I look at factory-built AR 15s in terms of price range. How does a the rifle perform against other options that are relatively similar cost? As I see it, there are basically 4 price ranges: $500-750, $751-1250, $1251-1800, and $1801+. What I will do is show any rifles in those prices ranges that I can recommend based on personal experience and/or features of the gun.
NOTE: I will ONLY recommend "Mil Spec" rifles or, at least, ones that use Mil Spec parts for the availability of replacement parts and upgrades. (Such as the Stock or the BCG.) I feel that the benefit of availability of Mil Spec parts for an AR makes it clearly better than Commercial Spec guns, like Bushmaster or S&W. Not only that, but the commercial spec options generally weigh more, as well. I am very partial towards minimizing weight due to SAWC. I plan to update this occasionally, as new products become available and they warrant being added to the list.
- PSA Mid-Legth MOE Upper + PSA Magpul MOE Edition Complete Lower - $400-$600. (Price listed here includes BCG and Charging Handle.) This is going to be the BEST deal you can find for a quality, reliable AR15. Their Black Friday sales are insanely good. It's so cheap, but should I trust it with my life? Yes. PSA sources out parts to Mil-spec manufactures, so you can depend on their guns and their parts. Truly, a great value and a reliable weapon. (Look for deals on their site if you're in the market for an AR.)
- Ruger AR556 - This gun is a fantastic deal! It features a Cold-Hammer Forged barrel, forward assist, dust cover, and a newly developed Delta-Ring that isn't spring mounted. It gives features that more expensive rifles would offer, but it's being offered at an incredible value. You can find it from $600-700 on the web. Bottom Line: If you are in the market for a low-cost AR that will last and isn't missing any key features, this is the AR for you! And, I would trust it to function when my life is as stake.
- PSA M4 Freedom - At $700, this gun is a good deal for those who don't feel comfortable buying uppers and lowers separately. Palmetto State Armory is a well-known commodity within the gun community by now. If you haven't heard of them, they are just down the road from FN USA (and they source many parts through FN) in South Carolina. They are making really high-value products that have been proven to be durable. They source out their parts to Mil-spec manufactures, so you can depend on their guns and their parts. You're just paying for the quality, not the name.
- BCM M4 SOCOM Upper + BCM Complete Lower = $930. Compare this to a Colt LE6920. You will not be disappointed in the quality here. Bottom Line: Trust this with your life. (NOTE: be sure to add the Charging Handle and BCG. They are included at the price I listed.)
- Colt LE6920 - This is a GREAT first AR, especially the Magpul edition. You can have confidence knowing that this is essentially what our troops use and it is made with great quality and pride, for $875-$950 online. Bottom Line: If you aren't sure which to get, this gun won't fail you. It's not the most accurate gun listed here (it's about as accurate as any other non-free float option), but you can count on it to function.
- Aeroprecision M4E1 - This rifle is Free-Floated with a Melonite QPQ 4150 CMV 16" barrel. If you don't know what all that means: it's using Mil Spec steel finished in an excellent melonite treatment that is far superior to almost any coating you'll find and the barrel isn't supporting the weight of the handguard or the delta ring's spring, both of which gives superior accuracy over typical barrels with M16-style handguards. Oh, and it's a deep black color. (I typically use Daniel Defense Light-Weight Barrels in my builds, mostly due to the profile and the fact they are CHF. I view melonite as being nearly as durable with superior corrosion resistance. Chrome linings are significantly thicker, but Melonite has similar hardness. Melonite also protects the entire barrel, as opposed to Chrome lining on just the inside.) It also has good furniture that most shooters would be very happy with. Bottom Line: this is an excellent rifle for the price (under $1000) and it will be a great option for anyone that needs something reasonably-priced, accurate, durable, customizable, and cool-looking.
- BCM RECCE 16" Mid-Length Upper + BCM Complete Lower = $1070. This is outstanding value! Free Floated, Mil Spec Barrels with a great rail for accessories and great ergos. Bottom Line: I really think this is an outstanding product and it will give great accuracy increases over any of the rifles that are listed at a lower price. I would not hesitate to buy this rifle over a Colt, Ruger, or any other Rifle listed above. This is a clear step up from those. (NOTE: be sure to add the Charging Handle and BCG. They are included at the price I listed.)
