Kimber is a company best known for its 1911-format pistols, both large and small. So when I heard they were dipping their toe [back] into the striker-fired sub-compact world, I admit to having some reservations. After all, the Kimber Solo didn’t exactly earn a good reputation, going from shiny new object of affection to discredited, unreliable shame faster than Michael Avenatti.
Thankfully, I don’t see Kimber’s new EVO SP series suffering that same fate . . .
Visually, the EVO SP (Striker Pistol) has obvious similarities to the much-maligned Solo, but pulls off a more modern, more aggressive, more serious sort of a look. It’s available in four flavors — the TLE reviewed here, the Two Tone, the CDP, and the Custom Shop — offering different frame and grip colors and, in the case of the Custom Shop, slide serration textures and sights.
Kimber states that the CDP (Custom Defense Package) has added carry melt treatment, but I can’t identify any difference of that sort based on photos of it and the other models.
Which is definitely not to say that the EVO SP needs more “carry melt” and doesn’t have it. The thing is more snag-free than most pistols, with nary an edge or a corner in sight. Excepting the sights. It even has what you would call a bobtail in the 1911 world.
Though the bobtail design is wonderful for reducing printing right where a sharp corner tends to print the most, this sparked a question. Kimber advertises the EVO SP line as having a “7-round extended magazine” (two with each gun). And, no doubt, the tall baseplate qualifies this magazine as “extended.” But where’s the flush-fitting one?
Two extended mags and no flush-fit mag(s) is a bit strange for a sub-compact carry gun. It isn’t a matter of included-in-the-box versus available-separately, either, as the accessories store lists the extended 7-round magazine as the only choice. Shrug.
It’s the right choice ergonomically, though, that’s for sure. The EVO SP feels great in the hand with some 1911-like familiarity and room for all three fingers.
Seen in the two photos above, the attractive G10 grip panels offer excellent purchase with checkering plus angled serrations designed to prevent the pistol from rotating in the shooter’s grip. The Two Tone (polymer panels) and CDP (G10 panels) models rock a standard checkering pattern while the Custom Shop has “Stiplex” or what VZ Grips calls their Recon or Ripper texture.
30 lpi checkering adorns much of the front strap. It’s crisp and clean and I found it extremely helpful in fully controlling this little pistol.
The EVO SP’s magazine release is also checkered for positive grip. Its size and placement are perfect and it functioned easily, dropping every magazine free. Despite the gun’s small size, the mag release was never depressed by accident; its height is spot-on.
Likewise, the slide stop was easy to manipulate whether catching or releasing. It was never in the way of my thumbs and the EVO SP locked back for me every single time she ran empty.
Trigger pull is good, at least for the sub-compact carry pistol genre. My sample breaks at about 6.25 pounds after some smooth travel — about 3/16″ — to finish cocking the striker spring.
Oddly enough my only real complaint is that I find the trigger spring to be too soft. It feels like the trigger barely wants to return forward; like it may just decide not to follow my finger as I release it. This is one of those things that gives me the willies even if it never leads to any sort of issue. And, as a distant second concern, if I’m going for speed I can shoot a bit faster with a little more return help from the trigger spring.
TRUGLO Tritium PRO sights adorn the EVO SP front and rear. They make for a perfect sight picture balance between fast and precise, and I very much like the more-or-less blacked-out rear with the brighter, more eye-catching front sight with its white outline.
I’d like the tritium night sights even more if the entire rear sight were serrated instead of only the bottom third or so. Not exactly bothersome but it’s a weird choice. In fact, if the entire rear face of the EVO SP from the back of the beavertail up through the rear sight were serrated, I’d be quite pleased. It’s like the striker plate (note the visual and tactile striker indicator, by the way) started down the road to serrationville, the rear sight said he’d join but then got distracted by a squirrel, and the rear of the slide and frame never got the invite.
I got the invite, though, and I hit the range. The Range (at Austin), that is, with 400 rounds of mixed Armscor 115 grain and 147 grain FMJs and a few boxes of mixed hollow point self-defense ammo from which to shoot another 100 rounds.
The grip texture and feel of the EVO SP is fantastic. Comfortable, yet impossible for the pistol to slip in my grip. It begged to be held firmly and I was rewarded with a rock-solid purchase like from skateboard grip tape, but without the chafing.
However, it should be mentioned that this little pistol packs a kick. Despite the aluminum frame and 19 oz. dry weight, the EVO SP has some punch and wants to flip that muzzle up. With my manly, muscular arms and wrists and that great grip texture I was able to keep this thing flat and on target, but darn if my support hand didn’t slide and rotate while shooting.
I just couldn’t seem to keep my unholy left hand in place. The small EVO SP doesn’t exactly offer the real estate needed to touch support hand to gun, and its punchy recoil caused my hand to move around.
And it wasn’t just me. Watching Liberte Austin shoot the Kimber EVO SP TLE back-to-back with her GLOCK 43 and my SIG P365, the difference was obvious.
The little Kimber not only flipped much harder, but twisted. I could see it going up and fighting hard to turn left on her; something the other guns didn’t do. She reset her left hand after nearly every shot. It’s a snappy bugger.
