The X-Bolt (bottom) has a sleeker looking profile much of this coming from the magazine being lower than the bottom of the stock on the AB3.
The X-Bolt also has a lower profile receiver. Notice how much higher the top of the receiver is above the bolt showing in the ejection port on the AB3. Then notice how much larger the diameter of the bolt is on the AB3 in an image of the bolts shown lower on this page.
Both rifles have a nice feeling right hand palm swell in the pistol grip area of the stock. You can also notice that the stock of the X-Bolt on the right has a softer looking finish from the Dura-Touch Armor coating (discontinued in 2019).
The release button to remove the bolt is located on the left, top rear of the receiver on both rifles.
Lately I have noticed that the traffic to my X-Bolt vs A-Bolt Comparison page on my website has been increasing. I find this interesting because the A-Bolt has actually been discontinued by Browning being replaced by the new AB3. I figure a lot of this traffic is because of confusion that the AB3 is the A-Bolt.
In 1985 Browning introduced the A-Bolt and in 1994 with the introduction of the BOSS system Browning introduced the A-Bolt II. In 2012 Browning introduced the AB3. With the introduction of the AB3 Browning has been fazing out production of the A-Bolt II.
To help deconfusimy the differences and names of the new AB3 I borrowed an AB3 to get some photos to shows the differences between it and the X-Bolt.
Browning's AB3 is stamped with a "A-Bolt" on the barrel. I'm not sure why. All of it's marketing material calls it AB3. AB3 obviously stands for A-Bolt III but the name is clearly AB3. The AB3 is a pretty drastic change from the design over the A-Bolt II which has commonly been referred to as just the "A-Bolt."
I own three A-Bolt II rifles. They have all been great rifles for me. I really like them. A few years ago I picked up my first X-Bolt rifle in 270 WSM. This too has been a great rifle for me. You can read many entries in my blog using my X-Bolt and A-Bolt rifles.
Here's a top view of the detachable AB3 magazine (above) and the detachable X-Bolt magazine (below). The AB3 magazine has a leaf spring and staggers the cartridges alternating side to side. The X-Bolt magazine is a rotary style giving the top cartridge the same position right at the top and center for an easy feed straight into the chamber.
Both rifles have the Inflex recoil pad system. This is a nice recoil pad and if you need to add a little length to the stock it is easy done with Browning shims. (see: Easily Adjust the Length of Pull on a Browning X-Bolt Rifle)
Here's a rundown on what makes the two rifles different and sometimes very similar.
Both have a top tang safety.
The X-Bolt and AB3 both have a bolt lock override button. This allows you to open the action of the rifle with the rifle on safety.
The X-Bolt composite stock has Dura-Touch Armor coating(Dura-Touch was discontinued in 2018) that feels really nice where the AB3 does not.
The magazine on the AB3 is a leaf spring with alternating cartridges from one side to the other where the X-Bolt is a rotary style with each shell lined straight with the bore. The magazine style of the X-Bolt has really smooth feeding.
The AB3 has a composite trigger and trigger guard assembly. The X-Bolt has a metal trigger and trigger guard assembly.
Both triggers provide a nice crisp break. The trigger on the X-Bolt is adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds and factory set at 3 1/2 pounds. The AB3 is listed as being between 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds... I'm not 100% sure that it is adjustable just yet. I'm still checking on this one.
The bolt diameter is much larger on the AB3.
The safety switch on the AB3 is larger providing lines that are not as clean looking as the X-Bolt.
The drilled and tapped receiver has 4 holes for each base on the X-Bolt and the AB3 has 2 holes each. You will also not want to get confused with using A-Bolt bases on an AB3. The AB3 requires AB3 specific bases.
The AB3 bolt (left) is mostly round and larger in diameter than the X-Bolt bolt (right) that has flat surface plains the length of the bolt.
X-Bolt (left), AB3 (Right) Both bolts have three lugs forming a "A" shape.
The AB3 is stamped with "A-Bolt" on the barrel. Not sure why but it is.
Here's the stamp on the barrel of the X-Bolt.
Receiver and trigger groups. AB3 (top) and X-Bolt (bottom).
Here's a side view of the half metal, half composite AB3 magazine (above) and the composite X-Bolt magazine (below).
AB3 bolt lever in top position 60 degrees up. This allows for faster cycling and plenty of clearance from the scope.
X-Bolt bolt lever in top position 60 degrees up.
I know the X-Bolt shoots really well from the experience I have had with my Stainless Stalker in 270 WSM and I'm confident the AB3 should also shoot well. I have no doubt that is does shoot well. Both rifles are made in the Browning Miroku factory in Japan and I know they make great rifles and barrels in that factory.
My favorite rifles of all time the Model 1885 (John M. Browning's First patented firearm) are made in the same factory and they all shoot really well for me.
Obviously the AB3 is a much lower priced rifle than the X-Bolt. Lower price doesn't necessarily mean less accurate but the components and aesthetics just are not quite as nice. Basically more plastic and not as pretty.
I think of the AB3 as a work horse rifle, like a truck that you're not afraid to get scratched, yet a rifle that should provide great accuracy and dependability.
The AB3 is well built and value priced whereas the X-Bolt and A-Bolt are premium built bolt action rifles. As far as I know the AB3 is the first firearm that Browning has ever built value oriented. It's definitely not your typical Browning.
I think if you are in the market for an "entry level Browning" the AB3 is going to be a great rifle for you. If you are expecting the AB3 to be a Cadillac of a bolt action rifle like the A-Bolt 2 is, you are going to be disappointed.
The AB3 stock is bedded at the recoil lug.
The X-Bolt stock is bedded at the recoil lug and between the trigger and magazine. Basically right where both screws hold the action to the stock.
Simple disassembly of the AB3. Remove the two allen wrench bolts on both sides of the magazine well, slide out the bolt and this is what you get.
Simple disassembly of the X-Bolt.
The front and back of the receiver on the AB3 have a two holes drilled and tapped for scope bases.
Note: Make sure you are getting AB3 bases as A-Bolt bases will not work on this rifle.
The front and back of the receiver on the X-Bolt have four holes drilled and tapped for scope bases.
The AB3 magazine release latch is found on the front of the magazine port.
The X-Bolt magazine release latch is found on the front of the magazine.
The hole at the back of the composite trigger guard appears to be a port to use an allen wrench to adjust the trigger pull however I have been told that the trigger is not adjustable. The Browning catalog says "The crisp trigger breaks between 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 pounds."
To get to the trigger adjustment screw on the X-Bolt you will need to remove the trigger guard. The adjustment screw is covered in red locktite in front of the trigger. This trigger is adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds and factory set at 3 1/2 pounds.
The recessed muzzle crown protecting the riflings on the AB3.
The recessed muzzle crown protecting the riflings on the X-Bolt.
AB3: This shows the top tang safety and the bolt lock override button. The bolt lock override button is on the right side of the stock just behind the bolt lever. Pressing this button allows you to open the action and eject a cartridge when the gun is on safety.
X-Bolt: This shows the top tang safety and the bolt unlock button. The bolt lock override button is at the top of the bolt lever.
Here's another view of the AB3 safety shown in the fire position.
AB3 composite trigger and trigger guard.
The AB3 magazine holds five 270 Win. shells in a alternating stack.
The X-Bolt magazine holds four 270 Win. shells in a rotary system giving the top shell a position lined up straight with the chamber on every shot.
Another view of loaded magazines from the AB3 and X-Bolt rifles.
View of empty AB3 magazine.