In the history of hunting rifles, Sako stands out for accurate, quality rifles. However over the years the price for a new Finnish made Sako has continued to climb and today even the least expensive Sako 85 is over $1575. New for 2008 is Sako's A7 rifle which will have a suggested retail of around $850-$1000 almost half the cost of an 85. The new rifle and pricing puts the A7 squarely in the middle of the hunting rifle market and we decided to review the A7 to see if it stands up to the Sako tradition.
The A7 comes in two action lengths and two variations, blued steel or stainless steel both with a synthetic stock. In the short action length the A7 is available in 22-250 Rem, 243 Win, 7mm-08 Rem, 308 Win, 270 WSM, and 300 WSM. The long action cartridges are 25-06 Rem, 270 Win, 30-06 Springfield, 7mm Rem Mag, and 300 Win Mag. All magnum cartridges have a 24" barrel while the rest have a 22" barrel. All rifles have 14" length of pull and three round detachable box magazines.
The Sako A7 action (middle) is very similar to the Sako 85 (front).
Notice the safe unload button forward of the safety switch, this
button is absent on the Tikka T3 (behind).
Another shot of the safety buttons, Sako A7 in the middle.
Close up of the Sako A7 (top) action and the Sako 85 (bottom) action.
Very similar designs.
While the A7 is being introduced as a mid-market rifle, some readers will be quick to point out that Tikka (Sako owned and produced) rifles have been around for some time and actually retail for less than the A7. Sako also went through a transition to the new model 85 last year and delivery has been more robust in 2008. The A7 comes in between these two models with an interesting blend of features from both the Tikka T3 and the Sako 85.
The A7 has a magazine that is similar to the Tikka in that it is plastic, but it has metal reinforced feed lips. In addition the A7 magazine also uses what Sako is calling a "Total-Control Magazine" release latch. In other words, the magazine must be pressed inward toward the action, while hitting the release latch in order to remove the mag. This feature is borrowed from the Sako 85 and helps to prevent accidentally bumping the latch under recoil of fire and thus losing the mag.
The Sako A7 mag (middle) is similar in design to the Tikka T3
mag (left). The metal Sako 85 is on the right.
The Sako A7 mag (middle) has steel feed lips unlike the Tikka T3 mag (front).
The bolt and receiver are also an interesting blend of Tikka and Sako 85 features. The A7 receiver closely resembles the Sako 85, but the bolt tail uses a plastic shroud like the Tikka. The bolt face is more like the Sako 75 with a plunger style ejector and three locking lugs like the Sako 85. The Tikka uses two locking lugs and a plunger style ejector. The Sako 85 has no ejector and the lower portion of the bolt face is dished out like a Mauser style bolt face. So the A7, Sako 75, and Tikka bolts are considered push feed, where the 85 has moved to a controlled round feed action.
The A7 (middle) has a Sako 75 like bolt face with a push feed,
ejection plunger and three locking lugs. The Tikka (left) has an
ejector and two locking lugs, while the Sako 85 (right) has no ejector
and dished out lower bolt face like a Mauser style action.
The Tikka and Sako A7 use a plastic bolt shroud, while the Sako 85 is metal.
Top view of the bolt assembly. Notice that the Sako 85 (right)
is a one piece bolt, while the Tikka (left) and the Sako A7
(middle) are a two piece a assembly.
The trigger on the A7 is spot on match with the Sako 85 trigger assembly and can be adjusted from 2-4 lbs and is factory set at 3lbs. The Sako 85 trigger in turn is identical to the Sako 75 trigger, all of which are easy to adjust once the stock is removed and are crisp with little creep or over travel. The A7 also inherits the ability to unload the rifle with the safety on by depressing a small button forward of the safety lever. The Tikka does not have this ability. The trigger guard on the A7 is plastic like a Tikka, although the shape of the trigger guard is identical to the 85.
The Sako A7 (middle) has a trigger guard much like the
Tikka T3 (behind), but the shape is similar to the Sako 85 (front).
The floor plate shows that the A7 (middle) is similar to the Tikka (top).
While talking about the A7 trigger, Sako mentions in the A7 manual a single-set trigger option. To the best of our knowledge this option is not available for the North American market, which is unfortunate since a set-trigger would be a nice addition for any of the Sakos including the A7.
The scope mounting system is a significant departure from traditional Sako. The A7 includes and uses standard weaver style mounts so all you need to mount a scope is a pair of your favorite manufacturers weaver rings. Sako and Tikka use their own proprietary ring system that are quite good at scope alignment, but the rings can be harder to find and are more expensive than weaver style rings.
The Sako A7 (middle) uses weaver style bases which are included
with the rifle. The Tikka (top) and the Sako 85 (bottom)
have their own unique proprietary mounting system.
Now we come to the issue of accuracy, perhaps the most important feature in defining a Sako. For some years now Sako has placed an accuracy guarantee on their rifles that is the best in the mass produced rifle market. Sako guarantees any of their rifles, including the A7 to shoot 5 shots within a 1" circle (roughly one MOA) at 100 yards. In contrast Tikka makes no guarantee although their literature does mention that their rifles are tested to shoot a one inch group. The only guarantee that comes close to Sako is Weatherby with a three shot, 1.5" guarantee at 100 yards on both their Vanguard and Mark V lineup. Weatherby guarantees their Sub-Moa branded Vanguards to shoot a three shot 1" group at 100 yards. One advantage of the Weatherbys over the Sakos is that Weatherby includes a factory shot target which gives you an idea of what load you should shoot to obtain the best accuracy. Sako makes no mention of what loads they shoot for various cartridges, an annoying omission when trying to find the right load for a given rifle. Sako even mentions on the A7 web site that "Actual groups may vary dependent upon the particular ammo used".
There is a lot to like about the new A7. Its lightweight at roughly 6.5 lbs and delivers superb accuracy at a price that doesn't break the bank quite like a standard Sako model. A detachable box mag is handy for quickly unloading and loading the A7 when getting in/out or on/off a vehicle while hunting. The new latch system is an added bonus that is a simple fix to accidentally bumping your mag latch and losing your mag. The weaver rings are also nice since it allows a standardized ring mount system to be used on a Sako, which becomes especially beneficial when you're using a large objective scope or a tube size other than 1".
On the downside, the stock is practically the same as the Tikka T3 which is not necessarily bad since the hollow sounding stock is typical for most factory synthetic stocks. However the stock on the Finnlite and similar Sako models is nicer. The mag is also plastic although the addition of the steel feed lips should make it more reliable than the standard Tikka mag over time. The plastic mag and the simple plastic stock may be the single biggest reasons to upgrade to a different Sako model over the A7.
The stock on the A7 (front) closely resembles the Tikka T3,
although the A7 has an updated checkering pattern.
Overall the A7 is a good value that sticks with the Sako tradition and offers a few new tricks, like the standardized scope mounts. It would be nice to see the A7 in a wood or laminated version and offered in 223 Rem, but it is a good first offering for a mid-priced Sako rifle. It has enough new features to warrant the extra price over a Tikka T3. However if you want a nicer stock, a metal mag, and don't mind the unique but accurate Sako ring system you may want to move to a Sako 85 or try to find a Sako 75.
For more information about the Sako A7 rifles visit the Beretta  web site.