Kel-Tec is not a typical firearm manufacturer. Although it's a relatively small company in regard to its production volume, Kel-Tec has a catalog of products demonstrating innovative gun design and creative problem solving. For example, Kel-Tec recently garnered all kinds of attention with its unusual dual-magazine bullpup KSG shotgun. In 2001, it released an update to its blow-back operated folding pistol-caliber carbine, the SUB 9, and called it the SUB 2000. Available in 9 mm or .40 S&W, this rifle is unlike anything else on the market.
The most remarkable feature of the SUB 2000 is its ability to fold in half. This is done by pulling down on the trigger guard while swinging the barrel assembly up and over onto the receiver. When fully folded, the barrel is locked into place by a spring-loaded stud set into the shoulder stock's buttplate. This same barrel retention device can be locked to prevent the barrel from swinging back down into place using a proprietary brass security key. When unloaded and folded, the SUB 2000 weighs 4 pounds and will comfortably fit into a 16-inch long, 7-inch wide storage space.
Designing a carbine to fold required the designers to re-think just about every feature of the rifle. The blued barrel is 16-inches long and encased in a flat-sided polymer handguard. The front sight is a hooded fluorescent-orange fiber optic that is adjustable for windage and height. The rear sight is a pop-up aperture that folds out of the way when the gun is collapsed.
The receiver is constructed of black polymer with a textured pistol grip. The primary external safety, a large crossbolt safety button, is located just above the grip. When engaged, it blocks the hammer and disconnects the trigger. The magazine release is an oblong button located on the left side of the grip. The trigger is also polymer.
The components of the Sub-2000's action are housed in a blued steel pipe attached to the receiver, which also serves as the rifle's shoulder stock. The ambidextrous steel charging handle is located below the stock between the grip and the buttplate. The bolt can be locked in the open position by pulling the charging handle all the way to the rear and tipping it to the right, however the bolt does not lock open when the last shot is fired.
The SUB 2000 is designed to use common pistol magazines instead of a proprietary magazine. For this review, the 9 mm GLK17 model of the rifle was used, which accepts Glock 17 pistol magazines. Kel-Tec also makes versions of this gun that accept Beretta 92 and 96, Glock 19, SIG 226 and Smith & Wesson Model 59 type magazines. The Glock version is popular because even if you don't own the pistol, the magazines are usually affordable, reliable and easy to find.
Taking the SUB 2000 to the shooting range was an enjoyable event. No other rifle on the range looks, or handles, like this one. Although it sacrifices some creature comforts for utility, the SUB 2000 is definitely fun to shoot. Let's get a few nits out of the way first. The magazine release felt stiff and a bit clunky. It functioned properly, but not prettily. You may find it takes some time to get used to the sight system. I had to move my cheek back and forth on the steel stock pipe until I found the right view. Speaking of that pipe, it's not the most comfortable cheek rest available. But none of these issues were game changers, especially when compared to the positives.
The level of felt recoil produced by the SUB 2000 qualifies it as a low-recoil shooting option. There were a few failures to eject during the first 50 rounds fired, which happened to be light practice rounds. The recoil spring and bolt for this gun are heavier than those found on a pistol, so don’t be surprised if some varieties of weak-powered, low-quality rounds don’t run well. After the first box of practice rounds, the gun worked reliably with all of the ammunition it was fed using 10, 17 and 33-round Glock factory magazines. The trigger on this particular rifle required 7 pounds of pull to cycle, but it was smooth with a crisp break like a quality double-action revolver.
In addition to the mild recoil, this rifle feels feathery light when pressed to the shoulder. With most of its 4 pounds of weight located at or behind the grip, this is an ideal gun choice for training new rifle shooters or for those who are not used to supporting a heavy rifle for extended practice or plinking sessions.
Formal accuracy testing consisted of firing five consecutive, five-shot groups from a bench rest into 25-yard targets. Group sizes hovered right around the 1.5-inch mark, with none of them exceeding 1.75 inches in size, with some as tight as 1.25 inches. For informal testing, a Grizzly Targets IPSC Torso Target in a 2-in-1 combo stand was set at 50 yards. The tough AR500 steel plate rang with the regularity of a church bell. So the reliability and accuracy of the SUB 2000 are right where they need to be.
But one question in particular tends to show up when evaluating a pistol-caliber rifle like this one. Does a 9 mm carbine really offer a sufficient level of stopping power to be useful for home or personal defense? Logic dictates that if a 9 mm pistol loaded with quality hollow points can get the job done, then the increased accuracy and bullet velocity provided by a 16-inch rifle barrel would be even better. But hard data is always more useful than conjecture.
Using a CED M2 chronograph, 10-round strings of the two defense-grade loads tested for accuracy were clocked for velocity. The Hornady Custom 147-grain XTP, designed to operate at the sub-sonic velocity of 975 feet-per-second (fps) from a pistol, averaged 1,171 fps from the SUB 2000. DoubleTap's 124-grain +P brass-jacketed hollow points, which travel at 1,300 fps from a 4.5-inch barrel pistol, jumped to 1,655 fps from the SUB 2000. This increase in velocity boosts the level of energy for a 9 mm cartridge significantly. The Hornady load went from an estimated 310 ft.-lbs. of energy to 447 ft.-lbs., with the DoubleTap round increasing its energy from 465 ft.-lbs. to 754 ft.-lbs. As a point of reference, DoubleTap offers 125-grain .357 Mag. hollow points that strike with 710 ft.-lbs. of energy. That means this low-recoil rifle, when loaded properly with an extended magazine and fired at home defense distances, hits like a .357 Mag. over 30 times before it needs to be reloaded. Yep, that should do the trick.
The SUB 2000 is a handy little rifle that arrives from the factory ready to work. It has more than a decade on the market to attest to its reliability and usefulness. Like other pistol-caliber carbines, it fills an important shooting niche that floats between the high-power rifles and semi-auto handguns. It stretches the range and power of the 9 mm cartridge beyond what a pistol can provide. At the same time, owners will appreciate the cost-savings of ammunition and magazine compatibility with the pistols they already own.
But unlike other light carbines, the SUB-2000's compact folded size makes it exceptionally flexible in its possible applications. It can fit in a bug-out bag, laptop case or a small day pack for carry in the field. This rifle could be conveniently tucked into various nooks and crannies inside a car, truck or RV. It can be used for casual plinking, close-range small-game hunting or as a camp gun. It would be a top-notch second gun to match up with a personal-defense pistol, at home or while on the road.
Some folks need a piece of polished walnut attached to their rifle in order to think it’s a good looking gun. But Kel-Tec knows that handsome is as handsome does. The polymer-framed SUB 2000 is fun, functional and available at a very reasonable price. What more do you want from a folding pistol-caliber carbine?