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CZ BREN 2 Review: Bren’ding The Rules

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CZ BREN 2 cover
CZ’s Bren 805 has been covered in these pages before, and it has a reputation as being brick-like in terms of its reliability. Which it should be, given that it’s been in service with the Czech armed forces and France’s GIGN anti-terrorist unit, and is being adopted by the Hungarian army. Its brick-like characteristics also extend to its heft — it’s an 8-pound carbine without a mag, so when CZ announced it was going on a diet in its evolution to become the 806 Bren 2, we were pretty enthusiastic. Four years ago, we shot one of the first production units to come off the line in Uhersky Brod — the rifle hadn’t yet been made with a semi-auto trigger pack, so it was select-fire only. We know, the hardships we endure …

We came away impressed by its controllability in full auto, as well as how lively it felt in the hands compared to its predecessor. We’ve been counting off the days until its arrival in the U.S. CZ teased the American market last year, when it released a small number of trial guns through one of its distributors. Imported as pistols in order to comply with the idiocies of 922(r) requirements, they gave us something to play with while the carbine versions awaited approval. Now that they’re trickling in, it’s time to see what all the fuss is about.

Before we get too far into the weeds, it might be a good idea at this point to consider just where we are in terms of small arms development. While Stoner’s design remains ascendant in the USA, and will be for the foreseeable future, there’s still uncertainty with regard to the eventual success or otherwise of the Army’s next-generation weapons program. If the NGSAR doesn’t turn out to be a boondoggle like so many of its predecessors, then it has the potential to completely upend our current small arms inventory. Note the presence of weasel words in the previous sentence, as the U.S. has historically been particularly crap at small arms procurement.

The rest of the world isn’t tied to the U.S. logistics chain and its institutional inertia, so it’s been free to develop other tools with which to equip its armed forces. While the land of the free is notable in having an exceptionally nimble civilian firearms infrastructure, up-front costs associated with competing for large military contracts on the global stage severely limit the number of companies who can afford to get involved — most overseas defense players benefit from at least some degree of government support or largesse. And these governments have almost always written their procurement contracts to favor small arms with short-stroke, gas piston operating systems.

cz bren 2 disassembled

Field stripping is straightforward, however it's possible to reassemble the rifle with the recoil spring in the wrong place, which will prevent it from functioning. Ask us how we know…

Almost every significant small-caliber military rifle since the end of the Cold War that isn’t some flavor of M16 has been a piston gun — SCAR 16, Tavor, G36, ARX, 416, MCX, MSBS, QBZ, you get the picture. Which isn’t to say that we lowly civilians should all abandon our AR-15s en masse, but we’d be looking the world through rose-tinted glasses if we didn’t admit the design has some basic limitations, albeit ones we’ve found ways to mitigate with varying degrees of success. If something comes along that may be a better mousetrap, shouldn’t we at least take a look at it?

AR-15 Deficiencies

No one likes to be told their baby’s ugly. If you’re the kind of person whose self-image is inextricably wound up in your purchase decisions, you may want to skip this next bit. AR platform rifles suffer from a number of deficiencies, some of which are intrinsic to the basic design and some of which are brought about from efforts to update it, or make it do things it was never intended to do. Here are a few of the major, and minor, ones in no particular order.

1. The charging handle location sucks. Back when the AR family was designed, iron sights ruled, and the AR’s charging handle was at least tolerable, as it offered ambidextrous operation and didn’t interfere with the sighting system. Since then, almost everyone expects their carbines to wear glass, and we’re guessing the majority would add suppressors if it wasn’t such a pain in the ass. DI operating system + charging handle location + suppressor = a face full of gas.

2. Folding stock? What’s that? Yeah, we’re intimately familiar with the LAW Tactical folder, but it’s an expensive workaround with its own set of limitations, and it still doesn’t address the weak point of the buffer tube’s threads. We’ve seen more than one carbine deadlined due to a bent buffer tube, which is much less of a problem with the original fixed stock version.

3. The AR’s bolt design is adequate for 5.56, so long as a regular maintenance schedule is followed, but there are well-documented weaknesses regarding its cam pin, lugs, and extractor. It was never designed to handle cartridges with larger case head diameters, such as 6.5 Grendel, x39, and 6.8 SPC — when pressed into this role, failures occur at a markedly increased rate.

4. Designed around 223 Rem magazine dimensions, any cartridge destined for use in the AR is limited to a nominal overall length of 2.260 inches, limiting case capacity and therefore development potential when alternative ammunition is considered.

CZ bren 2 angle left

In addition to our primary optic we added a Trijicon SRO on a 45 degree offset and a Spartan Precision Valhalla bipod, both of which proved to be as durable as the BREN.

Despite its drawbacks, the AR remains a solid choice, as it’s reliable enough, has decent ergonomics, and is pretty damn accurate for a semi-auto. Hell, our own go-to rifle is the 12.5 incher featured in the Build Sheet column last issue, but let’s not kid ourselves that it can’t be improved. So the question might be: Does the CZ Bren 2 offer any meaningful advantages for the average gun owner? Let’s cast a beady eye over it.

