It might not be the height of gun writing objectivity, but my first thought when I opened the box and saw the new DDM4V11 from Daniel Defense was: Man, this is one cool looking rifle! With the full-length, slim key mod rails and the curved buttstock, it looked like a mean and compact powerhouse of an AR.

Then I told myself, “Hey, take a step back.”

Cool is all well and good, but reviewers are supposed to focus on the guts and the functionality of a new rifle. If anything, we are urged to be suspicious of the pretty and the flashy, because flash and pretty is so often used to hide mediocrity.

Yet, after a couple of sessions at the range, the DDM4V11, if anything, got even cooler for me. Not only is it great looking, but it’s also a sweet-shooting pleasure of a rifle, one that should have a great deal of appeal to the tactical shooter, the home defense customer, the competition shooter and even the hunting crowd.

Chambered in 5.56x45mm, the DDM4V11 arrived with open sights, a Daniel Defense A1 Fixed Rear Sight and a Daniel Defense Rail-mounted Fixed Front Sight. I removed both and mounted an optic. Nothing against open sights, and these seemed very functional. But an optic is a much better way to find out what a rifle can and can’t do, especially once your eyes have hit that fifth decade of age and use.

So, keeping it all tactical, I mounted a new Trijicon Variable Combat Optical Gunsight, a 1-6×24 scope with a first focal plane reticle and adjustable brightness settings.

Before firing the rifle, I ran an oiled patch through the bore. The patch came out nearly clean. I worked the bolt back a few times and looked into the receiver. It appeared pretty dry, so I gave it a couple of squirts of Ballistol Multi-Purpose lubricant.

At the range, I ran five different brands of .223 Rem ammunition through the rifle, one to two boxes each of: ASYM Precision, firing a 70-grain TSX bullet; Liberty Silverado, 55-grain lead-free bullet; Hornady Superformance Varmint, 53-grain V-Max bullet; Winchester Razorback XT, 64-grain alloy bullet; and Dynamic Research Technologies, 79-grain nonfrangible hollowpoint bullet.

I first sighted in at 25 yards with the ASYM rounds, then moved to the 100-yard target. Given the different brands of ammunition and the various bullet weights, I was a little surprised at how “on” the rifle was with all these loads, requiring only a few clicks right or left on the VCOG to get the bullets on target. At that first session, and with some practice, I eventually got five-round groups down to 1.5 inches. By session two, those groupings shrunk by an average of a quarter-inch, with my best grouping right at .90 inches with the Liberty Silverado ammo.

The DDM4V11 employs a midlength gas system, with the gas tube approximately 2 inches longer than the tube on a standard AR carbine-length system. That longer gas tube helps lessen the felt recoil by reducing the bolt carrier velocity. With the diminished recoil comes the potential to fire follow-up shots more accurately.

The recoil on the DDM4V11 is fairly mild, and I had a lot of fun popping off multiple, fast shots — and generally keeping them on target. Groupings here weren’t anything to brag about — but a distribution twice the size of my palm firing fast and furious at 100 yards? I’ll take it. Clearly, the rifle’s capable of better performance, and I could likely shrink that double-palm spread with practice.

The other thing I wanted to find out with the rapid shooting was how well that cool, full-length rail system did in the heat dissipation department. In one sequence, with the rifle already warm, I popped off 20 rounds in two 10-round bursts. Then I did another 10 rounds fast. My left hand certainly felt the warmth rising up through the rails, but I was impressed that the rails — and my hand — did not overheat.

The DDM4V11 features the company’s new SLiM Rail 15.0, a 15-inch handguard rail that has an uninterrupted Picatinny rail on top and key mod attachment slots at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. The key mod system is one of today’s hotter tactical items, and the attachment design lets a shooter install components onto a more ergonomic rail that offers better “return-to-zero” capability.

The key mod system is also easier on the hands than many of the “cheese grater” quad rails on the market today. That long, 15-inch rail lets shooters extend their support hand closer to the muzzle to drive the rifle more precisely and prevent overtravel when transitioning between multiple targets. This should be a big selling point for the growing cadre of 3-gun competitors.

