Every gun manufacturer out there has been coming out with "workingman" rifles - affordable, but decently built rifles suitable for basic hunting needs, and with a little work, basic target needs. The idea is to push away from the $800+ fancy-wood-and-polished-steel rifles that adorn many safes, and to move towards rifles that can sit in a gun rack all season, under the seat in a pickup truck, or ride along through mud, dust and rain on an ATV. The idea being that they can take abuse and keep working, cosmetics be damned.
Marlin's entry is the XL7 and the one I tested was a basic 30-06 model, selling for under $400 in most gun shops. The rifle comes with a cable lock (trash), an installed 1 piece scope rail (decent), and an owner's manual. I decided to test with the factory scope rail, the only change being that I added a bit more torque to the mounting screws. The screws for this rail were slotted heads - not my favorite, and they were a bit loose. I torqued them down to about 28 inch-pounds, and then set a Leupold VX-II on the base. Some may question having such a scope on a $400 rifle. Long story short, it was a handy spare and I'm sure the rifle would work just as well with a less expensive Redfield (also made by Leupold).
Ammo was Wally World Remington Core-Lokt 150 grain 30-06 - a basic load with a pretty wide variation in bullet weights and powder charges, but again something you'd find on the way to your hunting destination. At $20 a box it won't break the bank and you can find it anywhere.
Range day was cool, no wind, somewhere in the low 50's, cloudy and shooting was done from a bench out to 100 yards. The first order of business, however, was to boresight the rifle/scope combo so I'd be on paper. I prefer optical boresighters, but I used the Mark I Eyeball. In short, you put the rifle on sandbags, remove the bolt, peer down the bore from the breech end, and line up the center of the barrel with the center of your 100 yard target. Keeping the rifle steady, look through the scope and see where the crosshairs are on the target. Dial them in to be dead center on the target. Re-verify that your target remained in the center of the bore and the crosshairs are still on target. Done. You won't be quite on the 'X' this way, but you will be on paper.
The first 3 shots were grouped low and left, about 8" low, 4" left. After a quick scope adjustment, the next 2 shots were in the X, and the 3rd just below in the 10 ring. I suspect a small amount of vertical stringing, but that could be due to the shooter, the ammo or both.
Perhaps the nicest feature of this rifle is the trigger. It's similar to an Accu-Trigger, breaks at about 2 1/2 pounds and has a good reset. I did notice that once the center lever is depressed, the trigger does have some notable creep, but it's not severe and the creep doesn't seem to stack or impede a decent break. I have no idea what the lock time is (that's the time between trigger break and firing pin impact on the primer), but I have no reason to suspect it is out of line with most other production rifles.
The bolt cycles nicely, though I did find ejection to be a little weak, compared with a Remington 700 action. Finally, the only thing I didn't quite like was the plastic trigger guard. While this can be upgraded with another Marlin part, I suspect my dislike was more a matter of prejudice. Plenty of plastics have stood the test of time in rough conditions, so this will likely hold up, too.
Overall the XL7 is a nice rifle for the price. It's capable of taking down most North American game, it's light, it's accurate and it will probably outlive it's owner if not unreasonably abused.