- BCM BFH 16" KMR Upper + BCM Complete Lower = $1230. This is an outstanding gun! It's really the ideal gun at the closest to ideal price. This fit and finish won't be quite as good as buying a complete RECCE rifle (See below), but this comes with a Cold-Hammer Forged barrel. In my opinion, this is the best factory-built upper/lower combo you can buy and I would save myself $260 and get this over the RECCE 16" for the CHF barrel this comes with. Bottom Line: This would be my first choice on this list at ANY price range. If you can afford it (and find it in stock), I strongly recommend this with zero hesitation. You don't need to pay any more money for an AR than this. There is good reason BCM can't keep this upper in stock. (NOTE: be sure to add the Charging Handle and BCG. They are included at the price I listed.)
- Spike's Tactical Crusader - Really solid gun. Strong construction and lots of 2nd-kind-of-cool features. Good weight at 6.65lbs. A lifetime warranty of the entire gun by a great company should put you at ease about buying it - which is good considering the $1395 price tag. But, it's so worth it. This gun also features Spike's FN-made, optimal profile barrel made to the M249 call-outs for chrome lining - rated for 20,000+ shots! There isn't a gun on the market that I would claim to be more durable. And, you get a factory-tested system with Spike's tungsten-powder buffers, which reduce felt recoil and eliminate much of the sounds from within the buffer tube during cycling. (My only issue with them is that they are heavier than the equivalent standard buffers. If you don't like it, you can easily replace it for $20-30.) Spike's is a made to order shop, so they make the rifle when you call or order online. Bottom Line: Great rifle at a reasonable price. They have a 4-6 week lead time on making these because of the demand - for good reason. I'm an admitted BCM fanboy, but I own multiple Spike's Tactical rifles and have no issues with them.
- BCM RECCE 16" Complete Rifle - 5.8 lbs!!! No, seriously, that's what it weighs! This is such an excellent Rifle. At $1490, it blows away most premium manufacturers in quality per price. It's a GREAT shooter and it's reasonably priced. Bottom Line: This is a SAWC king and it's great bang for your buck in this price range. It's a great rifle in just about every practical way and it looks and shoots amazing. You'll be the envy of the range, though I would prefer the CHF barrel of the BCM BFH upper/lower combo from a practical perspective.
- Daniel Defense DDM4 - Daniel Defense is an outstanding company and their products are made to some of the tightest standards in the industry. This rifle, at $1600, is no exception. The best thing about Daniel Defense is that you can Build Your Own DDM4 and they will build it to order. It's a custom rifle, to your specifications, right from the factory. No other company offers that. Bottom Line: I use their barrels in virtually all my builds and would recommend their products to anyone, but I'd rather have a BCM BFH KMR upper/lower combo. DD has fallen behind in terms of weight savings and the furniture on their rifles. If you want a rifle custom-made, this is still an EXCELLENT option, though.
- Noveske Gen III Infidel - This is an amazing CQB choice. It's super refined (except for the flaming pig) and you can tell the quality by looking at it. And, at $2595, you'd better be able to tell the quality! Bottom line: if you're a Noveske fan, or are familiar with the quality of their barrels, and if you like the shortened barrel for CQB, it would be hard to beat this gun. Bottom Line: Over-priced, but you're paying for outstanding quality, quality control, and the company reputation. If you have the money for this, you won't be disappointed with the accuracy or workmanship.
- Knight's Armament SR-15 E3 Mod 2 16" - According to some, this is the most premium AR 15 on the planet. Everything about it is designed to be long-lasting quality. These are hyper-accurate and very cool-looking. Knight's makes virtually every part of these in-house, under the strictest of controls. You can find them for around $2400 online. Bottom Line: Of all the super-premium manufacturers, this is my favorite. It would be difficult to beat this for accuracy at 100 yards with a match barrel, let alone a barrel that was meant for combat. I've not seen a definitive test that will determine which chrome-lined battlerifle out of Noveske and Knight's is the most accurate, but I doubt you'll be disappointed with either.
- Wilson Combat Paul Howe Tactical Carbine - Wilson Combat's reputation should precede them. This rifle should further that reputation. Weighing in at 6.25 lbs and made to possibly the tightest specs and highest quality standards in the industry - it will look the part, too. For $2600, you should expect nothing less. Bottom Line: Amazing accuracy and a great gun. For precision shooting in the real world, this one may be the best "factory" AR rifle ever made.