When it comes to tiny handguns, it doesn’t get much tinier than the Kahr CW380. As the proud owner of a shiny new CHL, I’ve been exploring my carry options and I recently decided that I needed something suitable for pocket carry/deep concealment. After a healthy amount of research and a few trips to the rental counter at my local range, I finally settled on this budget-minded cousin of the P380. Set on a new Kahr, and being a firm believer that it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission, I found the best price online, put the pistola on the credit card, and began to ponder the best way to break the news of my purchase to my lovely wife. Two days (and one night on the couch) later I was the proud owner of a shiny new CW380, and the real question is: was a little domestic discord worth it? . . .
Like I mentioned, the CW380 is the budget-friendly version of Kahr’s P380. In my opinion, the CW retains all the qualities of its better-appointed sibling while making reasonable tradeoffs to lessen the hit on the pocketbook. Like the P380, the CW380 still has some of the best sights to be found on a pocket pistol, the slide locks back on the last round (unlike a lot of pocket .380s), and it comes with the great Kahr trigger.
Savings come from switching out the P380’s match-grade polygonal rifled barrel for one with standard rifling, a fixed polymer front sight (driftable steel on the P380), less machining on the slide, simpler roll markings, a metal-injection-molded slide stop lever, and the inclusion of only a single 6-round magazine (the P380 comes with three). You’ll have to make up your own mind about whether these features are worth the extra $230 the P380 commands, but for me it was a no-brainer — with the savings on the CW, I can get myself a lot of extra magazines, and if I ever run across some unjacketed .380 rounds I can shoot them to my heart’s content.
The CW380 is a good-looking little gun, if I do say so myself (and I do, because I just did…). While I know some can take it or leave it, I’ve always been a fan of the two-tone stainless and black color scheme. Sure, some night that shiny slide will probably catch the moonlight in a dark alley, giving up my location to the miscreants chasing me and leading to my untimely end, but I can at least take solace in the fact that my gun will look good in the crime scene photos.
The fit and finish are pretty good for a gun in the ~ $325 street price range. Fresh from the box, there were a few tags of polymer on the frame near the rails that were likely left over from the injection molding process, but I just left them and they seem to have worn off after a few hundred rounds. The slide does show a few tool marks on the inside, but nothing that bothers me too much, and everything seems to lock up nice and tight. In terms of overall looks, I don’t think you could ask for much more in a budget pistol. But looks ain’t everything.
The CW380 is small. It has a small barrel (2.58”). It has a small slide (4.96”). It’s skinny (.75”). So what should we assume we are going to get in the grip department…? You guessed it — small! I have pretty small hands, and there is just no chance that I will be getting more than a two-fingered grip on this pistol. I don’t say this as a negative because the main thing that drew me to the Kahr was the size, but if you have monster mitts you’re going to want to get your hands on one of these before buying. I wanted a pocket gun that I could carry no matter my wardrobe choices, including the t-shirt and thin shorts that the Texas Gulf Coast climate requires eight months out of the year. The CW380 fits the bill perfectly, disappearing into pretty much any pocket I have. Packed securely in a good pocket holster, the Kahr even conceals in the front pocket of a few pairs of tighter jeans, easily passing for a cell phone thanks to its pint-sized… size.
Inside the waistband, the CW380 absolutely vanishes. Using my Sticky Holster (the only holster I have for the CW at the moment) and wearing just a t-shirt, I could not find a single spot on my waistband where the Kahr would print. I can’t imagine a wardrobe situation where this little wonder couldn’t be concealed (Speedos included). However, while its small size is great for pocket carry and concealment, I’ve found that the same feature makes the CW380 somewhat difficult to draw from IWB. A combination of 1) short length which doesn’t allow the grip to ride much above the belt line and 2) the miniscule grip, make finding a quick and solid purchase on the pistol more than a little challenging for me. More practice or a different holster might help with this concern, but since I purchased this gun purely for pocket carry, I personally don’t see it as much of a downside.
I do have a grip gripe about the very aggressive stippling — due to its size, the CW380 is just a bit snappy. Recoil is not bad by any means, but when combined with the grip texture, comfort became an issue for me. After 300 rounds on my first range trip, my palm bore what I thought might be permanent imprints of the Kahr’s backstrap diamonds. Fortunately, I have since found that a rubberized Talon Grip does a nice job of taking the teeth out of the backstrap’s bite. I would definitely recommend investing in the aftermarket grip of your choice.
A note about takedown — don’t if you can avoid it (which you can’t, since this gun came from the factory dripping with oil and astonishingly dirty on the inside — you have to clean the CW380 prior to firing it). Ralph noted in his SIG P290 review that takedown required at least three hands, and that’s pretty much the same feeling I have about the CW380.
To breakdown the CW380, it’s necessary to pull the slide back about a quarter of an inch and line up the witness marks on the slide and the frame. Once the marks are lined up, just push on the protruding end of slide stop lever to get it started and then pull it right out. Seems easy enough, except for the fact that this pistol has an approximately 437,000 lb recoil spring (this pistol is not the choice for those with weak hands) and the slide stop is tighter than a clam with lockjaw. The only way to get the slide stop started is to hammer on the opposite side with something hard, but remember that you have to do this while somehow keeping the witness marks aligned with one hand. I ended up developing my own technique using a screwdriver, both hands, and my knees. Good luck.
