Gun Review: Kimber Custom II vs. Smith & Wesson M&P Pro 9

I’ve been carrying a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Pro for years. I stake my life and my family’s life on the polymer pistol. And yet, like most “old timers,” I never felt comfortable with the weight and balance of a polymer gun. So when I decided to liberate some funds for a new gun, I did something I haven’t done since Thriller owned the charts, when I bought a Beretta 92FS . I purchased an all-metal gun . . .

The Kimber’s workmanship is easy to see and feel.  Everything fits together and functions perfectly. In terms of finish, I give the Kimber Custom II only a grade of B+; their Parkerizing process seems a bit thin in many places. I’m also not a big fan of rubber grips (which are being replaced with G10 this week) or Kimber’s short MIM (metal injection molding) slide release (which has already been replaced by a Wilson Combat extended release). But the Custom II’s overall look and feel is top notch.

Now take a look at the two photographs below. The Kimber Custom II with night sights (first image) and the Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Pro (second image) cost about the same amount of money: eight bills and change. Both perform their intended function: accurate, dependable, self-defense. Both are used by law enforcement agencies throughout the world, and both are manufactured by well-respected firms within the United States.

The image above: a field-stripped Kimber Custom II after cleaning. Notice the simple and elegant design of the 1911 and the obvious choice of materials and workmanship. The 1911 is an engineering marvel. As a former engineer, I’m amazed at the fact that we’re still ogling a design that is over 100-years-old. Say what you will about modern technology, the 1911 has withstood the test of time.

Now look at the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm Pro Series in the same field-stripped condition (image below). The slide, barrel and recoil spring are very similar to the 1911. That’s where the comparison stops. Polymer guns are just plastic reinforced with a metal frame. Made from injection molded “Zytel” (DuPont’s trade name for nylon), one of the least expensive and lowest strength engineering polymers on the market today. Not exactly a material that I prefer to bet my life on.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is definitely a place for polymer-frame firearms in today’s huge market. My own FNH PS90 personal defense weapon would be impossible to manufacture without plastics. But I look at a handgun as a weapon of last resort; it had better work 100% of the time. And then there’s recoil . . .

My Kimber Custom II’s recoil feels significantly less than the recoil I feel shooting my M&P 9mm. It’s exactly the opposite of what I expected when I first picked up the Kimber Custom II. I always thought shooting a .45 ACP round would be much harder to control than my usual 9mm NATO round. The only explanation I can come up with relates directly to the gun’s center of gravity.

In a polymer-frame pistol [above] the center of gravity should be almost in the center of the slide which is well above where your hands grip the gun. In engineering terms this should create a “moment arm” causing the weapon’s barrel to rise when shooting. The whole idea of a recoil spring is to help reduce these forces.

In a metal-frame pistol like the 1911 [above] the center of gravity should be slightly below the slide and very close to where your hands grip the gun. If I’m correct, this should create a smaller “moment arm” and reduce the forces that cause the barrel to rise.

For me, the Kimber Custom II’s ergonomics are superior to M&P’s. The offset-stacking in the M&P 9mm allows me to carry seventeen rounds in each magazine—at the expense of grip size. My small hands always have trouble correctly gripping the M&P and I find myself adjusting my grip between shots. Not the best situation for any gun.

Although the single-stack magazine in the Kimber holds only eight rounds, the overall thickness of the 1911′s grip (even before adding slim bushings and grips) allows me to create a secure two-handed grip and fire off eight rounds without needing to adjust my grip. The checkering on the main spring housing and the texture of the grips (even the stock rubber grips) really feels more secure than the stippling on the M&P’s “grip”.

The knurled extended magazine release on the Kimber Custom II is a huge improvement over the plastic release on the M&P. Doing a tactical reload with the M&P is a major pain in the butt due to the release button. On the Kimber it’s quick, simple and efficient.

