The Kel-Tec Sub-2000 Gen 2
Today in review, we will take a closer look at the second generation Kel-Tec Sub-2000 [S2K]. This particular variant is the 9x19MM Glock G19 version, which is admittedly a very welcome addition to the S2K family. While the folding, ultralight, pistol caliber carbine [PCC] retains most of the core features that made the original so popular, Kel-Tec has made a number of improvements to the original design, including an accessory rail on the forend, an upgraded front sight and a factory threaded barrel. We will take a look at what is new, what stayed the same, and what we still would like to see in future revisions.
This Kel-Tec Sub-2000 comes standard with one 15-round 9x19mm Magpul [Glock 19 compatible] magazine. However, the platform is also available in a variety of other models in 9mm and .40 S&W, including:
- Smith & Wesson M&P
- Sig Sauer P226
- Beretta 92 & 96
- Glock 17, 19, 22 & 23
The Gen 2 Kel-Tec Sub-2000 maintains its svelte figure, folding down to a mere 16.25″ and weighing in at only 4.25 lbs. unloaded. This makes it a solid choice for a backpack or truck gun, or for anyone needing high portability, easy concealment and light weight. When the S2K is unfolded/locked in the firing position, the overall length ranges from 29.25″ to 30.5″ depending on which of the three adjustable stock positions you choose.
Size and weight are by far the strongest selling points of the Sub-2000. There are few options on the market that even come close, and most are either SBR’s or “pistols” by legal definition. The S2K is a full-blown “rifle” by legal definition, sporting a full 16.25″ barrel that makes the most of what a 9mm or 40S&W can produce. With a 33-round magazine in place, it really packs a lot of firepower into a small package.
On the positive side of the ergo matters, the weight of the Sub-2000 carbine tends to sit toward the rear due to a sizable bolt in the straight blow-back action. This rearward weight distribution makes it very easy to shoulder and hold in the firing position for extended periods of time as most of the weight is close to your body. The texturing on the grip and forend are modest but effective for retention in wet or slippery conditions, and the location of the magazine release will be familiar to owners of the compatible handgun models. Furthermore, the take-down lever [AKA the trigger guard] is easy to operate and convenient to access.
Ergonomics are a highly-subjective matter, so opinions on this topic should be taken with a big grain of salt. That said, I did not particularly care for the overall “feel” of the Gen 2 S2K any more than I did for its first generation predecessor. Ergonomics have never been a strong point in the Kel-Tec Sub-2000 line, and I get that… it is a light, folding, packable utility gun… “the Willys Jeep of carbines” one might say. It is not really made for long, cross-country road trips [AKA dumping 500-rounds in an all-day defensive rifle course]. It is more of a “keep it at the campsite just in case” type of gun. That said, I believe that some changes in the ergonomic design would greatly improve the “likability” of this weapon.
While the carbine itself is very light, the trigger pull is relatively heavy… with an advertised weight of 9.5 lbs, this specimen tipped the scales at a hair over 10.25 lbs, more than twice the weight of the entire weapon. Add to that the overall poor quality of the long, stacking and mushy trigger pull, lengthy reset and the excessive flexibility of the soft plastic trigger itself, and you have a greatly reduced “shootability” factor.
Beyond that, I found it nearly impossible to obtain a decent cheek weld, and it tended to beat up the cheek bone when we put a lot of rounds down range. The sight plane is difficult to fall far enough into, always leaving you wishing you could bring your face down further. It makes the task of proper aiming and cheek weld yet more challenging if you are wearing “ear muff” style hearing protection [or heaven forbid if you had to wear a 40mm NATO gas mask during a SHTF situation]. I have a pretty large head and face, and I always struggled to get a comfortable view of these sights.
More on the Sights
While Kel-Tec made an effort to improve on the sights from the first generation, it is still a far cry from greatness. The rear sight remains a fixed polymer peep sight with a relatively small aperture. It would need to be drilled out a bit to be better suited to the short ranges the S2K would be used at. The front sight contains adjustments for both windage and elevation. While this might seem like an OK idea on paper, it can make for a strange sight picture if the windage needs significant deviation from mechanical center in order to zero in, as did this specimen.
I would have preferred that they made the rear sight adjustable for windage and left the front adjustment only for elevation. That would minimize the problems that are apparent in these photos, where the front sight is way off to one side when zeroed. Also, the windage adjustment is done by basically twisting a large screw on the rear face of the sight, which acts to basically push a control bar against the spring-loaded front sight post. This design only holds the post firm from one side, meaning that it can be freely pushed on the side opposite the control bar with a finger. Essentially, this is a unique design; the front post is not locked firmly into place via a dovetail or worm drive as many other sights use. Not a huge deal, but somewhat awkward and unconventional.
Accuracy from the Lead Sled was actually quite good despite being a somewhat uncomfortable weapon to shoot. We put over 300-rounds of various makes and models through, ranging from lighter Winchester White Box 115g-124g FMJ, to hotter European FMJ such as 115g Fiocchi and 124g S&B ball. We also ran some 124g Remington Golden Saber and 124g Federal HST in both standard and +P variants, as well as 147g Winchester White Box JHP and some hand-loaded 124g plated ball over 4.4g of TiteGroup. Of all rounds tested, the 115g Fiocchi FMJ produced the best groups for us and measured about 1.9″ at 50 yards with iron sights.
Perhaps we would have better luck mounting a red dot to give us more breathing room… [I wish it were that simple… please read on].
The “Picatinny” Railed Forend
The Gen 2 forend is a new upgrade from Gen 1, having top and bottom rails and M-LOK channels on the sides. However, it quickly became apparent that it has one critical design flaw that makes its usefulness and value very limited. The owners manual errantly claims it is a “Picatinny” rail. As you might know, the term “Picatinny Rail” is representative of the MIL-STD 1913 accessory rail specification. This is an engineering standard with strict tolerances, not just some industry catch phrase to be used loosely in marketing. Sadly, the S2K rail design does not follow the specs of MIL-STD 1913 because it is pointed on the top. MIL-STD 1913 calls for a flat top, such as what you see on the roof of your favorite AR variant. This means that most Picatinny-compatible [or Weaver] accessories will not fit correctly and will be canted when mounted on the Sub2K-Gen2.
This is an extremely unfortunate design decision in my humble opinion and is basically a deal-breaker for me. Consider the simple fact that you have to remove any optics in order to fold the S2K for transport. Without a flush and consistent surface to QD mount them on, you will need a small miracle to get an easy return to zero after removing and replacing the optic. This became painfully apparent when attempting to mount a small red dot atop a standard Picatinny-compatible riser for our tests.
As you can see, the sight would not mount flush and would literally teeter-totter from one side to the other while tightening the mount, making it impossible to return it to the exact same position it was in when zeroing. We experienced deviations up to 2 MOA from one mounting to the next. Combine this issue with the relatively mediocre sights, brutal trigger pull and rough ergonomics, and it further degrades the “shootability” of this increasingly awkward weapon.
When I discussed this rail issue with Kel-Tec management, they stated that [at the time of this writing] “they are aware of the rail problem, but have no current plans for doing a mold revision” to bring it up to MIL-STD 1913 specs.
As you can see above, the internals are quite simple. Being a straight blow-back action, it requires a fair amount of bolt mass, hence the large, 2-part bolt. I also noticed it was relatively dirty-shooting compared to its counterpart, the Glock 19. We noticed a lot of fouling on the top of the magazine and follower, and around the feed ramp after just a few dozen rounds.
The action does not lock open on the last round fired, but it can be manually locked open if desired by retracting the charging handle all the way to the rear and engaging the side locking recess in the bolt tube. The reciprocating bolt and charging handle means you cannot have external objects or wrap-around cheek rests on or near the bolt tube. That said, there are aftermarket options for a rubber sleeve, of sorts, to pad your cheek. However, they are a far cry from being a legitimate cheek rest as you might find for a more standard rifle stock.
Another area of potential concern is the feed ramp, which is made of plastic. While we did not experience any problems with feeding, I can imagine that if you dumped 2-3 of the 33-rounders downrange in quick succession, you could possibly encounter some heat deformation issues. While this opinion is purely speculative on my part, I would feel more comfortable with a steel feed ramp like pretty much everything else has. The fact that M-Carbo is currently selling stainless feed ramps for the S2K tells me I am not alone in this assumption.
Beyond the matters of opinion, the only functional problem we actually experienced was related to the included 15-round Magpul magazine. When fully loaded, the Magpul would not fully seat/lock into the mag well on a closed bolt. When the bolt was charged, the Magpul would fall out. We had to lock the bolt open to get the Magpul to seat properly and lock in place. We also tried another 17-round Magpul that yielded the same result. Apparently, the magazine Kel-Tec chose to include with this weapon is ironically the only one that does not function properly in the platform. This was not a problem with any of the 15, 17 or 33-round Glock brand mags we tested. The Gen 3 and Gen 4 Glock mags all worked great. It was also not an issue with a 33-round Korean-made mag we tested, which also seated and fed reliably from a closed bolt.
On the positive side of things, field stripping the S2K is very easy and does not require any tools. The Sub-2000 also does not have any microscopic parts that can go flying off into the brush when field stripping it. These are highly-desirable qualities for a utilitarian weapon. Cleaning is very easy with a soft-bristled 10ga-12ga bore brush for the bolt tube, and standard .35 cal brush for the barrel. We cleaned and lightly lubricated the action components with Adiga Armory Synthetic CLP before firing, which provided plenty of lubricity for the action.
That said, reliability was excellent. The Kel-Tec Sub-2000 performed 100% regardless of being a bit on the dirty side. This was a brand new firearm, so it was not “broken in” so to speak. Yet all of the 300+ rounds we tested fed, fired and ejected flawlessly! Folks can say a lot of harsh things about Kel-Tec [myself included], but reliability has always been very good in my experience with their products.
Some of the Gen 2 Sub-2000’s produced in 2017 have been recalled due to problems with the barrel steel causing potential ruptures when firing [yikes]. This particular gun was just a few integers past the last recalled serial number… likely made the day after the bad ones! We had no issues with the barrel, as one would expect.
The Bottom Line
While I desperately wanted to love this gun as it fills a critical need in my collection, I ended up loathing it instead. In much the same [deja-vu-like] way my experience with the Gen 1 soured the more I shot it, the Gen 2’s lack of “shootability” severely detracts from any benefits gained from its positive aspects. If Kel-Tec could address the following, it could be a real game changer in this niche:
- Poor ergos; bad cheek weld, sight plane alignment, etc.
- Overall bad trigger
- Out of spec mounting surface
- Awkward iron sights
- Plastic feed ramp
- Incompatible OEM magazine choice
I may get burned by some Kel-Tec S2K fans for saying these things. You should know that I mean no offense… it is just a personal opinion from someone who has been shooting for 35+ years. Many folks love the S2K, and they can be hard to find in stock, meaning that a lot of folks apparently love them… just not me. There are simply too many compromises and shortcomings IMHO. Also, considering the simplistic design and cheap materials, I find the price [MSRP $499] to be higher than what it is actually worth to me. For now, I will stick to my “pistols” and maintain hope that one day, Kel-Tec will finally get the Sub-2000 dialed in.
Have fun and play safe!