Now to where the rubber meets the road: does the CW380 work? All this talk about good looks and great concealability doesn’t mean much if the Kahr can’t be counted on to run reliably. Here’s the breakdown after 500 rounds of assorted flat-nosed and round-nosed FMJ and 50 rounds of 90gr. Fiocchi Extrema (somebody’s been watching ShootingTheBull410 videos…):
Failure to Eject: 3
Failure to Feed: 6
Failure to Fire: 0
Failure to Lock Back on Last Round: 10+
I’ve read a few horror stories on forums about problems with the CW380, but all in all I’ve found mine to be pretty darn reliable. How can I say that? Well the malfunction numbers might seem to indicate a problem with the slide locking back, but I finally figured out that my grip was putting pressure on the slide stop lever and keeping it from engaging. After a grip adjustment, I have had zero issues with the slide locking back on the last round. Also, it should be noted that all of the malfunctions except two of the failures to feed occurred within the first 100 rounds, and the other two occurred toward the end of a range session when the gun was extremely dirty. Kahr recommends a 200 round break-in period for all of its firearms, so I tend not to weigh malfunctions during the break-in very heavily in my assessment of the CW380’s reliability. To me the break-in isn’t an issue, but if you think a firearm should be 100% reliable right out of the box then this Kahr might not be the one for you.
I think two failures to feed (in a very dirty gun) in 300+ rounds after the break-in period is acceptable for me, but you can decide if you’d be comfortable with that kind of performance. Plus, these failures were with flat-nose Winchester FMJ ammo — I haven’t had a single malfunction (whether the gun was clean or very dirty) with 50 rounds of the Fiocchi ammo I carry on a daily basis. I did follow all of the break-in recommendations that I found on the KahrTalk forum, and I always chamber the first round using the slide release (recommended by Kahr), so that might help to explain the pretty good performance I’ve experienced.
Accuracy is as good as I could expect out of a pistol with a 2.58” barrel. The Kahr trigger is long and smooth, with a bit of take-up, no stacking, and a nice clean break, and honestly was one of the main things that attracted me to the CW380 over the other pocket .380s I tried out before buying (LCP, 738 TCP, Bodyguard, GLOCK 42). Coming from a GLOCK 19 and S&W Shield, it took me a bit to get acquainted with the trigger pull. One thing I miss is the short reset of my other striker-fired pistols, as the Kahr trigger must be almost fully released to reset, but I am quickly getting used to the CW380’s trigger operation. Subjectively, I’d still call it a great trigger — just know that it’s different from any other striker fired pistol I’ve ever handled so YMMV.
I’m by no means a marksman, but I was able to get very respectable slow-fire three-shot groups at 5 yards (what I consider a reasonable distance for a pocket pistol) with a variety of different ammo. In retrospect, I should have fired more rounds and done a few groups at a greater distance just to see how the CW380 would perform, but cut me some slack — this is my first review. Other than the flyer with White Box (which was completely my fault), all of the ammo shot to point of aim. As you can see in the picture the PMC I fired seemed to be keyholing, and I’m not really sure why that would be, but I attribute it to the ammo since all the other types I ran through the Kahr looked to be flying fine. Rapid-fire, I could keep three shots inside the 8-ring pretty consistently at 5 yards after some practice.
If you’re in the market for a pocket .380, I’d say you would be hard pressed to do much better than the CW380. I haven’t fired them all, but I tested a lot of little .380s in my search, and the combination of concealability, accuracy, features, reliability, and price point make this micro Kahr a winner in my book. I know there are quite a few reports of reliability issues out there on the interweb forums, but all I can do is report my experiences with my pistol, and I certainly feel confident enough to carry it daily. Like I mentioned, I followed all of the break-in and lubrication recommendations that are out there for Kahrs and I would suggest that anyone thinking about becoming a Kahr guy or gal do the same. I feel like I’ve found a keeper, but my opinion isn’t the one that really matters — the CW380 is my wife’s new favorite pistol to shoot.
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”
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 * * * *
Here we go again — either you love polymer pistols or you hate them. I love them all, and I think the two-tone CW380 is pretty sharp. A few cosmetic downgrades from the P380 (and comparison with the dead sexy P238) keep this at four stars.
Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
They just don’t make them any more concealable than this. This thing disappears in almost any pocket and it’s basically impossible to make it print when carried IWB. The fact is, sometimes I just want to pop a pistol in my pocket and go, and the CW380 was made for just that.
Ergonomics (firing) * * *
I love the trigger. I love the real, quality sights. I hate the grip stippling, and I don’t like that it takes advanced yoga positions to take down. The recoil spring is…stout… but I suppose I’d rather have the benefit of reduced recoil over easier racking. Accuracy is great so I struggled with this one, but I can’t say the CW380 is better than average when my wife has difficulty racking the slide and it requires aftermarket grips for me to shoot comfortably. A note for lefties — the mag release cannot be swapped and the slide release is not ambidextrous. There is also no manual safety on the CW380.
Reliability * * * *
Not flawless, but really, really good. Everything that makes it into the chamber has fired on the first try, and the few failures to feed I’ve encountered can safely be attributed to the recommended break-in period or a filthy gun. I’m comfortable enough to carry it daily.
Customization * * *
Night sights and lasers are available, which is pretty much standard for all of the little pocket .380s. Not much sense putting on a tactical light that’s bigger than the gun. From what I understand, it should fit P380 holsters so there are a fair number of options out there.
Overall * * * *
This micro pistol retains almost all of the features of a full sized weapon but packs them into one of the smallest packages available. I tried quite a few small .380s in my search, and this little Kahr came out on top. A great trigger, real sights, reliability, solid features, and the ability to go unnoticed anywhere, anytime mean that if you’re looking for a great pocket pistol, the CW380 should be on your short list.