June 24, 2020
While the AR-15 is by far and away the most popular box-magazine-fed semi-auto rifle in America, we have always had alternatives. Thanks to a decade of panic buying everyone and their brother and their brother’s cousin and their brother’s cousin’s mother have bought one or three or seven ARs, and the sales numbers would seem to indicate that everybody is AR’ed out. Which, ironically, has led to a renewed interest in non-AR designs. Case in point: the CZ Bren 2 Ms.
Currently CZ-USA is importing six different versions of the Bren from the Czech Republic, all pistols. If you like the 7.62x39mm cartridge you can have it in a 14-, 11-, or 9-inch barreled pistol, and if you prefer the 5.56x45mm it’s available in a 14-, 11-, or 8-inch barreled pistol. The 7.62 models feed from proprietary CZ magazines, and traditional rock-and-lock AK magazines will not work. The 5.56 models feed from standard AR magazines. I secured a sample of the 11-inch barreled 5.56 to test. FYI no matter which model you fancy, they all have the same price.
Before we dive into the particulars of the Bren 2 Ms, let’s talk about the original CZ 805 BREN from which it is descended. Introduced in 2011, the original 805 BREN was available in 7.62x39 or 5.56, with a 14- or 10.9-inch barrel. It was found to be a reliable rifle, but not perfect. The Bren 2 addresses some of the complaints with the original rifle — the lower receiver is completely polymer and the aluminum upper receiver has been trimmed down, helping to take a pound of weight off the original gun. Also, the charging handle on the Bren 2, unlike the original, does not reciprocate.
With any length barrel the Bren 2 Ms doesn’t look like an AR, and it doesn’t operate like an AR — the Bren uses a short-stroke piston to operate the action. The Bren has a rectangular bolt carrier and a rotating bolt, although you won’t see any of those terms listed inside the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual refers to the bolt as the breech block, and the bolt carrier as the breech block carrier.
The length of the piston system on this gun is the same no matter the length of the barrel or the caliber. Short stroke gas piston systems seem to work more reliably in very short barrels than direct gas impingement guns.
The gas system is three-position adjustable, and it is easily adjustable either with your fingers or a cartridge if things are getting a bit hot. Setting One as it comes from the factory (vertical) is for meant for standard shooting conditions; Setting Two (45-degree angle) is meant for adverse conditions. The third position (Marked with a 0 on the regulator) shuts off the gas entirely. The gas regulator comes right out of the upper receiver for easy cleaning, and CZ provides a tool specifically for cleaning the gas tube.
The barrel is tipped with a three-prong flash hider of CZ’s own design. I’ve talked to a number of engineers and they’ve stated that open-ended flash hiders like this and the Vortex seem to do a better job of killing flash than closed-ended flash hiders like the AR-standard A2.
The upper receiver is machined from billet aluminum with an integral MIL STD 1913 rail. I found it interesting that the case deflector is made out of polymer, the same polymer as the lower receiver.
Note where the charging handle is. If you mount an optic on the rail you will have to be prudent about where it is located or if it has any projecting levers, otherwise you will skin your knuckles. Or you could swap the charging handle to the opposite side, as it is reversible.
One thing I didn’t realize until examining the gun and reading the owner’s manual — this gun is far more modular than I originally knew. It is possible to swap calibers between 5.56 and 7.62 x39 in this gun. If you look closely you’ll see there is an insert in the magazine well of this gun — take that out and you can fit in the 7.62 magazines. Swap out the barrel, bolt, and a few other parts and you’ve got yourself a caliber switch. However, CZ recommends that that only be done by an armorer…and those conversion kits aren’t available yet as I write this, so for a while at least the Bren’s caliber conversion capability will only be theoretical.
I am once again impressed with the iron sights that CZ provided with their firearm. I first saw this when testing the CZ Scorpion Evo. That is a polymer frame gun and they could have easily gotten away with cheap sights but the iron sights on that firearm are not just unique they are excellent. The sights provided with the Bren are traditional AR-style flip-up sights. They flip up by hand and lock into place. The front sight is a standard AR-type post adjustable for elevation with the tip of a cartridge or the provided sight adjustment tool, protected by curved wings. The rear sight has two apertures (small and large) click-adjustable for windage.
Even better, CZ has equipped these sights with photoluminescent dots. There is one on the front sight post and you can find dots to either side of the large aperture on the rear sight. This photoluminescent paint looks white in sunlight but when taken from a brightly-lit area into a dimly lit area (or when hit with the beam of a flashlight for a few seconds) they glow bright green for several minutes.
If you get excited about sling attachment points the Bren 2 Ms is an abundance of riches. At the front of the gun there is a steel oval on either side of the gas piston where you can click a snap hook. At the rear of the receiver you have QD sling swivel sockets on either side as well as steel sling slots.
