AR-15 Core Elite semi-automatic rifle from ZEV Technologies – The first rifle from the innovative U.S. manufacturer 

ZEV Technologies originally became known for its ready-to-install competition triggers for Glock pistols. Today, however, the company based in the small town of Centralia, Washington, also manufactures barrels and other custom components for Glock and SIG Sauer pistols. With the O.Z-9 series, the company also has a pistol series developed in-house. And now the AR-15 too: the most popular rifle in the United States is now also part of the ZEV catalog. Centralia is making several versions of this AR-15 Core Elite. We were provided with two (almost identical) versions with 16" barrels and forged receivers for the test.

ZEV AR-15 Core Elite – Technical details 

Left-handed users will also have no problems with the safety lever and the enlarged charging handle on the Core Elite from ZEV. 

The basic upper and lower receivers of both ZEV AR-15 models is forged from 7075T6 aluminum alloy according to military standards. It's a conventional gas-operated, AR direct impingement system with rotating bolt. An H3 buffer in the stock tube is claimed to provide a particularly smooth recoil impulse from the gas-operated action. The mid-length 16-inch barrel provides the excellent balance and overall relatively low weight of the Core Elite. The 19-mm diameter barrel only protrudes from the muzzle thread to behind the pinned, non-adjustable mid-length gas block. Behind this, the barrel tapers towards the receiver, which saves valuable weight and prevents the semi-automatic from being top-heavy. Only the bronze-coated version has a barrel fluting in front of the gas block, which reduces the weight by a few grams. The material used is 416R, a popular stainless steel alloy for match barrels in the USA. The short 1:7" (178 mm) twist rate is a common military standard for the 5.56x45 mm (civilian: .223 Remington), which also reliably stabilizes particularly long (and heavy) bullets. On the outside, a PVD coating protects the barrel from damage, optionally in bronze or black. In terms of price, both versions of the ZEV AR-15 Core Elite are on par at 2,599 euros (retail price in Germany).

Due to its relatively short barrel and the low weight, the range of application of the rifle is more in the dynamic range. For precision disciplines up to 300 meters, models with longer, more contoured barrels and higher weight are more suitable. To what extent the semi-automatic rifle is suitable for hunting use, everyone must decide for themselves. However, the barrel thread for silencers and ease of handling are definitely arguments in favor of the rifle. The heavily skeletonized, matte anthracite-colored aluminum ZEV handguard allows the barrel to float freely. For attachments, the handguard offers several slots according to the proven M-Lok system (four on the side, one at the bottom at 6 o'clock) as well as a continuous Picatinny standard top rail at the top, at 12 o'clock to match the receiver.

Workmanship and finish: the quality of the ZEV AR-15 Core Elite

The compact attachment called the "ZEV Muzzle Device" is designed to keep both muzzle flip and muzzle flash in check.

What did the test report say about the workmanship? One of the testers noted: "The gun stood out for very clean workmanship, both inside and out. There were almost no machining marks or dents from assembly anywhere. The surface coating also came across as very clean. All the more surprising was the relatively large play between the upper and lower receiver, the two assemblies wobbled noticeably. Even on less expensive AR-15 rifles, such as those from LuxDefTec or Windham Weaponry, this feels different." It's likely that the play between the receivers was due to the "Milspec" tolerances, to ensure interchangeability with parts made to military specifications by all other AR manufacturers while maintaining full compatibility. Also a bit more rattly than expected, the telescoping stock had a bit more play on the buffer tube than usual, this even when fully retracted. This had no effect on the function!

ZEV Technologies AR-15 Core Elite specs and price


ZEV Technologies AR-15 Core Elite

.223 Remington
10 + 1 cartridges
Overall Length:
855 -939 mm
Barrel Length:
16“/406 mm
Twist Rate:
1:7"/178 mm
Trigger Pull Weight:
1,050 g
3,230 g

Left/right version:

Ambidesxtrous safety and charging lever
Price (RRP in Germany):
2.599 euro without scope
Features: Gas-operated direct gas inpingement system with rotating bolt, stainless barrel with PVD coating, telescoping stock, ½" x 28 muzzle thread 

ZEV AR-15 Core Elite: equipment and handling

A poem: ZEV uses gold triggers from the supplier American Trigger Corporation that can be installed as a complete assembly into the Core Elites. Short, smooth and crisply adjusted – a top trigger. 