Hands On

Starting from the arse-end, the CZ Bren 2’s stock is adjustable for length-of-pull, ranging from 12.25 inches, when collapsed, to 15 inches when fully extended, which should offer sufficient range to accommodate the needs of 95 percent of the population. If you’re a Congolese child soldier who’s wearing armor and carrying a ruck, then you may find the shortest LOP to be a bit long, but the rest of us will manage just fine. There’s a removable cheekpiece, and we anticipate the factory will offer replacements to adjust the rifle for different sight heights. Molded from the same carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer found in the lower receiver, we expect the stock to be robust and long-lived. Certainly, it locks up securely and is folded by pressing a B&T-looking half-moon button on the left side.

When folded, it latches by means of a ridge molded into the area behind the cheekpiece, mating with a corresponding groove in the receiver’s replaceable shell deflector. To deploy, just grip and rip. CZ seems to take the same approach to sling mounting as GM does to cup holders, as there are steel QD fittings molded into either side of the stock, as well as on the rear of the receiver and sling loops between both. However, you’ll have to provide your own on the handguard, so we did, courtesy of HB Industries who supplied a pair of handguard retaining plates with QD cups machined into their centers. At this point, we figured eight integral sling attachments was probably enough.

CZ BREN 2 Optika

With this much rail space, there's no need for a one-piece scope mount with DNA sampling nuts hanging off the left side. The HBI charging handle gives a bit more purchase than the original.

Like the Scar and the B&T APC lineup, the CZ Bren 2’s upper receiver is machined from an aluminum extrusion and forms the serialized part of the weapon. There are slots in either side for the non-reciprocating charging handle, which can be switched from right to left-handed use and also acts a forward assist. A pair of rails supports the bolt carrier, which looks distinctly AR-18-ish, and a pair of T25 bolts on both sides secures the free-float handguard to both the barrel extension and receiver. A tight mechanical fit between handguard and receiver minimizes deflection from handguard pressure (such as from a sling or bipod), and if you do choose to strip the gun this far, then you’ll probably notice the presence of a third bolt hole in the upper. This is to accommodate the 308 version.

Popping off the handguard reveals a surprisingly beefy, cold hammer-forged and chrome-lined barrel with a 1/7 twist, measuring 0.7 inch in diameter forward of the gas block. It’s permanently mated to a barrel extension, which also acts as both a rear trunion for the gas system’s operating rod and the attachment point for the lower receiver and fire control group via a captive pin in the lower. Barrel swaps are easily accomplished, taking about five minutes from start to finish. The factory offers 11- and 14-inch barreled versions in the guns supplied to the Czech military, and we’re optimistic (or maybe just hopeful) that those will find their way to the U.S. as accessories for anyone who wants to SBR their carbine.

The Bren’s gas regulator is a three-position affair, allowing the user to select between normal, suppressed, and off — though not having any rifle grenades handy, we kinda wish they’d given us the option of an “adverse” setting instead. Both barrel extension and gas block are pinned in place, so they won’t go anywhere unless you attack them with a punch and hammer; even then, pressing them off would be difficult due to their interference fit. The gas block is a MIM component, so it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Adding to the overall impression of solidity is the multi-lug bolt, which being sized from the get-go to accommodate the 7.62×39 round is considerably bigger than that of an AR-15. For example, the Bren’s bolt measures 0.805 inch in diameter versus the AR’s 0.740, and its lugs are 0.124 by 0.306 versus 0.100 by 0.0278, though the AR has one more of them. The magwell is likewise bigger than usual, sleeved down to accept STANAG magazines. A conversion kit is available from CZ using proprietary mags designed around the commie round — pop out the sleeve and they’ll slap right in, an intriguing feature for those of us who love to tinker with oddball calibers. A 30-round, 6mm Grendel, loaded long and optimized for 105 OTMs is a possibility. Or how about a 6.8 SPC slinging 130-grain projectiles, where the bullet doesn’t take up too much case volume?

Iain CZ BREN 2 vehicle

Despite being shot from every conceivable position, slammed against barricades, and passed around like a joint at a Willie Nelson gig, the carbine just kept chugging along.

If you want to go even bigger, CZ has a 7.62×51 Bren that uses the same stock, upper receiver, and bolt carrier, while employing SR25 pattern magazines. In its dedicated lower, the magwell is extended forward, but otherwise dimensions are the same.

Moving on to the Bren 2’s lower receiver, here’s where things get interesting. There’s no removable pistol grip; instead, the backstrap is replaceable to accommodate different hand sizes and adjust reach to the trigger, which is both plastic and the first thing we swapped out. In terms of quality of pull, the CZ Bren 2 leaves very little to be desired when compared to other service rifle triggers, but the amount of side-to-side slop and overtravel evident in the factory component begged for a replacement. So off we went to HBI. The aftermarket trigger eliminates all of the previous shortcomings, without changing any of the sear, hammer, or disconnector engagement surfaces, or modifying safety features in any way, producing a clean two stage break, right at 3.75 pounds. By eliminating overtravel, reset is shortened to around ¼ inch, and it’s much easier to hammer close-range targets as a result.

