When I heard that Sako was launching a new rifle, I immediately assumed the 85 would be receiving a facelift – much like when the 75 got an upgrade.
However, the A7 presented a totally new range of rifles, designed to fill the gap between the Sako 85 and the cheaper but ever popular Tikka T3 (owned by the same company). I really didn’t have any idea of what to expect, but knowing how well Sako and Tikka rifles functioned and shot, I had no doubt that the result would be good.
This could be seen as a brave move from Sako, as the exceptionally well priced Tikka T3 is hard to beat in terms of value for money, even if it has a few undesirable attributes. Obviously the A7 wouldn’t quite be to the standard of the 85 given its lower pricing, so it would be interesting to examine which rifle the new incarnation took as inspiration.
The A7 is certainly well balanced, with a slim profile, comfortable in-hand feel and pointable nature. According to the Sako specification, the synthetic stock is made of a glass-fibre reinforced copolymer polypropylene. It is finished in a soft touch coating, with integrated stippling where the chequering would be found on a wooden stock. It is far superior to the cheap-feeling stock on a Tikka, and similar to the synthetic offering on the 85 – with the exception being the rubberised inserts.
On a purely pedantic point, I didn’t like the A7 badge found under the pistol grip, which is made from a soft rubber as opposed to the nice metal plate on the 85. This, however, is neither here nor there. As with Sako’s other rifles, length of pull is adjustable via a removable butt plate system and the use of spacers – but these did not come with the rifle.
Slipping the metalwork from the plastic reveals the bones of the rifle. Although not identical, the receiver of the A7 is very close to that of the 85, though the recoil lug arrangement has the same design as the Tikka. This, I have to say, is a bit disappointing as it is one of the biggest criticisms of the Tikka. The bottom of the receiver has been machined out to accept the separate alloy lug, and I just wish a solid recoil lug had been machined here instead. Either that or, for little extra cost, sit the recessed action on an aluminium block. This aside, it is a design that seems to work.
The bolt has been taken from the 75, with three sturdy lugs and classic Sako extractor. The ejector, however, is a spring plunger taken from the T3. The bolt face differs from the upgrade seen on the 85, which now offers a semi-controlled feed by opening up one edge of the face. With the A7, it is totally enclosed. The bolt release is also the same, but the shroud has frustratingly been adopted from the Tikka. This flimsy plastic component is one of the first things Tikka owners are keen to replace.
The bolt handle resembles the 85, but doesn’t appear to be formed from one piece of metal as it has a join just before the bolt shaft. The knob itself has more gentle curves, with a hollow centre filled with a plastic cap – I’m not quite sure why Sako has done this apart from as a weight-saving exercise.
One great feature that the A7 has taken from the 85 is the ‘total control latch’ design. This requires the magazine to be pressed in before the drop lever can be operated and mag removed. Personally, I prefer a drop plate on a stalking rifle, but this is a simple and clever improvement, adding extra safety against accidentally dropping your mag. The magazine itself is similar to the Tikka in that it is made almost entirely of plastic with a single stack design. The mag lips have, however, been upgraded with metal inserts, which should provide greater longevity than the Tikka, and it also seems to improve feeding marginally. It does feel slightly more robust, with nicely shaped bottom lines.
You will not be disappointed with the trigger. It is the same unit found in the 85 and, like all the Sako rifles I have fired, is crisp and a joy to use. Unfortunately, the trigger guard is a plastic composite like the T3, although is the same shape as on the 85.
The safety is a familiar Sako affair, accessible just behind the bolt. This rocker-type safety has worked well for decades and is still my preferred choice. It has been taken from the 75, with the same safety mechanism which allows the bolt to be opened and removed with the safety engaged. In my opinion, the extra tab arrangement that allows this is superior to the more modern move towards three-position safety catches. I want either ‘fire’ or ‘safe’ – nice and simple.
Interestingly, the A7 does not boast the tapered dovetail rail that is iconic of all Sako’s other rifles. This is a significant departure from tradition. Instead Sako has opted for Weaver-style bases on the rifle.
Mounting a scope only requires the shooter to source Weaver-compatible rings. The only reason I could see for Sako going down this road was to keep overall costs down and further help distinguish this rifle from its 85 models.
When it comes to the barrel, there will be little in the way of surprises. The A7 sports the same cold hammer forged, free-floating barrel as all of Sako’s other rifles. Understandable, as this has proved itself over decades of use.
Unsurprisingly, the rifle shot very well. I would have been shocked if it hadn’t, since it combines aspects of two rifles that are well known for producing the goods straight out the box. The .243 Win I tested did find particular favour with the Federal 70-grain Nosler ballistic tips, clover-leafing it with exceptional consistency. Out at 200 yards, I was able to slam home groups averaging 1.7in without any trouble. Pushing the boat out to 350 yards, clay pigeon targets proved little challenge – what more could you possibly want? The 100-grain Sako Gameheads also performed well, if not quite to the same standard. Certainly 100-yard groups around the 1MOA mark were pretty standard.
I did enjoy using the new A7, and looking at the T3, A7 and 85 side-by-side, you can appreciate what extras you are getting for your money. I can’t help feeling, though, that the A7 has been restrained by the fact that they couldn’t make it quite as good as the 85. At an RRP of £1,445 it does seem quite expensive, but on the shop shelves I imagine you will be able to get it close to the grand mark. I would certainly be happy to spend the extra money to upgrade from the Tikka. It will be interesting to see how the market takes to this rifle. BP
Model tested: A7 Synthetic Stainless in .243 Win
Price range: From £1,295
Contact: GMK 01489 587500
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