Michael Yardley tests the very radical looking and progressively designed Fabarm XLR5 semi auto
I encountered this intriguing gun on my recent trip to the Fabarm factory in Brescia in Northern Italy. This firm now makes nearly 30,000 guns a year - that’s quite a figure when you consider how few guns are now made in the UK. It is also no secret that I have a soft spot for a good semi-automatic - and the XLR5 proved to be nothing less. First impressions were, in fact, very good (much better than some of the cheaper semis that we have been encountering recently). The styling is modernistic, but attractive and functional. There are a few bells and whistles - but they were not excessive.
Lightweight, back bored and real wood too!
The gun, indeed, has some character - unusual these days - and it comes to the shoulder well too. It is svelte and quite light, the 28” model tested weighing in at something around the 6 ½ pound mark (although this is a guesstimate, as I did not have my scales with me in Italy). The XLR5 has a real wood stock - hurrah! - not the so called Triwood as had been seen on some models (though the Fabarm inked system was much better than the transfers used by some). The XLR5 also has a progressively back-bored, Tri-bore barrel, longer ‘hyperbolic’ choke tubes which are steel shot friendly, and a well finished, attractively decorated (laser engraved) matt grey action.
“We changed the receiver manufacturing process,” the factory representative told me, “starting with the extrusion of a block of ERGAL [aircraft grade aluminium]”. The machining has been simplified and improved, “We can now do something better, more solid, more elegant and we can reduce manufacturing cost spending more money on wood and engraving .” Obviously there is a bit of hype in this - everyone is trying to sell their product - but the XLR5 really is a good looking and innovative gun, and I will not be giving too much of the game away at this stage if I note that it shoots well too.
It does not suffer from pretend wood as noted. It has a shim system adjustable stock (a really useful feature as seen on Berettas and Benellis as well). The styling is particularly good (a Fabarm strength). The gun is also exceptionally safe being tested to 1630 bar at proof. Most unusually, because of its cleverly profiled, smooth curved, long, ‘hyperbolic’ chokes, one can even put steel shot through a full choke constriction. My only small gripe is that I am not quite sure about the laser cut stipple chequering and the Flash Gordon panel design (but, hell, I suppose I am going to have to accept some aspects of the modern world).
On the mechanical front, the XLR5 is a gas operated semi-automatic and it has an interesting ‘pulse’ gas regulation system. It does not have the usual valve to bleed off excessive pressure as the Beretta 390s and 391s. Rather, you have barrel with the usual ports and collar, but a rather special piston. Gas arrives in a cylinder/collar in the usual manner and acts on a two part piston unit. It is made from polymer and stainless steel. The gas acts on the stainless component and compresses the polymer. This expands to a degree dependent on the load and regulates the speed of reloading by the resulting change in friction. Very clever. Moreover, nearly all of the gas created by the combusting propellant is used, which makes it especially efficient.
This is a major development for Fabarm who have previously used valves like the rest of the industry in other models such as the Euro Lion (discontinued save for Morocco and Greece these days). The new system not only acts as a brake within the mechanism, but it reduces recoil significantly too. The degree of compression, as discussed, will depend on gas pressure. It is a progressive system. If you shoot a light load the pressure is just strong enough to push back bolt and eject and recycle, but when you shoot heavy loads, it will compress as much as 5mm. The recoil curve when plotted is longer and not so peaked (although the actual energy is the same).
“We can change the sensation of recoil…” the factory noted to me proudly. Will it function on light loads? It would seem that the answer to that is yes. It would seem, to a degree, it depends on barrel length (and Fabarm offer 24” and 26” as well as the usual 28” and 30”). In some specialist, short barrel models, they have increased compression inside the cylinder by making it 3 thou tighter. I have only had the chance to try the standard guns in a standard barrel length and they functioned flawlessly on light target loads and heavier field loads.
Fabarm do not do 20 bores, but, like Remington and Benelli, they offer left-handed models. I might note, most interestingly, that in countries where steel has become mandatory, they have noted far less demand for 20 bores now. They also noted that demand from the US was down because of the fall in the dollar, that Europe generally was flat, and that Russia and the Ukraine have become big growth areas for them.
Although Brits may not make use of it, the XLR5 is equipped with built in dovetails for scope mounts (designed for Weaver mounts) and is well mated with Aim Point and similar sights for special applications. In Russia, and there was much discussion concerning it on my visit, shotguns are frequently used with slugs. The market is for guns with long barrels which are slug friendly (hence the XLR5 also has another interesting feature - a fibre optic insert in its receiver to improve sighting.
On to more pedestrian stuff. I was impressed with the general manufacturing quality of the gun. The styling was good and the balance better than average. The stock was fitted with a new polymer pad which is available in various lengths to allow for LOPs from 14 ¼ to 14 ¾” (a little short). The stock is matt finished in oil or something that looks like it.
This was a very impressive gun to shoot. I would have preferred a longer barrel and a slightly different grip shape. The grip was a bit too tightly radiused, too circular and too small in its middle. Apart from that criticism, even the 28” gun as tested performed really well. I shot all sorts of targets with it in Italy including tough trench style trap birds. A 32” flat ribbed version of this with the right grip and stock shapes would be something really special for those sporting shooters seeking an auto. As it stands this is an impressive, well-sorted, new gun. It deserves to do well.
|Type||Semi-auto with 'pulse' gas regulation system|
|Capacity||3 or 5 shot versions available|
|Barrel||24, 26, 28 or 30"|
|Chokes||4 x 82mm 'Hyperbolic' supplied|
|Weight||2.9-3.1kg (6lbs 6oz to 6lbs 12oz approx.)|
|RRP||£1220 on test (XLR5 Elite model with higher grade stock is approx. £1600)|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates