July 24, 2015
The AR-15 is awesome, but it isn't for everyone. Some people reside in areas of the country that restrict ownership of the rifle, while others simply don't like the Armalite's appearance or exaggerated reputation for unreliability. For these shooters, a solid, but cost-prohibitive option has been roller-delayed carbines from H&K, like the HK 93. Thankfully, Century Arms has begun building an HK 93 clone for less than half the price of originals, the C93. But is this Century rifle a cost-effective alternative or simply a poor substitute for the German sports car of .223 carbines?
The first sign that Century is building these rifles correctly is the quality of parts used in its construction. Rather than fabricate the entire carbine from scratch, the engineers at Century Arms decided to use as many mil-spec parts as possible. In fact, the only major parts that aren't true H&K are the upper receiver, barrel and polymer lower receiver. The C93 uses quality parts and is based on an ultra-reliable platform, but what is the C93, and how does it actually perform?
Feeding from 20, 30, 40 or even 100-round magazines, the C93 is a roller-delayed, locked-breech air-cooled semi-automatic carbine chambered in 5.56mm. Shooter familiar with either the ubiquitous MP5 submachinegun or German G3 battle rifle will no doubt find the C93's lineage obvious. Basically, the C93, like the HK 93 it closely emulates, is a shrunk down version of the .308 G3 rifle, chambered in the intermediate-power 5.56mm cartridge.
Though it had a relatively short service life with the German military, the rifle proved popular with foreign allies, 25 of which fielded it either as a military service rifle or police carbine. Despite this, the import-friendly version, the HK 43a, saw limited success stateside due to its high price and limited availability, which was caused by import restrictions imposed in 1989 and a limited production run of only 377 carbines (of which only 200 were ever imported).
Which begs the question, "Why would Century bother building clones of a rifle that saw limited commercial success?" In a word: reliability. Regardless of caliber, HK roller-delayed rifles have set the gold standard for dependability for decades. Shooters need only look at the prolific nature of the MP5 among high-risk operatives like hostage rescues teams and the British SAS to understand the steadfast nature of the design. So how does the Century's take on the design hold up?
Better now than before.
Previously, Century builders had issues with bolt gap, or the proper distance from the bolt face to the chamber. This can be adjusted by changing the size of the rollers employed on the bolt, but, unlike most designs, the distance can grow slightly as the weapon sees heavy use. Since each carbine needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, it wouldn't be inconceivable to imagine Century used either whatever rollers were on hand or a standard size, resulting in inconsistent headspacing.
Thankfully, it seems that the majority of these issues have vanished with recent shipments of the carbines. Also, given the volume of products Century sells, the prevalence of complaints will be grossly overstated. Simply because most shooters don't bother to post on forums that their rifle works as advertised. That said, the rifle wasn't without its hiccups.
In testing, the rifle would occasionally fail to eject with a few types of ammo. Surprisingly, it preferred less-expensive Wolf, Tula and Brown Bear ammunition, though it still functioned flawlessly with military-spec Federal XM193 and M85 green-tip rounds. Across nearly 500 rounds of ammo, the C93 experienced 5 malfunctions, all within the first 50 rounds fired and with the same box of ammunition. After stripping and cleaning the rifle after the malfunctions, it no longer encountered any errors.
Satisfied with the carbine's reliability, I set out to test for accuracy. As with any carbine tested, a magnified optic is a must to take full advantage of a rifle's capabilities. This is where one of the downsides to owning a less-prolific design comes in to play. Unlike modern AR-15s, H&K roller-delayed designs don't incorporate either an accessory rail or optics mount. Shooters who wish to use a scope with their C93 will first have to purchase a claw mount which clamps to the receiver. Thankfully mounts for the rifle are shared among it, the G3 and the MP5 SMG, so finding a mount isn't difficult, but it is pricey.
The least expensive quality mount available runs around $80, though specialty models can fetch as much at $300. Even still, given the low cost of the rifle itself, the C93 is still a more cost-effective choice than original HK43 or HK93 carbines. Other proprietary accessories include magazines and handguards. Thankfully, domestic companies offer more affordable alternatives to pricey OEM mags and rails.
One such company is www.HKParts.net. Until recently, this company only acted as a reseller for H&K parts and accessories and is one of the few authorized resellers of OEM H&K parts. Now, they manufacture their own products, like the M-Lok compatible low-profile handguard currently installed on the carbine. Installation is straightforward and simple, requiring no special tools outside of an allen wrench and a rubber mallet to remove the rifle's carrying handle. Both the factory polymer handguard and the aftermarket aluminum rail did an excellent job of keeping a shooter's hands safe from the boiling-hot barrel beneath.
One aspect of the design that takes some getting used to are the controls. Unlike more traditional designs where the charging handle is simply retracted and let go to chamber a round, the C93 is more involved. To chamber a round and charge the action, the C93's charging handle is pulled back and up where is resides in a notch above the handguard. Then the shooter inserts a fresh magazine until it locks in place. Finally, the shooter performs the super-cool, "HK slap" where they backhand the charging handle out of the groove where it flies forward, chambering a round and putting the gun in battery. Though this sounds complicated on paper, its very straightforward and becomes second nature with limited practice.
The only other ergonomic shortcoming is the rifle's lack of a paddle magazine release. While the design features a push-button mag release not dissimilar to one found on AR-15 rifles, it is far less accessible. At least for shooters who lack orangutan-length index fingers. H&K addressed this on their sub guns by including a paddle release like those found on AK rifles. Even still, with practice, this becomes fairly quick, though not on the same level as an AR-15. A paddle can be installed by a competent gunsmith but should be done with caution. Installing the wrong diameter pin for the paddle release is viewed by the ATF as constructing an illegal machine gun. To err on the side of caution, shooters should go with a gunsmith familiar with the design if they wish to have this feature installed.
Lastly, accuracy with the HK-inspired carbine was better than anticipated, grouping 1.57 inches with Winchester PDX1 Defender ammunition. While the rifle wouldn't serve as a bench rifle or proper F-Class setup, this is more than accurate enough for plinking, home defense or 3-gun matches.
The C93 might not meet the aesthetic standards of a true H&K or the modularity of America's favorite black rifle, but it represents an outstanding bargain for shooters looking for a reliable carbine with a different look than the standard AR-15. Shooters looking to live out their Tom Clancy-inspired fantasies without dropping two large should look no further than Century Arms' C93 Carbine.
Special thanks to HKParts.net for providing spare magazines and railed forearm for this review.