The Kimber’s single stage, match grade aluminum trigger is a joy to pull after years of mushy plastic triggers on polymer guns like the M&P. The 4 – 5 lbs pull is even and smooth and the reset is short and crisp. This is a gun that you can actually “feel” when you’re getting a nice, straight-back trigger pull and this action really does help prevent the amateur’s “low and left” tendencies. The Kimber Custom II has one of the cleanest trigger pulls I’ve ever seen.

I’m not a big fan of thumb safeties and was happy to find that the Custom II has a single side thumb safety instead of the more common ambidextrous paddles. The grip safety on the Kimber is great feature and the high-ride beavertail really sets me up for a positive grip as close to the slide as possible. Yet another reason why the 1911′s recoil is more controllable. The beavertail on the M&P is functional (protection) but makes it hard to achieve a really good grip.

The sight picture on the Kimber 1911 is significantly better than on the M&P series. Kimber provides night-sights with some Custom II models and they are larger and much easier for these tired, old eyes to follow. The night sights on my M&P are so small and tough to see that I’ve been thinking about buying a set of Hilton Yam’s (10-8 Performance) sights with the big brass dot on the front sight.

The Kimber’s match-grade barrel is beautifully machined and polished to a mirror finish. In contrast, the blued stainless steel barrel found in the M&P Pro Series seems “cheap” by comparison. And speaking of comparisons, let’s leave the Smith alone now and put the Kimber Custom II though its paces.

At the Range

Like any other brand new gun, the Kimber Custom II needs a 500 round break-in period before it should be used as your primary carry or duty weapon. I fed this little beauty a steady diet of Winchester “White Box”, 230 gr FMJ ammo for the first 500 rounds and found that it settled down after only 200 rounds into a very reliable firearm, even when dirty. In contrast, my Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm Pro Series will still throw an occasional FTF or stove pipe if its magazines become too dirty.

Recoil

Yes, it’s THAT important. The Kimber’s extra weight (38 ounces) and slimmer shape made it easier for me to control on the range than the Smith & Wesson M&P Pro 9 (26 ounces). Again, recoil has always been my largest complaint with polymer-frame pistols. Their lack of mass and higher center of gravity creates a lot of upward force when shooting. The weight and mass of the steel frame on the Custom II seems to help alleviate muzzle climb for me.

Handling

Since this was my first Kimber, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of accuracy, recoil and handling but after only 150 rounds of Winchester 45 ACP ball ammo I can tell you that I’m very pleased with my purchase. I’ve got a whole lot more shooting to do with my Kimber Custom II before handling it becomes second nature but it certainly is a joy to shoot.

It’s also a weapon that requires a strong grip, a solid stance and a firm commitment to proper technique. Shooting a 1911 takes more “effort” than shooting a polymer gun. I hadn’t realized how sloppy my grip, stance, posture and technique had become shooting a lightweight gun like the M&P 9mm. It took me more than a few stray rounds at first to remind me of just how important a proper two-hand grip and aggressive stance is to accuracy.

Believe it or not, shooting the Kimber Custom II was easier on my lower back and legs (I have a chronic & inoperable nervous disorder) than shooting my M&P 9 Pro. The weight and mass of the gun’s steel frame and slide honestly didn’t seem bother me at all and the gun felt much “steadier” in my hands than my M&P did.

Accuracy

Once I got the hang of shooting a .45 ACP round again, I was pleased with my groups at seven yards and 15 yards. The Kimber Custom II’s  5″ barrel (versus 4-1/4″ on the M&P 9) and larger front sight made it quick target acquisition east. After shooting small 9mm NATO rounds for several years, it’s kind of nice to see those large .45 ACP holes appear in the center of the “Shoot*N*C” targets. It’s also gratifying to be able to put eight rounds in a 3″ circle consistently at seven yards.

The factory magazine of course, had to go. If Kimber is going to ship their pistols with a single magazine, it sure would be nice if it actually worked. Luckily I was prepared with a set of Wilson Combat 47Ds and after comparing the design and quality of the two magazines, it’s easy to see why Bill Wilson does so well in this market.

