April 16, 2020
You ever hear the phrase, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”? For those of you wondering when the “Golden Age” of firearms was in America, that time is now. Wake up and look around. And buy something. That thought ran through my head as I held one of the coolest guns I’ve tested in quite some time, the Galil ACE pistol. Not only is it chambered in 5.56x45mm but it feeds from AR magazines. Over the past few decades IWI hasn’t been sleeping, and the Galil ACE is a modernized version of the classic Galil design. Their new 5.56x45mm pistol with stabilizing brace in my opinion optimizes their new design, and makes available to gun owners the kind of firearm that I, as a teenager in the 80s, never thought would be available to me.
The first Galil ACE rifles and pistols imported in 2015 were chambered in 7.62x39mm. There are people who will swear that the “7.62mm Soviet” is THE intermediate cartridge against which all others should be judged, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, but this is America. Both 5.56x45mm ammunition and AR mags are cheap and plentiful. IWI was aware of this, and brand new this year is a Galil ACE pistol chambered in 5.56x45mm, fed by AR-15 magazines. Better still it is supplied from the factory with a side-folding pistol stabilizing brace manufactured by the inventors of the pistol stabilizing brace, SB Tactical.
Officially the product code for this pistol is GAP556SB, Galil Ace Pistol 556 Stabilizing Brace. It features an 8.3 inch cold hammer forged chrome moly vanadium barrel with chrome lining. It has a 5.56x45mm NATO chamber and 1-7 inch twist, and is tipped with an A2-style birdcage flash hider. You’ll find the front of the pistol rather round under your hand as there are three polymer MIL STD 1913 rails at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. They are hidden under covers which slide off with the push of a button. The provided polymer rail covers make for a nearly round gripping surface. Thoughtfully, there are cutouts in the rail sections if you want to mount a pressure switch for a tactical weaponlight.
This pistol is designed to accept M16/AR-15 magazines, and one 30-round Magpul Gen 3 PMag with window is supplied with the pistol. IWI likes this particular magazine so much it is specifically listed in the owner’s manual. I like that the magazine well has a nice bevel.
Both the original Galil and the new Galil ACE are product-improved versions of the venerable AK-47. One look at the Galil’s topcover and AK fans will know what rifle helped inspire it. The Israelis looked at the AK and loved the reliability of Kalashnikov’s long-stroke gas piston operating system. They kept that, but made a few improvements, such as a longer sight radius and improved controls. The Galil ACE carries on those improvements.
The front sight might look like an AR-15 front sight post in pictures, but in actuality it is about twice as big as a standard AR front sight. It is a telephone pole of a front sight. The post itself is half an inch tall and narrows toward the top….but the top is still pretty fat. Using my eyeballs and rough guesstimation it looks like the top of the post covers about 16 inches at 100 yards.
The rear sight is all the way back on the receiver cover, with rail sections stretching between the front and rear sights. There are two apertures on the rear sight. You have your choice of small or very small. The small one is marked 3 for 300 meters, the other one 5 for 500. The small apertures seem in direct contrast to the huge front sight post. The sight radius between front and rear sights is 13 inches. If you can shoot a gun this short out to 500 meters using just the iron sights than you are a better man than I.
The sights have tritium inserts. They are on either side of the 300-meter aperture, and on one side of the front sight post. So that means if you want the tritium insert on the front sight facing you, you have to do one full turn of adjustment (4 inches at 100 meters). IWI provides a little steel tool for adjusting the sights. The rear sight on an AK traditionally is forward of the receiver cover just because that top cover wiggles too much to provide a repeatable zero. But the Galil ACE is not an AK, just inspired by them.
When in place the top cover does not rattle, does not move, period. It is tight. How tight? To take it off I needed to hit it with a gunsmith’s hammer (nylon side). More than once. Or, as stated in the owner’s manual, “It should be noted that the cover will be tight and may require some force to remove.” I did not notice any zero shift at 100 yards when removing and replacing the top cover (using a red dot mounted on it). The separate rail section over the gas piston wiggled slightly when the top cover was off the pistol, but with the top cover in place that forward rail didn’t move.
The AK-47 has reliability in spades. Ergonomic friendliness? Not so much. One control which the Galil improved on is the safety. You’ll still find a traditional looking, but smaller AK-style lever on the right side of the receiver. But there is also a push-button safety on the left side, right at the top of the pistol grip, meant to be worked with your thumb.
The safety was as stiff to use on the left side (pushbutton) as it was on the right side (lever). I am sure it will loosen up with use. One thing I did notice is that the safety is much harder to work when the brace is in the closed position, as the rubber of the brace binds against the lever on the right side. This is something to be aware of.
The rifle has ambidextrous magazine release buttons. There is a button on the right side where AR users might expect to find one, as well as one on the left side of the magazine well for lefties, or right-handers who like pushing the button with the thumb of the hand grabbing the magazine as they prepare to strip it out. Both buttons are very aggressively textured.
The pistol grip has a compartment inside it, and the pivoting trapdoor at the bottom clicks into place. You’ll need a cartridge tip or something similar to pop it open. There is no rubber gasket, so I wouldn’t consider the compartment even water resistant, but whenever I store parts or batteries in a pistol grip I always stick them in at least one Ziploc bag anyway.
The original Galil had an AK-type bolt handle on the right side of the rifle. While it was extended vertically so it could be worked over the top of the rifle, apparently the Galil ACE engineers thought the design could use some tweaking. So they moved the bolt handle to the left side of the receiver on the ACE.
The bolt handle is short and round and, to my mind, perfectly proportioned. It is big enough to grab easily but not so huge it gets in the way of your hands or eyes. It does reciprocate with each shot. To keep sand and dirt out of the action as the bolt handle cycles there is a sliding plate to cover the slot between the upper and lower receivers. It’s an elegantly simple solution to a simple problem.
Bolt release? We don’t need no stinkin’ bolt release. Or at least that’s what you might think went through the minds of the IWI engineers. But there is a bolt release, hidden in plain sight. It’s the metal button about an inch above the magazine release on the right side of the gun. It moves up about an eighth of an inch when the bolt is locked back. You can work it with the tip of your trigger finger, which means you can lock the bolt back or release it while keeping a firing grip on the gun.
The last IWI product I had in for testing was a Tavor, which have legendarily heavy trigger pulls. In comparison the trigger on the Galil ACE surprised me. It is a two-stage trigger, with a short take-up and a somewhat rolling break. The trigger pull overall length is a bit long, but total trigger pull weight was just 6.25 pounds. That’s not bad at all for a military design, and the trigger pull felt lighter than that, probably because it was a two-stage. I found the pistol very shootable.
I’d fired the Galil ACE before and I was under the impression the entire lower receiver was polymer. And most of the people I know think of the Galil ACE as the Galil with the “polymer receiver”. It wasn’t until I examined this test gun that I realized only the bottom section of the lower receiver is polymer. The pistol grip, trigger guard and magazine well are polymer, but they are pinned to a steel lower receiver.
That lower receiver is milled steel, and it is not thin steel. It is the main reason this stubby 8.3-inch barreled pistol weighs 7.6 pounds empty. The side folding adapter secured to the rear of the receiver with two roll pins is steel as well, not aluminum, so that adds to the total weight.
Let’s talk about the pistol stabilizing brace. Officially it is SB Tactical’s SOB model (Son Of Brace), mounted on a round receiver extension. The brace itself is hard rubber, with a nylon retaining strap at the rear. While the brace is snug around the extension, because the extension is nearly round I found I was able to rotate the brace if I wanted to. I don’t see it rotating accidentally during use, though. The folding steel hinge upon which the rubber brace is mounted is the same folding steel hinge IWI provides for the folding stock on the Galil ACE rifle. It is mounted as stiffly to the receiver as if it was welded in place, providing a lockup as sturdy as the best folding stock I’ve ever tested. It locks open, and when folded to the right side there is a detent to keep it against the side of the receiver. With the brace folded the pistol is just 19.5 inches long.
Your first impression upon picking up one of these pistols is that it is a solid gun. Heavy, solid, tough and the folding brace and hardware is just as sturdy as the rest of the pistol. The ATF recently clarified their position on pistol stabilizing braces. They stated that as long as the brace isn’t otherwise modified, firing a handgun equipped with such a brace from the shoulder does not change the classification of that firearm. If you feel inclined to put the arm brace against your shoulder and fire a few shots, the length of pull is 12.5 inches, which feels just about right for a firearm this size. With the brace extended the center of gravity is in the middle of the magazine well.
Trigger time with the Galil ACE 5.56x45mm was fun, but not without a little learning. At the range I fired my first shot, frowned, and fired a second shot. Then I put the weapon on Safe, went back to my car, and put electronic muffs on over my earplugs. I’d forgotten just how loud short-barreled handguns chambered in rifle calibers can be, and I was shooting outdoors. Indoors they’re even worse.
Don’t get me wrong, at the range the ACE pistol was a lot of fun to shoot. Recoil was soft, muzzle blast was loud, and cases went energetically flying into the stratosphere. For most of my fun I slapped a Leupold LCO red dot atop the pistol prior to it heading back to the manufacturer. I really like the LCO, but its $1,299 MSRP is too rich for my blood. For accuracy testing I slapped on Trijicon’s new 1-8x AccuPower scope using a QD Midwest Industries mount. Both of them were too high, but worked for the short term.
My best five-shot group was an impressive 1.34 inches with Hornady’s 55-grain Vmax, but groups on the whole averaged between 2.5 and 3.5 inches. I consider that perfectly acceptable performance out of a short 8.3 inch barrel with a 5.56x45mm NATO chamber. Short-barreled guns like this are very handy, but what you gain in handling you lose in velocity. If you check out the accompanying table you’ll see that your velocities are 300-500 fps slower than what you’d get out of a 16-inch barrel.
The $1,849 suggested retail is the only thing about this gun that I don’t like. Otherwise it is a good looking piece which proved both very reliable and accurate. No problems of any kind were encountered during testing. If you’re looking for a very compact piece IWI’s Galil Ace is one to consider.
IWI Galil Ace Specifications:
- Operation: Long stroke gas with rotating bolt
- Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO
- Weight: 7.6 pounds empty
- Overall length: 27.5 inches (brace extended) 19.5 inches (brace folded)
- Receiver: Steel with polymer grip and magazine well
- Barrel: 8.3 inches CHF, CrMoV, chrome lined, 1-7 inch twist
- Muzzle Device: A2 birdcage
- Brace: SB Tactical SOB, right side folding
- Pistol Grip: Black polymer with internal compartment
- Forend: Polymer tri-rail with removable panels, inset for pressure pads
- Trigger: Two-stage, 6.25 pounds (as tested)
- Sights: Post front adjustable for elevation, tritium insert; Dual aperture rear adjustable for windage, with tritium inserts
- Accessories: One 30-round Magpul Gen 3 window PMag
- MSRP: $1,849.00
- Manufacturer: IWI US, Inc.
James Tarr is a former police officer and private investigator, and a nationally ranked competitive shooter. He currently writes for several national magazines and his last book was featured on The O'Reilly Factor. His new thriller WHORL is available in print and digital download from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
IWI US, Inc.
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