Friday, July 20, 2012

ATI Chiappa M4 .22LR Upper Review

ATI - Chiappa M4 .22LR Upper Review

We all love to shoot those wonderful 5.56 and .223 caliber AR15s, however I can almost hear two quarters being shot out the ejection port with each round fired.  AR shooting is fun, but can admittedly get expensive if you are just screwing around plinking, doing short range training, or want a versatile preparedness accessory to your AR15. The cheap-to-shoot .22LR calibered alternatives have become a compromise for shooters to choose one of several options when they want to save a little money.  
There are dedicated .22LR AR15s, drop-in conversion kits, restocked 10/22s, and dedicated .22LR AR uppers.  The ATI – Chiappa M4-22 upper is the later and is a complete .22LR upper you can just bolt up to your existing milspec AR15 lower.  Dedicated uppers are very similar to drop-in bolt/conversion kits operationally and use the same Black Dog compatible .22LR magazines, however dedicated uppers feature a dedicated .22LR barrel. Dedicated uppers like any AR upper are not considered firearms but rather firearm accessories, and therefore do not need to be registered and can be ordered like any other firearm accessory.

The primary advantages of dedicated uppers are the enhanced accuracy and the ability to properly zero the upper and leave it.  Drop-in bolt conversions, by comparison can require users to change zero between shooting 5.56 and .22LR rounds. Other benefits are that you can use your existing lower receiver, which ergonomically has the biggest impact on the shooter as well as developing perfect muscle memory of the same grip and controls you would use with your standard 5.56 upper. From my perspective, a dedicated upper provides a complete and reliable conversion of your AR15 into a viable .22LR rifle which can save you big money on the range and delivers huge versatility to the platform.

Chiappa was founded in 1958 to deliver working replica firearms for those that wanted to celebrate and enjoy shooting firearms designs from the past. In 1987 the company moved into sophisticated machining and further expanded their capabilities and detail offered on their firearms.  Today Chiappa is known for still offering high quality replica cowboy action firearms however the company is offering some very innovative firearms such as the Rhino revolver as well as .22LR training solution variants of popular sport firearms such as this Chiappa M4-22 upper. Chiappa products are distributed by ATI - American Tactical Imports in the US.

I am not going to candy coat this… there are more expensive and higher quality .22LR dedicated uppers out there, however all are at a minimum $100 more expensive and the really good ones with match grade barrels are twice the price.  The ATI performs far better than its specs would allude to.  ATI could have made a high end $500 upper, however this is purpose built as an inexpensive training and plinking option for those that want to shoot .22LR ammo without spending as much on a .22LR upper as they would on a new 5.56 upper or two new 10/22 .22 rifles. Like the S&W MP15-22, the upper receiver is polymer however it seems a little more flexible when not attached to the lower.  Pin the upper to your AR15 lower and the polymer upper becomes rock solid without wiggle or flex.

The polymer upper with 1913 spec top rail does have an advantage that it can be a little tight but will flex just a hair and provide a tighter marriage between the uppers; something I liked on my polymer New Frontier lower and something I liked on the Chiappa.  Although the upper “looks” M4 spec, it is not.  The barrel attaches in the same manner as any AR barrel with a barrel nut and delta ring assembly which holds on the milspec looking handguards. The upper will not accept milspec charging handles and is prominently labeled as .22 caliber on top of the picatinny rail, which is I guess Chiappa’s way of assuring someone does not us the upper later on for a 5.56 Nato build. Rest assured these are not complaints, but mere observations; I will take the M4-22 as spec’ed because the price is right.
Adding a rifle-length forend
improved accuracy and made this
a perfect training analog for my
scoped 3-gun uppers like this
JP Rifles premium upper.
The Chiappa design is 100% compatible with any free float forend you want to attach.  After testing I installed a rifle-length Black Rain Ordnance free float quad rail forend to make this upper a perfect analog for my Black Rain, Barnes Precision, and JP uppers and rifles I own.

The barrel is not threaded for the flash hider and instead the flash hider is retained with a hex set screw as is the front sight. Some have noted that the flash hider did not have full cuts however mine did looked like a standard slotted flashider with slots around the circumference.  The front sight is metal, however just about every review I have seen notes the gun shoots way to the right as mine did.  I am pretty sure ATI is not making curved barrels so the assembly jig they use for installing the front sight must be off at the factory . Unfortunately the sight’s hex set screw has a detent cut in the barrel and the screw re-centers itself, so you cannot just center the front sight and retighten the set screw. The Magpul rear MBUS sight I added did provide enough windage adjustment and I would imagine 95+% of users will install an inexpensive red dot sight anyway.

Obviously this and other similar .22LR uppers do not operate on gas pressure, so a gas tube is not required or attached to the front sight. The bolt and carrier assembly was similar to what I have seen in many .22LR uppers and is based loosely on the original Atchison drop-in .22LR conversion design.  The ATI M4-22’s bolt group adds tweaks such as the bolt follower which is noted to improve reliability and lesson functioning issues.  Although ATI may have done their best to limit costs to bring the price down elsewhere, the barrel and bolt are quality pieces which delivered flawless functioning.