In terms of operation, as regars the critical controls the Core Elite can be handled from both sides: safety selectors on both sides of the lower receiver, and the charging lever is also ambidextrous. This "Slide Lock" charging handle comes from ZEV's own production, the "Talon" safety with aluminum selectors is contributed by the manufacturer Radian Weapons. On the rifles at hand, the convertible 45-/90-degree selector was set to the conventional 90-degree angle between "safe" and "ready to fire". Otherwise, the operation corresponds to that of a classic AR-15/M16 designed for right-handers: the forward assist and magazine release are on the right only, and the bolt catch is only on the receiver's left. 

For the operating system of the Core Elite models, ZEV Technologies relies on technology that has been tried and tested for decades and does not take a special approach. Very convenient: the moderately enlarged charging lever. 

The handling of the Core Elite is convincing for right-handers: the charging lever, which is rather a weak point of the AR concept in terms of design, can be gripped well from both sides and pulled with the little finger if necessary. The safety selector also appears to be cleverly designed from an ergonomic point of view. The controls are pleasantly rounded on the outside and the selector mounted on the right side is slightly shortened so that it does not irritate the trigger finger (when held with the right hand). The touch surfaces of the selector themselves, however, are well-shaped, slightly widened, longitudinally grooved to prevent slipping, and simply pleasant to operate. The trigger guard houses the most important control of the ZEV AR: a competition trigger from the American Trigger Corporation (ATC). The straight, gold-colored trigger blade take-up travel is just under two millimeters. Then the trigger breaks crisply like the proverbial glass with just over a kilo of pull weight, and over-travel is barely noticeable – simply great! For the synthetic components, ZEV Technologies relies entirely on parts from Magpul. The telescoping stock, the pistol grip, the (pinned) trigger guard and the ten-round magazine are all made by the U.S. manufacturer.

Test: how does the ZEV AR-15 Core Elite perform when fired? We had it on the range with the Presidio from Sightmark and a MAK mount with ammo from GECO, S&B and PPU

For the shooting range, the testers mounted a scope from Sightmark, more precisely the new Presidio 2-12x50 HDR model, on the ZEV using a block mount from MAK. The optic may be a bit too big for such a handy, almost delicate rifle, but the magnification values ​​make sense. The Sightmark glass provided a sharp image with a very clean reticle. Whether with or without a red dot, the target was easy to pick up. A real pleasure with each shot was ATC's Match Trigger with its short travel and crystal clear defined characteristics. The rifle was shot seated, resting on a sandbag, because due to its compact design it did not fit into the existing shooting rest. Accordingly, a certain shooter difference must be taken into account in the hit results.

The ZEV AR-15 Core Elite semi-automatic rifle used for the shooting test, equipped with a MAK Milmount monoblock mount and a Sightmark Presidio 2-12x50 HDR scope. 

For the test on the shooting range, the team used four loads for sporting use, plus the GECO Express for hunting use. As usual, five-shot groups were fired for the scoring. The stainless barrel has a short 1:7" twist, so it is theoretically optimized for heavy bullets. However, as so often in the past, there is an exception. The rather light 52-gr BTHP bullet from Sellier & Bellot delivered the best group with 32 (28) mm, closely followed by the Express hunting load from GECO with 56-gr heavy projectile. Here the grouping diameter measured 38 (30) mm. The ammunition from PPU apparently didn't like the test gun that much, because despite heavy 69- and 75-gr bullets, the groups were rather average.

Basically, the test rifle shows a somewhat sensitive behavior with regard to groupings, similarly to hunting rifles with thin barrels. At the beginning, with a cold barrel, the first two to four shots were close together. Then the group began to wander, but not always in the same direction – each type of ammunition developed its own dynamics. Then, when the barrel was "properly" brought up to temperature, the groups were close together. To make sure that the fault was not with the shooter, the test was repeated the next day and another shooter was also brought in, but the results remained almost identical. In order to ultimately be able to evaluate all types of ammunition equally, the testers took the time to let the gun cool down to room temperature before each shot series. Very pleasingly, the ZEV AR-15 did not suffer a single malfunction. Regardless of bullet type, ammunition type, and whether cold or warm, the Core Elite simply performed great.

 What we liked:
 What we liked less:
- Top trigger

- Upper and lower receiver with relatively much play

- Good workmanship
- Somewhat "rickety" fit of the telescoping stock
- Always functionally reliable

Conclusion: how did the ZEV AR-15 Core Elite perform in our test?

The range of AR-15-style semi-automatics is now hardly manageable. Those who choose a Core Elite from ZEV Technologies have certainly not made a bad choice. As already mentioned, it depends very much on what you want to use the rifle for – the focus here is more on the dynamic disciplines in sport shooting, given the compact design and low weight.

Der komplette Testbericht mit allen Schießtabellen erschien in VISIER 7/2023, das Sie hier im VS Medien-Shop bestellen können.

This article is also available in this language: