Gun Review: Kahr Arms CW380

Kahr Arms CW380 (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

Just because I carry a boat anchor cleverly disguised as a 1911 doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a gun that’s roughly the same size and weight as an iPhone 6+. Pocket pistols have their place. Guess where? And no, I’m not a hypocrite. When I advise people to schlep the heaviest gun they can comfortably carry I’m aware that a 13.9 ounce fully loaded CW380 is the heaviest gun some people can comfortably carry. Have you slipped a 9mm sub-compact in the front pocket of an Ermenegildo Zegna summer weight suit? Let’s just say no one’s pleased to see you. Anyway, here’s the thing about the Kahr CW380 . . .

A .380 vs. 9mm cartridge (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

It fires a piss-ant little bullet. The .380 ACP round coming out of the Kahr’s snout is positively dainty, especially when compared to its larger caliber cousins. Why carry a .380 semi-automatic handgun when any number of tiny nines will fire an equally improved bigger, badder 9mm cartridge? Because the Kahr CW380 is a pussycat.

There’s a size below which a 9mm handgun becomes a jumpy little bastard. Where range practice is about as much fun as hitting your hand with a hammer. Repeatedly. If you’re discounting the Kahr CW380 as a pocket pistol because you have more faith in a 9mm bullet’s ability to stop a deadly threat, I recommend a compact rather than a subcompact 9mm. The CW380 — or a larger 9mm pistol — offers you the best chance of initial accuracy and on-target follow-up shots.

What’s that you say? Who cares about accuracy when we’re talking about a gun designed to be used at bad breath distance? Nobody, really. Except anyone who values shot placement over the misguided belief that any handgun round will cause immediate bad guy incapicitation (provided said bullet enters said miscreant in that hallowed ground known as center mass). Or anyone who doesn’t think they can miss an attacker at seven yards.

In short, there’s nothing terribly wrong with choosing a .380 for armed self-defense. The Kahr CW380 is minute-of-bad-guy all day long. Well, for seven rounds. If this or another .380 is the easiest, maybe even only way to carry, carry on. At the risk of repeating myself, never forget that concealed carry comfort is .  . .

Kahr Arms CW380 weight (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

a weighty issue. The lock breech, modified Browning type recoil lug CW380 is one of the smallest and lightest .380’s money can buy. Those of you who gravitate to all things GLOCK please note that the .380 caliber GLOCK 42 (and the 9mm GLOCK 43) weigh in at 22.36 oz. That’s 8.46 ounces — half a pound — more than the smaller Kahr. A difference you can feel. Or, more accurately, don’t have to feel.

As always, the mention of Gaston’s gat raises the issue of reliability. This website reviewed a Kahr CW380 that failed to feed, eject and lock back. (We also featured a G42 that did the same thing.) That’s completely unacceptable for a carry gun. The factory-recommended 200-round break-in period isn’t entirely reassuring, either. And the Kahr won’t reliably load Speer Gold Dots for love nor money. (Hornady Critical Defense fed like Luby’s.)

All that said the Kahr CW380 I tested experienced none of those issues through 1000 rounds, including one initial cleaning to remove the factory’s test-fire residue and one mid-test cleaning. I would trust my life to this gun. ‘Nuff said?

Kahr CW380 inside a Moccamaster (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

How about this: the Kahr CW380 is the Keira Knightley of .380’s: dangerously thin, endlessly sleek and entirely elegant. Our black and grey sample was perfectly proportioned: 4.96″ long by 3.9″. That said, the long-fingered amongst us — you lucky bastards — should give the CW380 a miss, lest your index finger extend beyond the gun’s muzzle when not pulling the trigger. The CW380’s grip stippling is no more aggressive than a slightly peeved Schnauzer, but secures the firearm like a locked kennel.

The CW380’s trigger is river stone smooth and gently curved, with none of that GLOCK trigger-pull-within-a-trigger-pull safety action misegos. Yes, the Kahr’s go-pedal motors miles from initial take-up to its vanishing point. And yes, the reset takes you all the way back to GO, passing every property on the board. But the CW380 is a perfectly controllable firearm, astoundingly accurate for one so small — especially when fed with hollow-points it likes (your mileage will vary). And hey! The slide locks back when you’re done.

Unlike a similarly-sized revolver (e.g. the Smith & Wesson 640), the CW380’s drift adjustable white bar-dot combat rear sight and pinned polymer front sight are a lot more than mostly useless. Sit the CW380’s front sight on top of the rear, Heinie Straight 8-style, and you’ve got an excellent idea of where your bullet will go. Combined with the cartridge’s minimal recoil, fast follow-up shots are easy — provided you grip the diminutive gun like grim death.