The V11 is available in three models: The 16-inch Government; 16-inch Lightweight; or 18-inch Strength-to-Weight. All three models are chambered in 5.56x45mm and have machined aluminum lower receivers that feature Daniel Defense’s enhanced flared magazine well and are Type III hard coat anodized. The machined aluminum upper receivers have indexing marks and M4 feed ramps. The gas system is midlength for the Government and Lightweight models, while the Strength to Weight model has a rifle-length system. All three use Daniel Defense’s new glass-filled polymer buttstocks and pistol grips, and the stock and grip are covered in “soft touch” overmolding for a nice gripping surface even with wet hands.

The trigger is Daniel Defense’s standard Mil-Spec, single-stage trigger. It was a bit stiff, but this was also a new out-of-the-box rifle, and the trigger actually loosened up the more rounds I fired. I have no problem with Mil-Spec triggers, especially for recreational shooting and hunting. Still, for a $1,600 rifle, some customers might expect a smoother trigger.

So, over 100 rounds, from five different brands of ammunition, and not a single jam or misfire with the DDM4V11. All brass was kicked out a good six feet to my right. Certainly, running six-plus boxes of ammo through a rifle does not a torture test make. Still, within the confines of this review, I experienced no feed or ejection problems.

Magazines slid in smoothly. They ejected fine, too. The charging handle pulled back very easily, which is a plus when you have a scope mounted on an AR. The end of the scope doesn’t always allow you to get your fingers as firmly around the charging handle as you would like, and a balky charging handle can be a real hassle in these situations.

So, who might be in the market for this lightweight powerhouse? The 3-gun market seems a natural fit for the rifle, given the long rails, the heat dissipation and the reduced recoil provided by the midlength gas system.

By the same token, customers looking for a nifty rifle for home defense should be given the opportunity to look over the DDM4V11. With the stock collapsed all the way, and a 20- or 30-round magazine filled with the right ammunition, this rifle can more than defend the home front.

Hunting? Many gun writers continue to argue that the .223/5.56 round is too small for hunting anything but varmints. Apparently, hunters have yet to get the word — they keep hunting and killing deer, antelope and hogs with the .223/5.56 rounds. In fact, there is a whole subset of feral pig hunting that goes under the heading of “tactical hog hunting,” and ARs are the favored firearms here.

Of note, the DDM4V11 has a 1-in-7 barrel twist. That fast twist means the DDM4V11 can stabilize the longer, heavier .223/5.56 rounds many hunters favor, like the DRT I used with its 79-grain bullet and the ASYM rounds loaded with the 70-grain TSX bullets from Barnes.

If my first impression of how the rife looked was any indication, retail customers will notice the DDM4V11 — especially if you display the rifle with the side profile.

As far as marketing, Daniel Defense will launch a series of print advertisements for the rifle in 2015. It will also hit the Internet and social media with Web banners, e-blasts and informational sheets to educate retailers and customers on the features of the rifle. All of this support should help drive some solid sales of this nifty rifle.

Spec Sheet:

As tested, DDM4V11 Carbine 16-inch Government Model (Also available in 16-inch Lightweight or 18-inch Strength-to-Weight Models)

Caliber: 5.56x45mm

Barrel: Free-floating, hammer-forged, 16-inch Government profile barrel, 1:7 twist, chrome lined, heavy phosphate coated

Trigger: Daniel Defense Mil-Spec single stage

Upper and Lower Receivers: CNC machined of 7075-T6 aluminum, Type III hard coat anodized

Muzzle Device: Daniel Defense Flash Suppressor, 17-4 PH stainless steel, salt bath nitride finished

Bolt Carrier Group: M16 profile, Mil-Spec MP tested, chrome lined, properly staked gas key

Buffer: H Buffer

Weight: 6.28 pounds

Length: 35 7/8 inches fully extended

Furniture: SLiM Rail 15.0, 15-inch handguard rail with uninterrupted Picatinny rail on top and KeyMod attachment slots at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock; Daniel Defense Buttstock and Pistol grip

MSRP: $1,599

Web: https://danieldefense.com