Fun

I didn’t buy this little beauty for carry purposes (I’ve got a Tactical II Ultra for that); I bought it for fun. There’s nothing quite as fun as pulling out a black, full-size 1911 at a range full of Glocks, M&Ps and Sigs and putting your first eight rounds on target in a tight little group. Heads turn and folks begin to stare when those .45 ACP casings come flying out of that 1911. Even a old guy like me loves to see that center red dot and 10 circle disappear after 50 rounds or so. It’s also nice to hear folks saying “nice gun and nice shooting” as you pack up to leave.

Conclusion

The M&P is an excellent handgun. For me it lacks the charm and accuracy of the Kimber Custom II 1911. I would shoot the M&P in a self-defense situation if I had to, without any worries or qualms. But when I want to shoot, the Kimber Custom II is my weapon of choice.

SPECIFICATIONS

Caliber: .45 ACP
Height 90° to barrel: 5.25 inches
Weight with empty magazine: 38 ounces
Length: 8.7 inches
Magazine Capacity: 8 + 1 in the chamber
Recoil Spring: 16 pounds
Full-Length Guide Rod
Frame: Steel; Matte Black / Parkerized; Width: 1.28 inches
Slide: Steel; Matte Black / Parkerized
Barrel: Steel, match grade / Stainless Bushing; Length: 5 inches; Twist Rate: 16 (Left Hand)
Sights: Fixed Low Profile Night Sights, Radius: 6.8 inches
Grips: Black Rubber / Double Diamond Pattern
Trigger: Aluminum, Match Grade; Factory setting: 4.0 – 5.0 pounds
MSRP: $825.00

RATINGS (Out of Five Stars)

Accuracy: * * * * *
Shooting .45 ACP ball ammo this gun is deadly accurate.

Ergonomics: * * *
It’s a full size Government model 1911 with 100+ years of ancestry. What more could you ask for?

Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Crisp trigger and reasonable recoil. All the controls are right where they should be. A joy to shoot.

Reliability: * * *
Like any 1911, you’ll need to break-in the Kimber Custom II. After 200 rounds it’s nearly perfect.

Customization: * * * * *
It’s a 1911 so (almost) everything is customizable from the grips to the barrel.

Overall Rating: * * * *
The Custom II is a real value in Government model 1911s. You could spend over $3000 for a Wilson Combat or save $2100 for a good holster and ammo.

27 Responses to Gun Review: Kimber Custom II vs. Smith & Wesson M&P Pro 9

  1. avatarJason says:

    Unfortunately, Kimber has decided to start including a firing pin block. The small, fragile parts and increased complexity of takedown is a stench in the nostrils of our Lord and Savior John Moses Browning. Springfield blasphemes the Holy Design as well, with its internal lock, but penance is just a simple Smith & Alexander mag guide swap. There are no additional holes in frame or slide, to be filled with non-standard parts.

    • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

      Man, who’s left? Auto Ordnance?

      • avatarJason says:

        I believe they have a firing pin block.

        There’s all sorts of options though, from Armscor (imported as the Rock Island Armory/Cimarron/STI Spartan) at the bottom to most of the custom shops at the top. Even Colt still sells Series 70s as customs. I’m partial to Dan Wesson. And any Springfield will do if you replace the mainspring housing.

        • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

          Down here in SC, I keep seeing inexpensive Rock River Arms 1911A1′s, but have no idea of their history. They dominate the .45 section at most dealers, and most will tell you anything for a sale. That’s why my project 1911A1 as of now, is a High Standard. I love the old, parkerized government models-except the sights. They remind me of the Corps, as I swell with pride…oops, wrong place. Seriously, though, nothing is faster than a cocked and locked single action-from the draw. I wish I’d never traded my early Smith 1911A1. It was spot on, as long as I fed it no less than 230gr JHP.

        • Yup, that firing pin block is a throwback to the very early days. Makes assembly a bit tougher but the biggest issue is the fact that Kimber doesn’t offer a memory bump on their beavertails by default. I’ve had to order a Wilson Combat to make sure the pin is depressed fully by the safety.

