In a year that has seen improvements and new model introductions from most of the major semi-automatic shotgun manufacturers, Winchester battles it out to hold onto one of the top spots with its 2017 model SX4. Will the new and improved SX4 design oust the proven SX3 from Winchesters lineup or is this a change in name only?
What is the SX4?
Winchester’s SX4 semi-automatic shotgun is essentially an SX3 (review here) that has been tweaked and re-featured with hunters in mind. The new SX4 is in direct competition with Benelli’s Super Black Eagle. The SBE3, which was also redesigned with similar changes, was introduced at SHOT Show 2017, where the SX4 also made its debut.
So what has changed on the SX4? Upon handling the new model for the first time, it becomes clear the grip has been thinned down, as has the forearm. Both have grip panels positioned for maximum hold, especially comfortable with bare hands. But most of the changes are geared toward cold weather, gloved hunters. Both the bolt handle and bolt release button have been enlarged for easier operation with gloves, as has the space inside the trigger guard. The crossbolt safety is bigger as well and is easily reversible.
The TruGlo Long Bead fiber optic front sight is ideal for waterfowlers and upland birders. A non-glare matte black finish is unassuming to wary game. An improved Inflex recoil pad directs felt recoil down and away from the shooter’s cheek.
Like the SX3, the new 4 remains back bored for optimum shot patterns, with hard chrome chamber and bore, and vent rib, and keeps the same Invector Plus choke system. The same self-adjusting active valve system automatically cycles a gamut of loads. Cleaning is made easier than other semi-autos with a quick drop-out trigger group and Quadra-Vent ports that vent excess gas for cleaner overall operation.
The SX4 debuted only in 12-gauge, though 20’s are sure to follow. The new SX4 is available in both 3” and 3.5” models, in synthetic or walnut stocks, and 26”, 28”, or 30” barreled Standard, Field, Waterfowl Hunter, and Compact models. Hunters will appreciate the options in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass, Mossy Oak Bottomlands, or Realtree Max-5. Depending on configuration, the SX4 retails from $799-$1069. The whole set ships with three flush choke tubes (IC, M, F) and a stock spacer in a red Winchester cardboard box. Whereas the earlier model SX semi’s were manufactured by FN in Belgium, this new iteration is now stamped as made in Portugal.
Test gun goes afield
Weighing in at 6 pounds 12 ounces, the SX4 is light enough to tote afield and into duck blinds, while its Inflex recoil pad and gas system diminishes felt recoil better than most any semi-automatic shotgun on the market today. Both the grip and forearm do indeed feel more slender, seemingly making the gun feel more maneuverable and controllable. One of the winningest ways of the SX3 is the gun’s lack of felt recoil when shooting both 3 inch and 3.5 inch hunting loads, and the SX4 has not lost any ground there. With our test gun capable of handling 2-3/4, 3, and 3.5 inch loads, none of our three shooters were able to feel any change in recoil, so while it hasn’t increased, it doesn’t seem to have decreased either.
The durability of the firearm does not seem to have dropped off from its initial Winchester quality, which is a plus. The improvements made, however, pay dividends to hardcore hunters who will certainly appreciate the larger controls and spacing throughout, all ideal for foul-weather shooting. Both guns pattern with the same reliability, and the chokes are interchangeable. We fed our test SX4 black synthetic with several flavors of ammo, including Winchester AA, Browning BXD Upland, and Federal Gold Medal Grand, along with plenty of reloads. As expected, the scattergun ate and spat with 100% reliability everything from light one ounce loads to the max 3.5 inch high brass game rounds, one behind the other without adjustment.
We also had the pleasure of testing out several versions of heavy duty turkey loads in preparation for upcoming spring gobbler seasons. And the Winchester action again negated recoil, patterned like a champ, and would be a welcome turkey-slaying companion. We even found success in the pheasant fields with the smooth swinging, quick mounting SX4 and Browning Upland ammunition. Aesthetic lines on the vent rib, forearm, and trigger guard lend a more modern look to the SX4 than previous versions, while there are camo patterns available for most any type of hunting. Our test gun in black synthetic wears an MSRP of $939, lower than most semi-autos in that quality and capability range.
A few considerations
Our shooters liked the red fiber optic for hunting in all types of light but weren’t as keen having a red bead chasing orange clay targets. Additionally, the size of the bead almost completely covers a turkey target at 50+ yards, though the fiber can certainly be swapped out. There are really no other knocks on the gun, other than the only real reason to buy the SX4 rather than the SX3 is for hunters. Though I didn’t find any issues with the build quality per se, I still prefer the earlier models built by FN in Belgium versus the new Portugal builds.
The big plus here is there is not much retail price difference between the two. Surely, though, as with anything new, favor will switch to the new while the “old” will likely be sold off at sale prices hard to pass up.
The improvements to the SX4 are not earth-shattering, but they are a great benefit for hunters. But after spending much time with it, I’m not convinced the changes are worth parting with my beloved SX3 to make the upgrade. For those in the market for a new shotgun, though, the combination of the SX4’s proven lineage along with the improvements put it immediately at the top of the market of semi-auto shotguns.