The handguard of course also has M-LOK attachments slots at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock where you could attach a rail or other M-LOK compatible accessories. The handguard is short, so I’d recommend attaching a handstop or an angled foregrip to keep your hand in place, as both the barrel and gas piston area get very hot while shooting. As this is a pistol you cannot attach a vertical foregrip, but handstops and angled foregrips are fine.
The Bren is not an AR but it has mostly AR-style controls. The selector lever is just where you would expect it to be and it is a short 45-degree throw to get it from Safe to Fire. A brief aside — the CZ Scorpion Evo has perhaps the worst bilateral safety in all of Christendom, but they have apparently learned their lesson. The right-side safety lever on the Bren is very short; in fact, the safety levers on both sides are short, and that means that whether you’re a righty or a lefty the end of the polymer lever when it is flipped down into the fire position does not poke your trigger finger.
All of the controls on the Bren are bilateral — you got the standard AR-style magazine release button on the right as well as a pivoting lever on the left. You have your traditional bolt release on the left but you also have a bolt release inside the trigger guard.
If you look close at the forward face of the trigger well you will see what looks like a gas pedal at the forward bottom. That is the bolt release. You can push it down with your trigger finger to let the bolt fly forward, or push it up with your trigger finger while racking the bolt to lock it back. That works whether you’re right- or left-handed.
Using the charging handle to work the bolt I was shocked at how smooth and easy bolt travel is. I was also shocked at the quality of the trigger pull. CZ is of course very hopeful of obtaining military and law enforcement contracts with this rifle around the world. The Scorpion Evo in SMG form has been adopted in a lot of places and so has the original 805 BREN, so I was expecting a heavy gritty military-grade trigger pull on this, especially since it has a polymer trigger just like the Scorpion Evo which has a very heavy trigger pull.
The Bren 2 Ms has a two-stage trigger pull. The take-up has almost no weight and the second stage breaks light and crisp. Total pull weight on my sample was just 3.25 pounds. THREE AND A QUARTER. That’s as good as any “match” trigger you’re likely to find for an AR.
The pistol grip has a very small internal compartment with a trap door at the bottom and the backstrap is replaceable. It is held in place by a roll pin, although as yet there are no spares or other sizes available from CZ. The Bren 2 is still new enough that CZ is working as fast as they can to fill orders from various markets around the world. I’m told once they get caught up you can expect to see accessories such as conversion kits and backstraps.
The pistol is supplied with two polymer AR-pattern magazines from CZ as well as a cleaning/maintenance kit in a military-style nylon pouch. The kit contains a rod, brushes, patches, and toothbrush, as well as a front sight adjustment tool, gas block cleaning tool, and various wrenches.
The pistol does not come from CZ with any sort of brace on the back, and overall it is just 23 inches long. The eight-inch barreled version of course cuts three inches off that overall length. Mounting a brace on the back is very easy as the rear of the receiver has a threaded hole designed for an AR-15 style buffer tube.
For this article, I secured an SBA3 brace kit from SB tactical to mount on this pistol. Once installed it brought the overall length of the pistol to 32.25 inches with the brace fully extended. However, when acquiring the brace for this pistol I learned something very interesting from Alex Bosco, the head of SB Tactical.
The ATF hasn’t put anything in writing concerning the overall acceptable length of pistol braces or the resulting length of pull (probably because once they put it in writing everyone will start to work around those constraints as Bosco did with the original brace itself) but Bosco told me that the ATF frowns upon any brace that when installed provides a length of pull greater than 13.5 inches. With this brace installed and extended fully to the rear it provides a 14-inch length of pull (length of pull is the distance from the trigger to the back of the stock/brace). To address this problem SB Tactical sells length of pull limiters. These are simply polymer inserts that go into the endmost position on your receiver extension, preventing your brace from fully extending. Again, the ATF is put nothing in writing concerning this, but a word to the wise…
CZ states that the pistol as sold weighs 5.625 pounds. My scale put my sample at 5 pounds 14 ounces (5.875), and once I added the SBA3 brace the weight went up to 6.5 pounds, roughly on par with an AR-15 of the same size.
I could have gotten any length barrel or caliber to test, but specifically went with an 11-inch barreled 5.56 gun. Let’s talk a bit about why I specifically chose this caliber and barrel length.
The 7.62 x39mm cartridge is the intermediate anti-personnel cartridge against which all others are judged around the world, and I’m not going to argue with that. However, we are not around the world, we are in America. In America the .223/5.56 is king, and ammo/projectile choices are much greater than with 7.62x39. I would argue (with the right projectiles) the .223/5.56 is equal or superior to the 7.62x39 in terminal performance while having less recoil and lighter weight cartridges. Not only is .223 ammunition everywhere, you can find AR magazines everywhere, whereas the 7.62 Bren feeds from proprietary magazines.
If you’re looking to buy a Bren 2 Ms pistol for deer hunting as well as defense the 7.62 is probably a better choice for you, but that’s not exactly its intended purpose, is it?