Kahr Arms CW380 broken down (courtesy thetriuthaboutguns.com)

The CW380 is the P380’s cheaper brother ($419 vs. $667 ). The “budget” CW sports a conventional rifled barrel instead of the P’s match grade polygonal barrel, the CW’s slide stop lever is metal-injection-molded, and the CW380 comes with one less Pez dispenser. Make that magazine. Ask my Mercedes dealer; I’m a sucker for upgrades. But this Kahr isn’t one of those upgradeable machines where the value-driven consumer will have to complain or explain.

While Kahr rightly touts the CW380 as an ideal back-up gun, the eminently pocketable pistol’s quality, portability, reliability, accuracy and price tag make it suitable for buyers looking for a handgun to carry when they can’t carry a larger firearm. The CW380 adds a welcome measure of ballistic protection for those who earn their crust suited and booted, or engage in what younger people call “an active lifestyle.” Remember: if you like your nine millimeter, you can keep your nine millimeter. And have a Kahr CW380.

Kahr CW380 Specifications:

Caliber: .380 ACP
Capacity: 6+1 (flush mag) or 7+1 (extended mag)
Materials: Black polymer frame and matte stainless steel slide
Weight: 10.2 oz without magazine
Barrel Length: 2.58”
Barrel Rifling: Conventional 1 in 16 RH twist
Overall Length: 4.96”
Width: 0.75”
Sights: Drift adjustable white bar-dot combat rear, pinned in polymer front
Action: Striker-fired, double action only
Price: $419 MSRP

Kahr CW380 Ratings (out of five stars):

Style * * * * *
It’s a pretty little thing that somehow maintains the macho.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * *
It’s the pocket pistol, easily concealed in a simple sleeve. That said, grabbing the CW380 from any holster is more than a bit fiddly, requiring a grip change before deployment.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * * 
How can one so small be so demure? Something to do with a recoil spring stouter than a glass of Guinness. [Note: manhandle that slide and press check to make sure the CW380 is loaded.] Grip it like a python and you’re good to go.

Reliability * * * * *
Others have reported issues, which may or may not be related to limp-wresting. Ours was failure free for 1000 rounds.

Customization * * *
You can fit the CW380 with night sights and/or a laser — which add considerably to the cost of a gun that isn’t exactly cheap (despite being the P380’s less expensive sibling).

Overall * * * * *
Caliber snobs need not apply. Gun buyers who want or need a really small soft-shooting pistol should add this to their arsenal.

comments

  1. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

    Modern pocket .380s make the old AMT Backup look pretty desperate.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      I had one of those.

      Dead-nuts reliable, weighed about as much as Roseanne Barr.

      Not a bad gun, actually, except for the terminal slide-bite…

      1. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

        I’m not sure I’d describe mine as reliable. It works well with a new production magazine though.

  2. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

    5-11 has a best designed for concealed carry. It is slightly shorter than a suit coat and can conceal a full size. So if the 5-11 best works than so does a suit.

    Just saying.

    1. avatar Charles5 says:

      You must not wear suits very often.

    2. avatar Stinkeye says:

      Except dudes who wear suits don’t usually leave the jacket on all day long.

    3. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

      I wore suits almost everyday for 30 years and I seldom took off the jacket even though I lived in the DC area. I have carried everything from a Nano to a GI 45 without ever breaking concealment while wearing a suit.

  3. avatar FedUp says:

    My P938 is one of my favorite shooters.
    It’s accurate, weighs an even pound with empty magazine, and it shoots 147gr 9mm defensive ammo with amazing accuracy.

    And no, I don’t find the recoil any more bothersome than shooting 230gr in my 40oz 1911.

    1. avatar Ed Rogers says:

      Yeah but getting that darn spring back on the P938 is a little tricky, after cleaning.

  4. avatar Mike says:

    If this pistol is anything like my Kahr P380, then I am confident that it’s an overpriced, unreliable bag of dog vomit.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      If this gun is anything like my CW9, it is utterly reliable and reasonably priced. You may have (have had) an older Kahr, when they had all kinds of reliability issues (and matching bad reviews). I bought mine in December 2013, have fired well over 1000 rounds, and have had only one FTE–and that was my fault. And it does not care what I feed it. I paid under $400 for the gun, a deal for anything in 9mm.