          By the time I’m done with this gun most of the moving parts will probably be Bill Wilson’s, not Kimber’s. But that is the fun part of owning a 1911.

        • avatarRecoveringAtheist says:

          I think you mean Rock Island Armory…

  2. avatarJohn Fritz says:

    Good comparison/contrast Jeff. I heart 1911′s and am glad to see you give this Kimber the love it deserves. Welcome to the dark side… ;)

    • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

      We have cable here and loose women…

      • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

        “Hilton Yams” Jeff? I thought you were referring to Paris’ video!

      • Cujo,

        “Cable & Loose Women”…

        Reminds me of my days in mud-loggers trailer. Used 5/8″ cable to fish for tools downhole all day long. Kept losing women to younger guys all night long. That is what you were talking about wasn’t it?

        • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

          Of course! Oh, RecoveringAtheist-it is Rock River Arms. I understand they mainly do AR 15′s, but they flooded the market down here in SC with 1911A1′s. The typical model I always see has a plain, smooth grip panel that is kind of chunky.

  3. avatarPaul says:

    I’ve got the target model of the Custom II and I’ve been extremely happy with it. Like you, I ditched the factory magazine for Wilson 47D’s and the gun has been 100% reliable. The steel frame really helps to keep the gun steady and buffer the recoil; it’s a real joy to shoot.

  4. avatarSean says:

    I have a TLE, which is just the regular gun with night sites and front strap checkering. We have been together for almost 10 yrs now. Almost never out of my sight. And more than 70000 rounds of …whatever I had on hand. She goes bang whenever I squeeze the trigger, and exactly where I point her. A few pieces have been replaced due to wear(slide stop, safety, and the rear site broke). Kimber replaced all for free. The gun just keeps going. I even had a Kimber rep try to buy it back from me to use as an example. He offered me a new one, and I refused.

    I HAD an MP9. And didn’t like it one bit. I won it at a match, and the damn thing jammed a lot. I traded it for a S&W 29.

  5. avatarRichard says:

    Smith & Wesson just went away from firing pin block on 1911 becuase they said they had enough safty in there 1911 guns with out them.

  6. avatarAgitator says:

    I also have a Custom II, and although I love almost everything about it, you’re dead on about the “thin” quality of the finish. I’ve been using mine on and off as a carry gun for about a year, and finish wear, especially on the rear of the grip (not the stippling but just outside it) has become very apparent. But for a $750 NIB 1911, I think I can live with it.

  7. avatarMitch says:

    Jeffrey, I really appreciate your article. It had a good deal of useful information. The photographs show a standard M&P pistol, however, not the M&P 9 Pro which has a longer barrel, fiber-optic front sight, and lighter trigger pull than the standard version. I’ve owned an M&P 9 Pro since Smith and Wesson started making them. Two days ago, the fiber-optic pipe fell out of the front sight in the middle of a tactical handgun training class. I’m going to take your advice and see about replacing it with a Yamm sight.

    Many thanks!

    • avatarShane says:

      That IS a pro-series 4.25″
      I have been carrying one daily for 2 years. It adds ledge type night sights, a lighter, performance center trigger break and its shoots GREAT. I own a 1911 (Colt Lightweight Commander) as well, but the M&P is a great fighting gun. Put the smallest grip swell on it, and it works great for small hands.

  8. avatarJoe says:

    The Kimber Custom Ii is tha same model I carried until during an IDPA match the Schwartz style firing pin safety failed to disengage and failed to fire. I swore off any type of firing pin safety on any 1911 from then on and promptly sold the Kimber. Also, If you paid $800 for your M&P 9 pro, you paid $300 too much. If you look you can find them new for $500 like I did. I also don’t know how you could possibly say the Kimber recoils less than the 9 pro. The 9 pro is one of the mildest recouping guns I’ve ever fired so yours must have been messed up. You also say that the polymer in the frame is weak. I’ve never seen a cracked polymer frame from recoil like I’ve seen from alloy and steel. Don’t get me wrong, to each his own. But comparing these two side by side is apple’s and oranges and I think you have completely mis represented the M&P. The gun you “staked your life on” and is now so horrible. No, I don’t read any bias in your evaluation, just facts.