As for why I didn’t go with an eight-inch barrel, I will admit that the shorter barrel is handier, more concealable, and looks cooler, and appearance is always a concern on the commercial side. However, when it comes to exterior ballistics, you really take it in the shorts (that’s a technical gunwriter term) with an eight-inch barrel. You lose a huge amount of velocity when shooting .223/5.56 ammo out of anything shorter than an 11-inch barrel. With an eight-inch barrel and 55-grain bullets you’ll be struggling to get 2,300 feet per second with most loads. That’s not really rifle performance.
Even though an 11-inch barrel is just three inches longer, those three inches equate to often 200 to 400 feet per second more velocity. Remember, barrel length on an AR includes the chamber so the first 2.2 inches or so of that “barrel length” is chamber. When you’re comparing an eight-inch barrel to an 11-inch barrel you’re really comparing a six-inch barrel to a nine-inch barrel, so the 11-inch barrel has nearly 50% longer length, and the performance to match.
The other reason to choose an 11-inch, or even a 14-inch, barrel is that, in most states, you can carry the CZ Bren 2 Ms loaded and concealed with your concealed carry license. In some states, carrying loaded rifles concealed on your person or in a vehicle are not permitted. So, if you need a loaded rifle to bug out with, a 5.56 pistol with 14-inch barrel would fit your requirement and still be legal to hike with in your backpack, or ride on the passenger seat of your vehicle.
As I wrote above, there are huge numbers of premium defensive loads available for .223/5.56 rifles and pistols. My preferred load out of short barrels is Black Hills’ 5.56 NATO 50-grain Optimized TSX load which was developed for a federal law enforcement agency. This load was specifically created for short-barreled guns, and the “optimized” in the name means it features a copper solid TSX hollowpoint specifically intended to expand even after being shot through intermediate barriers like car doors, auto glass, dry wall, etc. Whether you’re shooting bare gel blocks or sticking auto glass/sheet metal or other barriers in front of those gel blocks, this bullet tends to consistently penetrate 14 inches of gel or so while expanding nicely. Out of the 11-inch barrel of the Bren it does just over 2,900 fps.
To fieldstrip the Bren, a description of the process sounds exactly the same as the description of what you do to break down an AR-15; it involves popping out two captive pins and working a lever. With an AR those two captive pins hold the upper and lower receiver together and the lever is the charging handle. With the Bren, the forward captive pin holding the upper and lower receivers together needs to be popped out first. Then the lower receiver comes off the upper by pulling down and forward on the front of the lower receiver. To remove the rear receiver plate and/or brace/stock, pop out the captive pin at the lower rear of the receiver and then depress the lever on the underside of the adapter. The rear receiver plate slides down off the upper receiver. The bolt carrier assembly then slides right out the rear of the receiver for cleaning. There are instructions in the owner’s manual for disassembly of the bolt carrier.
I know the Bren 2 Ms is a firearm with an interesting appearance, and that was reinforced on a recent road trip. I was out of state filming some segments for the Guns & Ammo TV show with fellow Firearms News writer Dave Fortier. I pulled out the Bren for photographs, and both the current editor of Guns & Ammo and a former editor of this magazine said, “Ooh, what’s that?”
The great trigger pull on this pistol means that just about everyone will be able to shoot up to the accuracy potential of the barrel. It is a very smooth and soft-shooting firearm, and it worked perfectly during all of my testing.
One look at it will tell you it is far from another AR. I think the Bren 2 Ms is an ugly, awkward, almost steampunk looking gun. And I like it. My only complaint about it is the price…however, I realize the price of the Bren isn’t as high as I’d like to think.
The Bren 2 Ms comes with a fabulous trigger pull, great flip-up sights, and an extensive cleaning kit with sight adjustment tools. At $1,799 retail the Bren 2 Ms pistol is in the price range of a mid-to-high range AR-15. However, that AR-15 may or may not have a match trigger, sights, and bilateral controls, and even if it does it is still just another AR-15. Thinking hard about the Bren 2 Ms brought to mind another modular gun, the Bushmaster ACR. I realize that in many ways the Bren 2 Ms is what everyone hoped the ACR would be, a modern, truly modular alternative to the AR-15.
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current novel, Splashback, is available now through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
CZ Bren 2 Ms Specs
Caliber: 5.56x45 NATO; (7.62x39mm available)
Action: Semi auto, short stroke piston
Barrel Length: 11" (8" and 14" available)
Receiver: Machined aluminum
Muzzle Device: Flash hider
Overall Length: 22.8 inches
Weight: 5 lbs. 14 ounces — without magazine (as tested)
Forend: Aluminum w/M-LOK slots
Grip: Polymer with compartment
Sights: Photoluminescent flip-up front and rear
Trigger: 3.25 lbs. (as tested)
Accessories: Two 30-round magazines, cleaning kit
Manufacturer: CZ-USA; www.cz-usa.com
CZ Bren 2 Ms Accuracy Results