      1. avatar Mike says:

        I got my P380 in late 2010. Even after 1000 rounds, it couldn’t get through two six-round mags without some sort of failure, no matter what kind of ammo I fed it. Ejecting the mags was also a chore. The walls of the grip were so thin, you could actually pinch the mag through the walls and prevent the mag from dropping after you pressed the release. Hopefully they’ve made improvements.

        1. avatar Aaron says:

          me too

        2. avatar William_the_Kid says:

          Me three. My P380 was the worst pistol I’ve ever owned. Despite four trips back to Kahr for warranty repair, it failed in just about every way a semiauto pistol can fail.

      2. avatar Rick K. says:

        Yes, Mark, I agree completely. My CW380 and CW9 from ’14 and ’15 have both been completely reliable since the first 100 rounds. That’s with cheap (sometimes flat-nosed, whatever Walmart has on hand) FMJ, my hand loads and Hornady Critical Defense ammo. Tom Gresham mentioned last year that an unnamed gun manufacturer told him it takes shooting five full magazine loads to break in a magazine so the break-in period may include both pistol and mags. Also, these are the most comfortable small pistols I have found to shoot and don’t dread at all the monthly “qualifying” I do with them. And great for home carry, too. Love ’em! But that’s just my experience.

    2. avatar Jean-Claude says:

      I have a first generation P9. It has been utterly reliable. Thousands of rounds through it, using primarily Wolf and Winchester White Box—and it always works.

      I just bought a CW380 which I haven’t fired yet, but I have utter faith in Kahr.

      1. avatar Binder says:

        Don’t be, my CW380 has been a little finiky, my K9 and CW9 have been 100% out of the box. I have had friends that have had issues with the Kahr 45s

  5. avatar FormerWaterWalker says:

    A mite startled by the “new” TTAG. That lasted maybe 10 seconds. I have no problem with a 380. I’ve had a Taurus that ran fine. Yes LOTS of problems reported with this tiny Kahr(like Taurus). Methinks much of it stems from folks not cleaning,shining or knowing that a tiny gun has much tighter tolerances than that big honker 45. The Glock 42 is huge compared to this or the Taurus,Kel-tec or LCP. And I got scolded for daring to suggest a roundnose boo-lit(Pow’rBall) made feeding a breeze-instead of a gaping hollowpoint that might hang up(with only slightly better ballistics)…well I hope this new format runs better guys.

    1. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

      Pow’r’B Ball is great.
      That or Polycase/Ruger ARX is my .380 round of choice.

    2. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

      We have a Browning 1911-380. You get better ballistics out of a 4.25″ barrel and it only weighs 17 oz.

    3. avatar Binder says:

      Cleaning it is crazy important, mine is only good for 100 rounds, then I can run into issues. But it is always reliable, if it is clean.

  6. avatar MadMedic says:

    Mine was terrible. Through 500 plus rounds I could never get through a 50 round box of any type of ammo, even the stuff it ‘liked’ without failure.

    To be fair, I bought one of the first production runs. They may have ironed out issues by now. I REALLY wanted to like it, it had all the right proportions, was very accurate, and handled well… I just couldn’t trust my life to it.

    I traded on a loss but financed a G26 that has been boringly reliable. I may have to revisit one if things have gotten better with them.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      Mine has been utterly reliable. Both of the owners of one of my LGSs have one, and one, a former CHP officer, carries his. (His brother is more into flavor of the day.) It may be time to try a new one.

    2. avatar Binder says:

      Kahr had the striker spring get too high on the early ones (or the recoil spring too low). I had them send me a new set of springs and I have been good after the swap. There are still some types it will not run reliably, but it is 100% with others. I can run into issues after 100 rounds without cleaning.

  7. avatar Mark N. says:

    There are a couple of Kahrs in 9 mm that also fit the pocket carry bill. The CM9 comes in at 14 oz minus mag, is 6+1, is 5.42″ long (3″ barrel) and 4.0″ high, weighing in at 14 oz. For a little more grip surface, the CW9 is 7+1, 5.9″ long (3.5″ barrel) and 4.5″ high, weighing in at 15.9 inches minus mag. 17.8 oz with. (MSRP is just $40 more than the .380, and usually can be found for $100 less.) I own the latter, and it fits in most of my pants pockets, although the pocket sleeve I currently have gets a bit sweaty when it is hot and humid. it too has been utterly reliable.

  8. avatar Mark N. says:

    Great and entertaining write up, Robert. I really enjoyed reading it.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “The CW380’s grip stippling is no more aggressive than a slightly peeved Schnauzer, but secures the firearm like a locked kennel.”