It also has a very stiff recoil spring. Manipulating the EVO SP’s slide is noticeably more difficult than with similarly-sized guns such as the aforementioned Teutonic wünder 9s.
While that was, in these dry and favorable conditions, a complete non-issue for me on the range, it made takedown difficult. The Kimber’s slide must be pulled back until the takedown notch aligns with the slide stop, much like a 1911. But, unlike a 1911, there’s no way to disable the spring tension first and the spring tension feels much higher. Plus the slide and frame are much smaller. So it was a trick trying to hold the slide back about 3/4 of the way to the rear with one hand while attempting to pop out the slide stop with the other.
But it happened, and the EVO SP looked much like what you’d expect on the inside. Though the little locking lug piece at the rear of the recoil spring is unique these days.
Overall quality of the Kimber is very high. Fit, finish, and machining were all great. Definitely on-point for the price. So I put it back together, shot another box of ammo, and then did some accuracy testing . . .
Slow fire standing off-hand, 7 yards, accuracy was solid. That’s five shots in the blue circle above followed by one shot aimed at the “YES” on The Range’s “Do You Need Training?” target. The Kimber clearly shoots straight.
Speeding things up I dumped a few magazines rapid-fire into the center circle and the top circle, also at 7 yards. At the end of each mag dump my left hand had rotated and migrated a bit, but the shots were solidly on-target. I then finished things up with a 5-shot group fired at the “R” in RANGE at top left.
With 500 total rounds down the pipe the Kimber never had a hiccup. It fed, fired, and ejected everything thrown at it by three people, including multiple brands and weights of hollow points.
The EVO SP is a solid, well-built, high-quality, reliable little CCW piece. It ain’t cheap, but the quality is fully apparent in its look and feel. It’s an accurate sub-compact with a good trigger and great sights. Snappy, though.
Which brings me to one final comparison. Since I was carrying my P365 while testing out the Kimber . . .
The diminutive SIG is shorter in height (Kimber’s published EVO SP height stat does not include an inserted magazine, which seems somewhat disingenuous), shorter in length by 0.3 inches, and nearly 11 percent lighter.
It’s also just a hair — 0.06 inches — skinnier.
The real kicker, though, is that the SIG holds 10+1 with its flush magazine and 12+1 with its extended mag against the Kimber’s 7+1 rounds extended. And the American-made German SIG carries an MSRP of $599 to the also American-made New Yorker Kimber’s $925.
I know, I know, apples to oranges here, considering the Kimber has an aluminum frame and is undoubtedly more expensive to manufacture. It certainly, unquestionably looks and feels nicer. But for those of you who believe metal construction means softer shooting, think again. All three shooters who ran them both said the SIG provided the best shooting experience — flatter, softer, easier to shoot more accurately, better trigger, etc.
At the end of the day, the Kimber EVO SP is a very nice gun and it does exactly what a gun should do. It even looks good doing it.
But in this writer’s opinion it trails behind modern technology that’s providing us with smaller, lighter, better-shooting concealed carry pistols with higher magazine capacity. All at a lower price. It’s hard to argue that the Kimber is the ideal choice.
Specifications: Kimber EVO SP (TLE)
Capacity: 7+1 rounds (2 magazines included)
Slide: Stainless steel, FNC (ferritic nitrocarburizing) black
Frame: Aluminum finished KimPro black
Grips: Green/Black G10 with TLE slant-checkered pattern
Weight: 19 ounces (Kimber says this includes an empty mag, but my kitchen scale nailed 19 oz on the nose without a mag and 20.875 oz with)
Length: 6.1 inches
Height: 4.03 inches without a magazine inserted, approx 4.62 inches with a magazine.
Barrel Length: 3.16 inches
Sights: TRUGLO Tritium PRO
MSRP: $925 (TLE as-tested. EVO SPs range from $856 to $1,047)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Reliability * * * * *
Unlike the Solo, the EVO SP didn’t much care what we fed it. It ate it all and spat it out with aplomb.
Accuracy * * * *
Solid for a sub-compact semi-auto 9mm pistol. Good sights, good trigger, good quality.
Ergonomics * * * *
The EVO SP TLE felt great in my hands. The front strap checkering and G10 grip texture was spot-in everywhere and the controls are in the right places. The slide is really heavy to rack, though, and it’s hard to hold in place for disassembly. Not all users would find this gun easy to manipulate or field strip.
Customize This * *
As far as I can tell, different grip panels, back strap panels, and holsters are the extent of the customizing options available for the EVO SP line.
On The Range * * *
I enjoyed shooting the EVO SP thanks to ergonomics that worked well for me and grip texture that kept it firmly stuck in my mitt. I like the feel of the aluminum frame. The recoil was snappy, though, and while not an obvious problem for me, it was more apparent for other shooters who found it a turnoff compared to other pistols in the same size category.
Overall * * *
Kimber’s EVO SP is a hell of a high-quality micro concealed carry gun and it’s reliable and accurate to boot. But it’s behind the times in some ways and a bit of a handful.