The famous BSA Ultra has been given a major overhaul in its new CLX guise – Mat Manning gets to grips with the latest incarnation of this modern classic
A closer look at the BSA Ultra CLX
British gunmaker BSA has a talent for striking a very happy balance between classic looks and precision performance when it comes to airgun design. Its latest release is the BSA Ultra CLX, a complete reworking of one of its most popular models – the super-successful Ultra. Some might argue that the Ultra didn’t need to be revamped. I’ve had an SE model of my own for about eight years and it has never let me down, so BSA certainly already had a reliable performer on its hands.
See the BSA Ultra CLX in action here.
Nonetheless, the CLX line sees the Ultra getting a very thorough overhaul, and I am pleased to say that all of the changes appear to have resulted in the improvement of what was already a very good airgun. And the traditionalists among us will be delighted to hear that the Ultra is still made in Birmingham and still looks very much like the gun we know and love.
CLX is 160 in Roman numerals. The CLX seen here is a little bit special (a commemorative version, perhaps) as it’s a first edition model – and we were lucky enough to get serial number one.
This version costs £799 and is limited to a run of just 200 individually numbered guns with really nice walnut stocks and supplied with extras including a 3-9×50 zoom scope, mounts, silencer and hard case. The standard CLX, which only costs £609, is exactly the same gun but comes in a beech stock and without all those extras. That price tag puts the standard CLX firmly at the affordable end of the quality PCP market.
Key stats – BSA Ultra CLX
MAKER: BSA, England (bsaguns.co.uk) MODEL: Ultra CLX (first edition tested) PRICE: £609 (standard model), £799 (first edition walnut stock combo) TYPE: Rear bolt-action, multi-shot, compact PCP CALIBRE: .177 and .22 (tested) OVERALL LENGTH: 820mm LENGTH OF PULL: 350mm BARREL LENGTH: 310mm WEIGHT: 2.6kg (without scope) TRIGGER: Two-stage adjustable POWER: 11.5 ft-lb
Walnut or beech, the stock is made by Minelli. It is a very comfortable ambidextrous handle, which comes fitted with studs for sling or bipod attachment – a nice touch that saves you from having to take a drill to the woodwork. The overall design is recognisably Ultra, just a little more up to date.
Being a scope-only gun, the stock features a nice, high cheekpiece to ensure good alignment between eye and optic. The butt section is finished with a soft pad, which feels really good in the shoulder, and the contour of the pistol grip feels just right – both in the way it sits in the palm and also by setting your finger up very well for the trigger.
There are grippy patches of stippling on both sides of the pistol grip and fore-end. While these tactile panels make for a secure purchase in most conditions, I think the ones on the fore-end could benefit from being a little further forward. In terms of balance and fit, the stock design works, making this a very nice little gun to shoot.
The new Ultra remains as compact as ever. It weighs a very modest 2.6kg and measures less than 82cm from end to end with the supplied air stripper in place. The barrel is threaded for a silencer and overall length is obviously increased with one fitted, not that I found this did any harm to the gun’s handling or aesthetics.
Despite being so small, the Ultra CLX still manages to fit shooters of all sizes, from young teenagers upwards. Being really picky, I would probably have benefited from an additional 10mm on the 350mm length of pull, but I’m over 6ft tall and have very long arms.
Features and function
Just as I have come to expect from BSA PCPs, the engineering and finish on the new Ultra look flawless. Although quite boxy, the new monobloc chassis is extremely sturdy and a definite plus-point. And I’m pleased to say that the magazine still sits below the line of the dovetail rails, so there’s no chance of it getting in the way of your scope mounts. In fact, BSA supplied the review combo with a one-piece mount – not essential on a recoilless gun, but it certainly proved that the scope rail suffers no obstructions.
The Ultra CLX also boasts a brand-new magazine, with shot capacity increased to 12 pellets in both .177 and .22 calibres. (Read our list of the best airgun pellets.) Pull back the cocking bolt and the magazine pulls out from the left. It is very easy to load, and you simply push pellets in, nose-first, from the back, turning the inner drum as you go to increase the spring tension. There is a mechanism that makes this gun impossible to double-load and the magazine even has a neat little window that clearly shows which shot you are on as you shoot your way through its payload.
Colour-coded red for .22 and blue for .177, the new magazine is driven by a sturdy, positive and smooth rear bolt action. The familiar handle is designed to ensure a secure purchase and the mechanism works faultlessly to deliver fast shots one after another. It’s great fun for quick-fire plinking and utterly dependable when you need a rapid follow-up shot in the field.
I have always been impressed with BSA triggers. The one on my Ultra SE is excellent and this one is even better – better than on some guns costing three times as much, I might add. It is a fully adjustable two-stage unit and you can even tweak the positioning and angle of the match-type blade. Straight out of the box, the one on the test gun was spot on. It had a fairly deep first stage with a clear stop followed by a remarkably crisp second-stage break.
Another very neat feature on the CLX is its new safety catch mechanism. The catch is located at the rear of the action, thoughtfully positioned just in front of the stock’s thumb cradle, which means your thumb is already positioned ready to operate it.
The gun is safe when the switch is up and in the central position, and you just thumb it down to the left when you’re ready to shoot. That configuration initially felt counter-intuitive to me, as the upward position usually tends to be the ‘fire’ position, but I soon got used to it after a bit of range time.
Power and performance
Yet another advancement on the new Ultra is shot capacity, and the elegant little cylinder now holds enough air for 60 consistent full-power shots (five magazines) in .177 calibre and more than 72 (six magazines) in .22 from a full 232 bar fill.
The review gun was producing a muzzle energy of 11.5 ft-lb with a variation within 8ft/sec over a string of 10 shots. Remaining air reserves are displayed on the clearly marked gauge at the front of the cylinder. I don’t like having to look down from the muzzle to check the gauge, and I didn’t have to with this one as it has been designed with a wide field of view so it can be read from more of a sideways angle. (Read our list of the best air rifle compressors.)
A feature that the new Ultra retains is BSA’s famous cold hammer-forged barrel, and rightly so. When you combine this high-quality tube with consistent power output, a great trigger, a pellet-friendly magazine and a well-designed stock, accurate shot placement tends to come pretty easily.
My big range session with the .22 calibre CLX was hampered by an irritating crosswind, but I still managed to shoot tight five-shot groups at 30m that could be covered by a 1p coin. Back on the more restrictive garden range, and in calmer conditions, the CLX was practically landing pellet on pellet at my maximum 30m. I had the BSA silencer fitted for all my testing and it did a remarkable job of muting the muzzle report.
Although my testing was conducted with the special first edition version of the BSA Ultra CLX, it’s still pretty hard to believe that you can get the same gun but with a beech stock for just over £600 – that is outstanding value for money.
As I said at the outset, BSA has a talent for producing high-performance modern PCPs that still manage to look like proper sporting airguns, and this is certainly another one of them. The latest changes to the tried and tested Ultra certainly bring improvements and, if you’re after a handsome, compact and accurate PCP that can cut it in the field and on the range, the CLX will do just that. Furthermore, it won’t break the bank and, if my BSAs are anything to go by, it should give years of excellent service.
The Airgun Shooter Verdict
“The CLX upgrades have taken the BSA Ultra to another level while maintaining its affordability. This compact PCP is robust, reliable and accurate, and one of the leading airguns at its price point”
Robust, reliable and accurate