I have seen a few reviews out there which show a nicer looking packaging and inclusion of two 28 round magazines, however mine must have been older stock because the box I received we pretty generic looking and the upper only included one magazine.  The included magazine is Black Dog compatible, however it has some features I like; it is lighter and as thumb assists on each side of the magazine to speed the reloading process.

It should be noted that as with any polymer upper, you should only be hand tightening the barrel nut or forend hand tight. Do not use a wrench or you will strip the upper receiver threads.  The Black Rain Ordnance Forend has a proprietary patent pending barrel nut which is designed to be easily tuned to deliver a gapless upper to forend fit.  I recommend adding a free float forend as it did improve accuracy and also allows the front sight issue to be corrected.  I had the Black Rain forend waiting for a project, however I am sure you could find a used tube at a gun show for cheap.

If you have shot any .22LR converted or versioned AR15 fed by Black Dog compatible magazines, then you know how this one works. Unpack the Chiappa M4-22 upper and pin it to your existing lower AR15 spec receiver, insert a loaded Black Dog compatible magazine, pull back on the charging handle and start shooting.  The forward assist is just for show and does not “assist” the bolt in any way. 
The bolt has a shrouded follower
that improved functioning
As with all similar style .22LR uppers and conversions the bolt release does nothing and instead the magazine follower holds the bolt back after the last shot.  Pull the now empty magazine out and the bolt slips closed, pop in a fresh mag, rack the charging handle and you are back in business just like you would with a Ruger 10/22. This is a variance from the normal drop mag, insert mag, hit bolt release and start shooting manual of arms for AR15, however it is the compromise of these types of .22LR uppers and conversions. Right now only CMMG and S&W offer versions which emulate the AR15 manual of arms, however again they are over $100 more than the M4-22.

I mounted my Chiappa M4-22 to a variety of lowers including the custom Double Star lower shown as well as my Barnes Precision lower.  All worked without perfectly without an issue. The one magazine included goes empty really fast so I picked up an assortment of Black Dog magazines which I can also use with my Drop-In conversions or any other Black Dog compatible .22LR upper I may pick up.  The Chiappa magazine is functional however, quality wise the Black Dog versions are significantly higher quality.
Functionally the upper has been as reliable as my 10/22s; feeding and functioning perfectly with the exception of the occasional double feed or failure to fire due to the cheap ammo I was hammering through it.  To date I would say the upper has easily had over 1500 rounds through it and upgraded it and shoot it regularly as a scoped analog for my scoped ARs.

With the exception of the misaligned front sight, the upper shoots extremely consistently delivering 1” 25 yard groups off the rest with open sights and a few .6” 25 yard groups with a scope on 5X and the after I added the free float tube. Keeping in mind this is a complete .22 upper for far less than the $350 MSRP, it is not going to deliver match grade groupings, however 1” groups are more than acceptable for this type of .22 and the scoped .6” groups show that this upper can be far from just a plinker.

Some of the picky shooters will not be exceptionally excited over the least expensive dedicated .22LR upper on the market with non-threaded barrel, a front sight out of wack and a polymer upper receiver; however it does exactly what Chiappa designed it to do. It may sacrifice a few features; however I think they choose wisely to assure cost cuts did not impact accuracy or reliability.

Street prices range from $250-$300 which is money well spent.  On my best day I can find .223 ammo at $0.30 a round ($5.99/20), which is $29.95 per 100 rounds.  For same $30, I can pick up around 600 rounds of my standard go-to Winchester 333 boxed ammo.  That same 600 rounds of shooting in .223 would cost me around $180, so for every 600 rounds of .22LR I shoot instead of .223 I am saving about $150.  That means dedicated .22LR uppers pay for themselves in a hurry if you like to shoot a lot.  
From a survival rifle perspective, or if you are a one gun AR15 family, there are a ton of advantages to having a dedicated .22 upper. It is an inexpensive shooting training tool for the skilled and unskilled and converts your favorite AR into an accurate small game hunting platform.  The end result is a really versatile kit which can provide both defense and hunting. Though the Chiappa M4-22 may be a budget designed dedicated .22LR upper, it performs as well as any standard .22 I have shot and will pay for itself in a only a couple afternoons of plinking and training. A good investment for any AR owner.
Some will say I am a bit nuts to add a $290 highend forend like the Black Rain Ordnance to the upper, however I now have a near perfect plinking and training analog to run drills with my Black Rain lower all with more accuracy that I would get from a drop-in conversion kit.  My recommendation is to pick up this upper and take the savings and add a free float forend which you can install by hand pressure alone. This upper now looks awesome and shoots better.

SKU: ATIM42228
INCLUDES: Upper & one 28-round magazine
BARREL: 16.125”, 1:16 “ twist, 6-groove
WEIGHT: 3.68lbs
MSRP: $349.95
STREET: $249-$300

American Tactical Imports - ATI

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