instead factory-issued with a dust cover and a forward assist button, and is sold in the United States starting at an MSRP of $749.
This second, more complete version is the one you see pictured in this article, distributed in several European countries by the Italian company Prima Armi Srl, at an interesting street price of just €1.199.
Colt Expanse M4 – Specifications
Prima Armi S.r.l. (Europe)
5.56x45mm (.223 Remington)
Direct impingement gas-operated, rotating bolt
Single-action trigger, hammer-fired
Manual + trigger safety
Detachable STANAG 4179 compliant magazines of any size and capacity
40.9 cm / 16.1 inches; six grooves, RH, 1 twist in 7"; non chrome-lined bore
Fixed front post, flip-up rear adjustable for windage
81.3 cm / 32 inches (stock fully retracted) – 90.2 cm / 35.5 inches (stock fully extended)
2.9 kg / 6.44 lbs
Forged, black hard-coat anodized 7075 T6 aluminium alloy upper and lower receiver; 4150 CMV steel barrel with manganese phosphate finish
Expanse M4 CE1000: $699
Expanse M4 CE2000: $749 (in Europe: 1.199 €, from Prima Armi Srl)