This isn’t my first Kel-Tec SU-16B rifle; I bought one around 2003 or 2004, if memory serves me correctly. What caught my attention back then was that it didn’t look like other so-called “assault rifles”. It was compact, lightweight, and shot the .223/5.56 caliber round. However, I had nothing but problems with that particular sample. The empty brass would stick in the chamber after firing, and quite often loaded rounds wouldn’t fit the chamber either. The gun was sent back to Kel-Tec, and several weeks later I got the gun back. I was told that the chamber reamer was worn out and the chamber wasn’t cut deep enough. Whatever! However, the gun still wouldn’t function 100%, so I got rid of it.
Some time ago, I spied a used but like-new Kel-Tec SU-16B at my local gun shop. The price was way more than “right”, and I got it and took it home for a good cleaning and lubrication and, of course, a very close inspection. The SU-16B weighs a mere five pounds empty, which is nice. It has a 16-inch medium/heavy barrel profile, with an overall length of a bit more than 37 inches, but that isn’t the whole story. The stock actually folds under the receiver, making it one very compact package at 26.4 inches when folded. The receiver and stock are made out of polymer, but it’s pretty tough stuff. The gun came with two 10-rd mags that fit nicely into the bottom of the stock, and of course the gun takes regular AR-16/M-16 magazines, too. You can also put one 30-rd AR mag in the stock, if you prefer it over the two 10-rd mags. On my first sample years ago, when I fired the gun the mags would fall out. This didn’t happen on this particular gun!
The trigger pull was at 6 lbs and very spongy, but you get used to it, if you’ve owned a Glock. The rear sight is a peep style and not easily adjusted. The front sight is a protected type that is adjustable for elevation. Again, it’s not an easy or very precise affair; however, once you get it adjusted, there isn’t any need to mess with it again.
The gas operating system is based on the AK-47, so it’s not direct gas impingement; it keeps the inside of the receiver pretty clean between cleanings. It is a little bit tricky taking the gun apart when field stripping for a complete cleaning. There is also a Picatinny type rail on the top of the receiver, if you wish to mount a scope or red dot sight. As if the folding stock isn’t cool enough, the hand guard opens into two sections, and it can be used as a bi-pod. It’s not a super-sturdy bi-pod, but it’s a bi-pod just the same.
One problem I had on my first SU-16 was that the hand guard got very hot very fast. If I was able to empty a full 30-rd mag without any malfunctions, the hand guard was too hot to touch. I lined it with some aluminum foil, which really helped. On the new SU-16B, the polymer material that the hand guard is made out of is much thicker, and it never got too hot to touch, even under very rapid fire.
The Kel-Tec SU-16B isn’t my first rodeo with this company’s firearms. I’ve owned some others, and I have friends who owned guns by this company. It seems like it is a hit or miss proposition, when it comes to getting a gun that works 100% of the time. It shouldn’t be that way. However, the good news is that Kel-Tec will make it right if you have a problem gun. Still, they should do some better quality control before guns are shipped.
I’m happy to report that my SU-16B had zero malfunctions, and I even fed it some steel-cased .223 ammo, which is not the best ammo, to be sure. I just wanted to get that little tidbit out of the way. One place where the SU-16 shines is in that it doesn’t scream “assault rifle” to most folks, especially if you insert one of the 10-rd magazines that came with the gun. Additionally, it is legal to own in many locales where an AR-15 might be illegal to own. Plus, when folded, the gun takes up very little room in an emergency box under the seat of your vehicle.
I’m not sure how durable this gun will be in the long-term. However, I didn’t buy it for a one and only gun to do a lot of shooting. It was bought to toss into my e-box in my pickup truck as a “just in case” rifle thing, ya know. I don’t see myself firing tens of thousands of rounds through it, but it’s just a nice gun to have with me, if I want to do some plinking when I’m out in the mountains, or as a weapon for self defense. It would make a dandy rifle to have in your bug out bag (BOB) if you ask me, when it is folded, assuming your BOB is big enough to conceal it. If I plan on a lot of shooting, I’ll grab an AR. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable taking the Kel-Tec to war per se, but it would hold its own. I just don’t think it will over the long-term, but that’s just my two-cents worth. It would serve to get you home, if you are caught in a SHTF scenario.
The barrel twist on the SU-16B is 1:7, so it can handle a large variety of bullet weights. I didn’t have the usual wide assortment of .223 Rem ammo on hand for testing. Still, I think the gun will handle just about any .223/5.56 ammo. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their 55-gr FMJ, 55-gr Soft Point, 60-gr Soft Point, and their 68-gr Heavy Mach Hollow Point ammo, which is a fair selection to run through the Kel-Tec. In all, I fired more than 300 rounds in my testing, all done in one shooting session. I zeroed the sights for 100 yards, though I normally zero my AR-15 sights for 300 yards. For whatever reason, I decided on a 100-yard zero, and it was quite the chore getting that front sight adjusted to just where I wanted the bullets to hit. However, once there I snugged it down, and it was good to go.
The front sight on the SU-16B is a bit large, and perhaps that’s why I only zeroed the gun for 100 yards. It isn’t the best sight for extreme precision shooting, but it will easily take deer-sized game or, in a self-defense situation, it will make fast work of a man-sized target. The good news is that there are now a lot of after-market and even some factory accessories for these rifles, so check around and you might find a better front sight. Better yet, mount a scope on the gun for more accuracy work.
As I mentioned early on, I fired some steel-cased ammo through the gun, and there were zero problems. That did my heart good. So, you can punch some paper with this ammo and save some money on your ammo purchases.
The SU-16B is only one model in the SU-16 line-up. Be sure to check out the Kel-Tec website for other models, if this one doesn’t fit your needs. I can see this as a dandy rifle for the kids to shoot or maybe for the wife, if she doesn’t like an AR or an AK. It will surely get the job done in many respects. Street pricing is tough. Brand new these guns are going between $600 – $700, when you can find one, and they are a bit difficult to find in stock in many gun shops, because they are in demand! Yes, I know you can find an entry-level AR-15 style gun for $600 – $700, but they don’t have the same features as this folding Kel-Tec SU-16B. It’s something to think about.
If the Kel-Tec SU-16B sounds like something you’d like, find one and make sure you fire enough rounds through it to make sure you are satisfied that it will go “bang” every time you pull the trigger. If it doesn’t, contact Kel-Tec, and they’ll make it right, in short order. I can only “endorse” the sample I bought, used, for this article. I’m satisfied with it in all respects. It’s just a lot of fun gun!
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio