Not everyone wants an upgraded barrel, charging handle, etc. Some are of the mindset of a K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) rifle. A lot of times, the most straightforward machines are the strongest. The idea of keeping things basic means that the gun in question is versatile and able to be repaired or used. While there are a ton of upgrades for the AR, the K.I.S.S. style rifle is also very popular. It's also a great way to get into the AR world without spending even close to $1,000.
When it comes to getting anything AR on a budget, I always look at Palmetto State Armory. Their products are not up there with Noveske and the like, but they are great for the price. The PA-15 M4 MOE Rifle is a perfect example of functional quality and price. This rifle is built with standard mil-spec parts along with some bonuses. It comes with a nitride Chrome Moly Vanadium barrel that's 16" with a carbine length gas system and M4 feed ramps. It also comes with Magpul MOE stock and handguard (a $69 aftermarket upgrade) which gives the rifle the same K.I.S.S. design and function with a much better function and feel. The receiver is an A3 flat top and includes a Magpul MBUS rear sight. This is a perfect entry level AR that will work right out of the box all for a retail of $739.99. At the time of this writing, the rifle is on sale for $499.99.
Bushmaster has been around for many years and used by multiple Law Enforcement Agencies. Their QRC XM-15 is an excellent baseline package with a little extra. This rifle is set up with a 16" 4150 "Superlight" chrome moly steel barrel and a low-profile gas block. Set up to be a solid and lightweight rifle it is also equipped with all the M4 standards you'd expect from a Bushmaster. One other extra included with this rifle is an RT5 mini red dot with 3.5 MOA dot. Optics ready along with the optic makes this rifle indeed range ready. Retailing at Sportsman's Guide for $599.99 (member price of $569.99) this is the cheapest priced rifle on the list and a lot for that price.
Smith and Wesson's M&P series of rifles were built with the Military and Police in mind (hence the name M&P). Everything in their M&P line is considered top-notch and go-to for any real firearms enthusiast. The Sport II is their entry line rifle and a reliable option for anyone in the market for a K.I.S.S. rifle. This rifle comes with a 4140-steel barrel, finished with the Armornite finish made to withstand abuse. It comes equipped with an A2 post adjustable front sight and Magpul MBUS rear sight. A standard M4 rifle with iron sights and all quality parts. Smith and Wesson's rifles have been my suggestion for years for tight tolerance, accurate, and reliable product. This rifle is no exception. It can be found at many box stores and is listed on Cabela's website for $649.99.
Stag Arms is known for good products at a reasonable price and their left-handed ARs. Innovators in the industry, their products have always been well received. Their entry-level Stag 15 ORC is an excellent option for those looking to get into the AR world. The ORC, which stands for Optics Ready Carbine, is what it sounds like. A carbine length barrel and gas system with an A3 flat top receiver and a railed gas block gives the end user a blank slate for whatever optic system they'd like to use. Whether you want to keep with the K.I.S.S. rifle and add iron sights or add a scope or a red dot, this rifle is ready for you to choose. Retailing on the Stag Arms website for $759.99 and currently on sale for $574.99 ($70 more for the left-handed version). An excellent option for an entry rifle, especially for those who are left-handed in a right-handed world.
I would be remised if I didn't add the Ruger AR-556 to this list. The only rifle listed that is a step up from the entry level is the new Ruger AR 556 model #8529. Retailing for $819 on Ruger's website it is a tactical setup that's solid built and well-priced. It comes with an A3 flat top receiver with an 11" free floating M-LOK rail system, a 16" heavy contour barrel, single stage trigger, enlarged trigger guard, and many other extras that you'd expect from a much more expensive AR. Ruger has been a name for other firearm platforms for decades, so it is no wonder their MSR line has been popular since they first released. If you want to spend just a little more than the entry level for a whole lot more rifle, I'd highly recommend checking this rifle out.
There are many manufacturers in the AR world. It's hard to sift through them all. If you are starting or wanting a K.I.S.S. rifle that's reliable then look for a name, you can trust. The AR platform has had some fluctuation over the years in price and popularity, but it's safe to say that it is America's favorite rifle. Check out these options for a rifle that you can depend on and won't break the bank.