      RF has been taking writing style notes from Ralph… 🙂

  9. avatar Mike says:

    Nice coffee maker. Nice gun. Both very high-quality equipment.

  10. avatar George in NC says:

    In that size pistol I don’t see how you can do better than the Sig P/38. Mine is stone reliable, accurate, and actually fun to shoot- the only mouse gun I can say that about.

  11. avatar George in NC says:

    That should have read Sig P238

  12. avatar Pete Zaitcev says:

    You know what else can’t take Speer Gold Dot? Taurus M380, a revolver. Apparently the bullets of Gold Dot are oversized just by about 0.050 (at least according to my calipers). Not that it’s a great excuse for the tiny Kahr to have trouble… After all, Glock 42 fieeds Gold Dots just fine. Still, it’s a certain known property of that ammunition.

    1. avatar Binder says:

      The Glock 42 is a WAY bigger gun.

  13. avatar TM says:

    “Reliability * * * * *
    Others have reported issues, which may or may not be related to limp-wresting. Ours was failure free for 1000 rounds”

    Mine would be failure free for maybe 12 rounds. No limp-wristing either. I had others shoot it, smiths, range officers, LEO instructor and my brother-in-law(retired AF special forces). The problem happened for all of them. What I did not appreciate was the service from Kahr. My phone conversation made me feel like it was my fault and I had to send it in on my dime. Other companies have emailed me the shipping label for work to be done. I got it back with a change in spring and the ramp polished. Problems still occurred for myself and others. The gun would not shoot defensive ammo at all. The only reliable ammo was HPR ball. I bought extra magazines and it still occurred. I spent a good bit on ammo to see this is a flawed gun. This is a shame since I have a CM9 which is a great gun and still one of my daily carry pieces. Kahr has horrible customer service. For a gun I depend on I now buy from reliable companies such as Ruger or S&W.

    I replaced the CW380 with a Bodyguard and a LCP Custom. Both are reliable with NO problems.

  14. avatar MichaelinPA says:

    Junk gun, bad firing pin design, prone to breaking under normal use.

    Was also picky about a lot of ammo.

    Kahrs service was pretty bad, had to keep sending it in and they claimed to fix it but they never really did anything according to the work orders. Felt like I owned a Ferrari without the fun and all the headaches.

    I traded it in on a sig p238, never had a problem with that gun.

  15. avatar JF says:

    This was the first gun I purchased only a few months ago. I did not realize there was a 200 round break in until after I got home and read the manual. I had many failure to feed and failure to return to battery issues. I thought it was just the break in period. Around 400 rounds, I was having to adjust the slide or clear a jam for every shot. To Kahr’s credit, they did send me a shipping label and returned my gun within three weeks with multiple parts replaced. I have not had a chance to get back to the range yet to try it out, but I have been thinking a lot about taking it to a local gun shop, telling them everything that happened with the gun, and trading it in on something I can trust. If I trade, do I go up to a subcompact, or do I stay around the same size with revolver that may (or may not) be less prone to issues? I will probably try it out again first, because it is just so easy to carry. Then again, it was less dependable than a paperweight if I needed it. I just keep going back and forth. And, now I am rambling.

  16. avatar CHLChris says:

    I own a P380 black slide. It is my gun when I can’t carry a gun. It pretty much only lives in an Alabama pocket holster in my right-front pocket. In my experience, though, I can’t bury the front sight like every other gun I own. To make hits, I’ve got to line up the top of the rear sight with the bottom of the front sight. This was my experience with another P380, too.

  17. avatar Aaron says:

    I have a Kahr P380. After several hundred rounds it stopped going into battery. Replaced recoil spring. Didn’t fix it. Sent to factory. They “fixed” it. It still occassionally doesn’t go into battery. OTOH, my new generation Colt Mustang Pocketlite has about 1,000 rounds through it and almost never hicupped.

    YMMV.

  18. avatar eric says:

    Sold my P380 and bought a CT380. Love my Kahrs. P380 was just too small for me. It’s dinky, which is why I bought, of course, but, well, just a little too dinky when I was shooting it. CT fits my hand perfectly ( I’m medium/small hand sized). It’s my goldilocks sized gun, just right.

  19. avatar int19h says:

    >> The lock breech, modified Browning type recoil lug CW380 is one of the smallest and lightest .380’s money can buy.

    Huh?