    • avatarRobert Smith says:

      I agree completely. I bought an M&P9 on January 1 of this year…$450…after the “those who have served” rebate. It now has an Apex Duty/Carry trigger, and extra-strength striker spring, and a Novak adjustable rear sight with a .265 front sight. Recoil is pretty much minimal compared to a .45 ACP…(i.e. better time reacquiring target after each shoot). I have never seen any problem with the polymer frames, except the weight reduction. My M&P40C kicks like a mule and makes target acquisition difficult….it will soon be converted to a 9mmC with X-Grip adapters for the 17 round mags.

  9. avatarjbourneidentity says:

    You had me until you said that the Kimber Custom II recoiled less than the polymer M&P 9mm. That is simply not possible, either physically or in terms of physics. Lets not gush so much over the 1911 design that we lose our common sense about things, sir.

  10. avatarjustin says:

    that is the most bi est review i have ever read

  11. avatarjustin says:

    You need to compare that gun to a smith & wesson 1911 or my gun with is a smith & wesson m&p 40cal pro series

  12. avatarnolan says:

    I am very impressed with this very fine 1911 right out of the box. The only improvement I would consider is a trigger job. Other than that there is nothing else I can think of doing to improve this fine. 45 A.C.P. A top 5 out of the box hand gun. I would purchase another with confidence. You will not go wrong with this 1911. I am very pleased with the very pleased with the very high quality of this firearm. Thanks Kimber!

  13. avatarJim says:

    I also have an M&P and a 1911! So, I’ll help finish off your review:

    The stock 1911 extractor takes my dog on walks, while the M&P hook prefers to kick puppies. The M&P striker pin gave me an STD, and slept with my girlfriend. While this was happening, my all-steel 1911 was doing yard work and volunteering at the homeless shelter. This concludes my review. Both guns are great. Do your research, and shoot what works for you. I prefer the 1911, but that’s me.

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  15. avatarArlen says:

    I don’t know why you’d compare a 1911 from one manufacturer to a polymer pistol from another. You can compare 1911s in general to polymer pistols in general, but to do so using actual models of guns makes no sense. A 1911 is something, research it and go get what suites you. A polymer pistol is something else. Research these and go yourself what you want. There are a few more observations about your review. RECOIL: There is no way you can compare the recoil of a full power 45ACP shot from 1911 to 9mm coming from the M&P. Sorry but the M&P is much softer, just by virtue of round power. Now you could argue that the recoil from a 9mm 1911 is softer than the M&P’s, and there I wouldn’t argue with you. ERGONOMICS: 1911 is awesome but M&P improves on that. The small to large handle options on the M&P outdo the 1911 which regardless of which slim grip you put on them, is still bulky for certain users. Also the contours of the M&P handle and beavertail are a much more comfortable fit than the metal pieces and safety of the 1911s. RELIABILITY/ACCURACY: You’re wrong on both these. M&P is just as reliable, if not more so, than any 1911. And accuracy on both is similar. One note about reliability that you forget to mention is the crappy magazine Kimber supplies with their 1911s. That magazine alone reduces reliability significantly. So with the Kimber, go out and get some new mags from Wilson Combat. Talking about magazines, ever try to do fast mag changes on a single stack thin 1911 well? Good luck. The larger openings on double stack mag wells is much easier for quick reloads.

    Finally as others point out the M&P runs under $500 and the Kimber over $800.

    Big differences in 1911s vs plastic guns are the added weight and wonderful trigger they come with. Now there the M&P falls short as it truly does have a horrible trigger that needs at least $80 worth of components to improve on.

    Finally, the thin body of a single stack 1911 makes it easier to conceal on many body types vs the fatter double stack bodies of plastic pistols.

    I own both these pistols and they’re both awesome guns. Buy both of them and you’ll see everything I say is right!

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