Let’s all pour out a plastic two-liter of Baltika on the curb—the age of affordable, Russian-made AKs in the United States appears to have passed. The Obama administration’s sanctions against Russian arms companies in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine have severed the “true” Kalashnikov pipeline (except for the import of a few “special” types of AKs).
Some of the last Saiga carbines to make it into the United States were offered up for sale in a converted format by RWC Group, now Kalashnikov USA, near the end of last year. Being interested in sampling all flavors of AK, I put my name in the T&E hat to try out one of their tacticaled-out models and received an IZ-132Z several months ago. Though it’s unlikely that any more of these will be coming into the States anytime soon, I figured it might be wise to record some thoughts on it for posterity’s sake.
The IZ-132Z is, at its core, a 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov-pattern rifle with a stamped receiver. It sports a 16.25-inch barrel with a pinned thread protector (the muzzle itself may or may not actually be threaded, depending on when the rifle was made) on the end. Aside from its Izhevsk heritage, it’s a fairly standard “military-style” AK.
RWC dressed the rifle up in polymer accessories (some RWC-branded, others CAA-branded—soon, they’ll likely carry Kalashnikov USA’s name), including an almost Giger-esque forend with a forward grip, an extended mag release, a pistol grip, and an AR-style collapsible stock with an adjustable cheekpiece.
From the ground up
Before going into any further detail about the entire IZ-132Z package, it’s important to state that the base gun is excellent. Saiga rifles made at the facility in Izhevsk, Russia are some of the best in the world.
Throughout my several-month-long trial period with the rifle, it functioned flawlessly (as is to be expected with a Russian AK). It produced slightly-better-than-average shot groups with plinking and match-grade ammo. My best five-shot groups at 100 yards with Silver Bear and Wolf FMJ rounds came in around 2.5 inches, and Winchester PDX1 tightened that up to a little above two inches.
The rifle’s stamped receiver features a left-side scope rail, which is the best way to mount optics on AKs. I used an RS Regulate AK-300 mount with an Aimpoint PRO and a Vortex Viper PST 1-4 scope during my testing, both of which worked perfectly on the gun.
The real draw of the IZ-132Z is its “tactical” look and specifically the accessories that give it that appearance. Some are good, some are bad, and some are downright ugly (in form and function).
The AR-style collapsible buttstock on the rifle, the CAA CBS 16, is a great piece of furniture. It’s well-made, stood up to the beating I gave the gun, and provided a great cheek rest (without the removable cheek piece—more on that later). The rubber butt-pad is grippy and prevents slippage on your shoulder.
The stock is attached to the receiver by a clunky, overlong rear trunnion that limits just how compact you can actually make the gun. For taller shooters, it won’t be a problem, but for individuals below perfectly average-height Americans like myself (five feet, 9.5 inches), the minimum length of pull can get uncomfortable. Despite this drawback, the buttstock is one of the best things on the rifle.
Moving toward the muzzle, the UPG pistol grip is another welcome improvement over the standard Combloc-pattern grip. It features interchangeable backstraps and finger grooves, and offers an all-around more comfortable hold than traditional options.
The EVG vertical foregrip that was mounted on the handguard is another well-made accessory. I quickly removed it from the gun, however, as I don’t find most foregrips comfortable on AKs. I’d be concerned about the longevity of the polymer-on-polymer nature of the grip’s connection to the handguard, but it did not come loose or fall off in the course of my time firing the rifle.
At first, the ACP adjustable cheek riser on the rifle’s buttstock seems like a perfect fit for an AK—Kalashnikovs are notorious for forcing a user into a “chinweld” position when using optics. However, the ACP is a flimsy piece of polymer that attaches to a polymer rail on the CBS 16 by way of an uninspiring plastic knob.
During my first range grip with the IZ-132Z, the ACP fell off the stock after firing 15 rounds. I hadn’t loosened or tightened it after removing it from the box. I reattached the riser and made sure to securely tighten the knob. It proceeded to fall off again after another 31 rounds.
I did not attempt to attach the ACP after its second tumble. This wasn’t a major issue since I was using RS Regulate’s low-profile optic mount, but it was disappointing nonetheless.
The polymer handguard set mounted on the rifle, the CAA RS47, sports three Picatinny rails on the lower half and one on the upper half. The 3 and 9 o’clock rails are attached with Allen head screws and easily removed. The top rail on the handguard is effectively useless for optics (and just about any other sighting device, like a laser, which requires a solid zero), as it isn’t bolted to the barrel or receiver. The side rails are useful, if overlong. The bottom rail is suitable for mounting a vertical grip, but that’s about it—it’s incredibly uncomfortable to hold otherwise.
While the issue with the ACP was annoying, it didn’t impede the actual mechanical function of the firearm. The AKMR Extended Magazine Release that was attached to the gun’s factory release, however, caused some serious problems.
Though the AKMR provided a slightly larger release lever (enabling magazines to be more quickly removed), it came with some drawbacks. First, the audible click that normally accompanies the proper insertion of a mag is gone. That isn’t a huge problem, but it takes away one of the most positive indicators that you’ve stuck your mag into your gun the right way.
Next, the AKMR prevented me from fully locking in the included polymer US PALM magazine. After inserting the PALM mag, it was very easy to push it free from the gun without even touching the magazine lever. I discovered this “feature” while I was adjusting my shooting position at a bench. I tested the PALM mag in three other 7.62x39mm AKs to make sure there wasn’t an issue with the mag itself, and it worked just fine in each.
Knowing that the gun could be rendered useless with a half-hearted push in the right spot was not confidence-inspiring. Coupled with the fact that it was hard to know when a mag was properly inserted, it was downright disheartening.
It’s important to stress that the base gun underneath the IZ-132Z’s polymer get-up is very well-made. Further, some of the accessories are quite nice—the CBS 16 buttstock is comfortable and does a good job of being an AR stock on an AK, and the UPG is a huge improvement over standard Eastern Bloc grips. However, the RS47 handguard, ACP cheek riser, and AKMR mag release lever are quite shoddy—the AKMR even impacts the gun’s function.
Most of the accessories on the gun are simply not worth their price. An individual seeking a converted Russian AK would be better off converting a “sporter” Saiga themselves, or purchasing one from a different remanufacturer. In a market that severely lacks Russian Saigas, though, the IZ-132Z may make a good starting point for a project gun.
Images by Matt Korovesis