Located inside the oversized trigger guard is a lever that ties into the bolt hold open and allows the user to lock back the BCG or send it into battery without taking the master hand from the grip. Some users will love this feature, and some will hate it because it necessitates placing the trigger finger where Rule 3 says it shouldn’t be. The latter group’s fears may be well-founded, as we couldn’t find a way to manipulate it in a real-world environment where the side of our digit didn’t make contact with the bang switch while we placed upward or downward pressure on the bolt catch. That said, we were unable to unintentionally drop the hammer at any time, which doesn’t mean there aren’t folks out there with either mutant-shaped hands or a sufficient degree of f*cktardedness to make it a possibility. If you’re not thrilled with that particular option, then there are two other means to achieve the same ends — either use the AR-15-style bolt catch on the left side of the receiver, or simply yank it. The charging handle, that is.

The CZ Bren 2’s selector switch is, like the rest of the controls, accommodating to both right and wrong-handed users. It can also be placed in the “safe” position no matter what the condition of the hammer, so perhaps the answer to anyone still wrestling with their conscience over whether or not to use the in-trigger guard hold open during stoppage drills is to first apply the safety.

Rounds Downrange

Figuring that a Czech carbine should probably have Czech glass, we installed a Meopta Optika 6, 1-6×24 low power variable optic. Initially, this was mounted in a Nightforce cantilever mount, but after skinning a couple of knuckles on the nuts sticking out of the left-hand side, a lightbulb went on in the old noggin. The mounts just about everyone relies on to carry their low-powered variables were created to address a very specific problem, namely the lack of rail space up top on an M4 with standard handguards — which almost no one uses anymore. The CZ Bren 2 has plenty of uninterrupted Pic rail available, so why not take advantage and go back to a simpler time, when scopes used rings? You know, the kind we use on our precision rifles. A set of Warne QD mounts were thrown into the mix, and we wound up with a very slick, secure, and unimpeded setup.

BREN 2 over the hood

It was at this moment we were especially thankful for a non-reciprocating charging handle.

Rather than sit at a bench and poke holes in paper, we hopped on a plane and showed up to a Lead Faucet Tactical carbine class, where not only was the Bren thoroughly wrung out in vehicle drills, unconventional positions, and windy conditions out to 500 yards, we gave it to the students who proceeded to beat it like a rented mule. We shot it both with its factory muzzle device installed and with an OSS suppressor. Here’s our impressions.

In the course of 2,500 rounds or so, ranging from steel cased, Tula 55-grain dirt-shooting crap, through Federal M193, to Winchester 62-grain OTM and SIG 77-grain match ammo, we experienced exactly zero stoppages. With decent loads in the mag and the Meopta LPVO, it turned in a solid 1.5 MOA average group size, though it did show a tendency to throw the first, hand-cycled round out of a magazine approximately 1 inch low. At about the 1,700-round mark, groups opened up to around 4 MOA, so we quickly punched the bore, bringing it back to its previous accuracy levels. Apart from that, the carbine wasn’t cleaned, and when torn down it looked good for another case of ammo at least. Gas and carbon from suppressor use is a non-issue.

Recoil differs from that in an AR, as it feels softer, more of a rolling impulse that results in less muzzle climb. Several times, we were caught off guard by an empty weapon —
attuned to the very distinct feel of an AR BCG locking to the rear, it’s second nature to hit the mag release and reach for a spare. With the CZ Bren 2, the carrier impulse is so soft, it’s much harder to discern. We were expecting the handguard to get uncomfortably hot due to its proximity to the gas block. Nope; it was no worse than what we’re used to, but it’s probably worth adding a set of M-LOK covers.

bren 2 schoolbus

In all, we came away impressed. Given the ubiquity of the AR platform, it’ll still be our go-to, but the Bren 2 is a better mousetrap in some areas. Its gas-handling characteristics and ergos are superior, accuracy is acceptable, and overall shooting characteristics are as good as its rivals. At least three of our classmates expressed plans to buy one, as soon as they become available.

Recent history is littered with good designs that have languished due to poor factory support, in turn creating a vicious circle of limited consumer demand and stifling any appetite for the aftermarket to come up with improvements and accessories. They have a golden opportunity with the CZ Bren 2. Let’s hope they don’t f@ck it up.

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  • Boom Bra says:

    Thanks for review. Picking one up in 2 days.

  • JOSE BOANOVA says:

    I’m really interested to find out how “you know” about the possibility to “reassemble the rifle with the recoil spring in the wrong place, which will prevent it from functioning…”.

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  • I'm really interested to find out how "you know" about the possibility to "reassemble the rifle with the recoil spring in the wrong place, which will prevent it from functioning...".

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