First Look: The Winchester SXR Super-X Rifle

By Chuck Hawks

Winchester SXR Rifle
Illustration courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms Co., Inc.

I first saw the new Winchester SXR rifle at the 2006 SHOT Show. The SXR is a somewhat more basic variation on the Euro-trash styled Browning ShortTrac (short action) and LongTrac (long action) autoloading rifles. The Winchester brand version of this basic rifle is actually a little more streamlined looking than the homely Browning version, which is faint praise indeed. (See "The Column No. 7: Euro-Trash Styling Comes to Firearms" on the General Firearms and Shooting Page for further comments on that school of design.) The 2006 Winchester catalog refers to the SXR's styling as "International," by the way, and goes on to say: "The international styling of the SXR's stock makes a statement about the shooter who carries it." I'll say it does!

On the other hand, while the two brands are basically the same (both are produced by FN), the Winchester SXR lacks the Browning's bolt release on the right side of the receiver. The SXR's bolt is held open only by the magazine follower after the last shot, and slams closed when the magazine is removed. This is a major pain in the rear, especially in the field, and is more than enough reason to select a Browning Trac autoloader in favor of the cheapened Winchester version. (The Browning Safari Grade BAR Mk. II is still the best autoloader on the market, and remains the obvious first choice for anyone who can't live without a semi-automatic hunting rifle.)

The grossly oversize floor plate of the SXR's removable box magazine is not hinged at the front, as is the Trac floor plate, a minor inconvenience. Nor does Winchester offer recoil pads of varying length or Trac style shims for altering drop and cast for the SXR. And, the BOSS adjustable muzzle brake is not available on the SXR. Of course, the Browning brand version of this FN rifle costs about $100 more than the Winchester SXR economy model.

The SXR receiver is made of an aluminum alloy, while the barrel is hammer forged steel. The 7-lug, rotating-head bolt locks into a barrel extension, not the receiver. The black plastic trigger guard assembly has an uncomfortable, sharp angle at the front, and the magazine release is a hook in front of the trigger guard. In a stunning example of poor design, part of the gas operation mechanism sticks well out past the tip of the forend where it is susceptible to damage, being plugged, or catching on brush and limbs.

No iron sights are provided, but the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mount bases. Use current Browning BAR bases.

The two-piece stock and forend are satin finished black walnut with a black forend tip. A black recoil pad and detachable sling swivel studs are supplied. Checkering is limited to a small area on the underside of the forend and pistol grip panels that don't follow the curve of the grip. Aesthetically, Winchester would have been ahead of the game to skip the checkering altogether.

There is a "W" rather crudely carved into the rear side-panel of the forend. Interestingly, the 2006 Winchester catalog shows and describes this as a red "W" inletted into the forend (note photo above), but it was just a scratched-in initial on the rifle I saw. Which looks worse I could not say; the rifle would be better off without either.

Here are the Winchester SXR specifications:

  • Action: semi-auto, short stroke gas operation
  • Calibers: .30-06, .270 WSM, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag.
  • Magazine capacity: 4 (.30-06), 3 (Magnum calibers)
  • Barrel length: 22" (.30-06), 24" (Magnum calibers)
  • Sights: None; receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts
  • Finish: Polished blue metal finish, satin stock finish.
  • Safety: Crossbolt in rear of trigger guard.
  • Overall length: 41 3/8" (.30-06), 43 3/8" (Magnum calibers)
  • Length of pull: 14 1/8"
  • Drop at comb: 7/8"
  • Weight: 7 1/4 pounds
  • Rate of twist: 10" right hand
  • 2006 MSRP: $811 (.30-06), $839 (Magnum calibers); spare magazines $55 each.

The SXR's barrel will normally be cleaned from the front, since the receiver prevents the entry of a cleaning rod from the rear. Disassembly of the SXR for a complete cleaning is so involved that I will not attempt to describe it here. Suffice to say that I suspect that most users will simply shoot the thing until it becomes unreliable and then trade-it in for something else rather than attempt to clean the internal mechanism.

The single stage trigger of the SXR that I played with broke at an estimated 5 pounds with plenty of creep, which is unacceptable for a hunting rifle. It was a typical, notoriously poor, BAR trigger. The plastic trigger assembly (!) can be removed for replacement without taking the rifle apart simply by punching out two pins, which are accessed through grossly oversize oval holes in the side of the receiver. Not only are the oval holes in the receiver really tacky, the fact that the designers felt it necessary to allow for quick trigger assembly swapping raises questions about the durability of the trigger mechanism. I'd be uneasy if I had to rely on an SXR for a "once in a lifetime" hunt far from a repair center.

Winchester has not cataloged a semi-automatic big game rifle since the sleek Model 100 of the 1960's. One of our Guns and Shooting Online staff members still owns and uses a Model 100 inherited from his father. The SXR is, of course, an FN rifle and not really a Winchester at all. Perhaps that is why it seems to be such a disappointing step backward in concept, design, quality and execution from the old Model 100.

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Copyright 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.