    CW380 – 13.9 oz
    Taurus TCP – 10.2 oz
    Ruger LCP – 9.6 oz
    Kel-Tec P3AT – 8.3 oz

    Notice the outlier…

    1. avatar Binder says:

      the Kahr is 10.2 Oz unloaded. I noticed another “outlier” on the bell curve

  20. avatar TruthTellers says:

    Anyone know how the CW380’s trigger is when compared to a Ruger LCP Custom’s trigger?

  21. avatar Tym O'Byrne says:

    I used to be a caliber snob until i got my carry permit, packing two .45’s during my morning 2.5 mile walk wearing warm weather clothes wasnt going to happen. A nice chat with Tim Sundles at Buffalo Bore about what ammo to stuff in my LCP;s fixed my snob issues.

  22. avatar Icysurfer says:

    800 rounds. Figured out what ammo works. Diligent on the cleaning and lubing, leaving the CW open for days. Also, working with the magazines and new springs for em. Now, It is LOVE< The little Kahr carries So well. Love my Sticky Holster, in the pocket. It NEVER comes out with the gun. At least it never did in 400 real "strokes." XTP Hollowpoints are the way to go, makes it as lethal as a 9mm x 19…… (Luger). It is proven. I saw the test.

  23. avatar 00101101 says:

    My Cw380 is the worst gun I have ever owned. Its so bad I wont sell it ensuring no one else ends up with it.
    I felt like I won the lottery when a round would chamber, fire, and the next round would chamber.
    I talked to Kahr about the issues and was promptly and rudely informed the warranty paperwork included with the gun clearly states it is the owners responsibility to pay for shipping the gun back for warranty work so I decided to fix the gun myself. What I found is the machining is so crude Kahr makes the customer run several hundred rounds hoping the gun wears the surfaces smooth but some are machined so bad that simply wont happen (like mine). After careful examination I found the following needed polishing – breech face, chamber, back of extractor, underside of mag feed lips. I also noticed the extractor was square causing rounds to hang instead of smoothly sliding up a progressive ramp, so I took a file and rounded the extractor end. I also had weak recoil springs straight out of the box causing the pistol to not return to battery. I also reduced the hump in the mag follower and reprofiled the feed ramp allowing all ammunition types to feed. After doing all these things the gun ran like a gem with any ammunition. Now after about 400 rounds I’m having light primer strikes. I anticipate the firing pin to break any day now judging by all the reports online
    I would never trust this pistol for self defense. A Taurus TCP would be an upgrade.
    I really wanted to love the Kahr CW380. Its tiny, fits my hand well, striker fired low bore axis pocket pistol. When it works its accurate and soft shooting BUT its unreliable and the company knows they are unreliable and don’t want to fix them on their dime. There are to many reports similar to my experience to take a chance.
    Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

    1. avatar B. Giles says:

      My worst as well. I love my CW9; assumed the CW380 would be deficient only in caliber. Will not let my wife use it, even though it fits her. Lots to like about it when it actually cycles the next round, but that doesn’t happen. Have 250+ rounds through it, all sorts of ammo. FTF or failure to go completely into battery. Bought a second magazine and same problems. I will never sell this to anyone else either, just take the loss.

  24. avatar burns says:

    Get a PM9, I have been carrying 43 years, and using this for the past 7, it has never failed ti fire, or eject. I initially fired 6 different mags with 7 or 8 types of ammo, not one problem. I have heard that the 380 is tempermental, but the PM is not that much larger and it’s a 9mm. I have several guns, 4 glocks, but for all day carry, “even around the house and outside walking my dog. I trust this as much as any gun I own. But clean it, like one guy said, they don’t like dirt.

  25. avatar Mike Autrey says:

    I bought a used Kahr P380, thinking if I didn’t like the gun or had any of the issues I had been reading about, I could always sell it. I applied the “cardinal rule” of always loading the chamber by releasing the slide lock and have not had a single issue with the 200 rounds I have fired through it so far. The trigger is smooth and recoil light. It is fun and accurate to shoot and so light it conceal carries without any discomfort. It is my go anywhere CCW and despite my early skepticism I can confidently recommend it.

  26. avatar Marcus Lawson says:

    I’ve had mine for a couple of years. Very accurate. Never any reliability issues. Bought it new for under $270. Gold dots are not the best anmo for this weapon. Fiochi Extrema with Hornady XTP. Watch the reviews on you tube channel Shooting the Bull. Extensive testing to find the best ammo for pocket .380’s. Gold Dot was nowhere close. This is a great gun that can be bought for a great price.

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