Thanks to an increasing number of states with shall-issue carry laws, carry guns continue to be the fastest-growing segment of our industry. Whether they’re marketed as subcompact, micro or mini, tiny pistols you can stuff in a pocket or hide under a T-shirt just fly off the shelves. Unfortunately, not all those pocket rockets are created equal.
Because they are so popular, a few makers anxious to capitalize on the popularity of subcompact carry guns have rushed offerings to market that were either ill-conceived or poorly made. Kimber, which of course is famous for its 1911s, bided its time–until early this year, when it announced the new Solo Carry, an innovative 9mm subcompact
Kimber’s engineers started with a blank slate and a mandate to come up with a subcompact 9mm pistol that was accurate, reliable, ergonomic and controllable.
The company further instructed its engineers to come up with a design that could be built to meet Kimber’s accuracy and reliability standards with a minimum of hand-fitting. Kimber knew the only way they make such a pistol at a truly affordable price was if all the parts were truly interchangeable.
Designing subcompact pistols chambered for high-pressure cartridges like the 9 mm is problematic. The short slide and high slide velocity give the pistol a very narrow window of time and space to extract, eject and feed the next round. Variances in spring rates and ammunition further complicate the matter. Kimber’s engineers were tasked coming up with a design immune to those subcompact foibles.
One of the tricks Kimber used to address those reliability issues was to design the gun around specific loads. Kimber is not the first company to do this, but it gives shooters a great deal of flexibility by designing it around popular carry loads in the 124- to 147-grain range.
Kimber wisely assumed the carry gun would be packed with top-quality self-defense loads such as Federal Hydra Shok, Hornady TAP or Remington Golden Saber. Designing it around those rounds was a smart way to meet its reliability and accuracy goals while ensuring the pistol was good-to-go for defensive use.
To meet Kimber’s goals for ergonomics and controllable recoil, the Solo Carry was designed with a very 1911-esque grip that keeps the axis of the bore low over the hand to minimize muzzle flip. It’s built on a diminutive frame machined from a solid block of 7075 T7 aluminum. The frame is devoid of sharp edges and finished in Kimber’s attractive, matte black, corrosion-resistant Kim Pro II finish. A "stainless steel" model is also offered, but don’t be confused by that: The frame is still aluminum alloy; it merely has a satin silver finish instead of matte black.
The Solo’s slide is machined from a solid chunk of stainless bar stock. It houses the pistol’s stainless steel, 2.7-inch barrel, which has a 1:10 twist rate and a witness hole that serves as a loaded chamber indicator.
The barrel has an unusual profile that appears to provide extra camming surfaces, which should enhance reliability. I couldn’t get Kimber’s engineers to talk much about it because they have several patents pending, but they did say the extra cam surfaces help the pistol "operate more reliably in a very small envelope."
Despite its Lilliputian size, the Solo has real sights. The sleek, snag-free sights are dovetailed into the front and rear of the slide. Brilliant white, three-dot inserts are standard.
The slide has deep grasping grooves at the rear and, as there is no hammer, the back of the slide is smooth. The ejection port is lowered and flared–fore and aft of the port–for extra reliability. A robust extractor is recessed into the slide beneath the rear ejection port relief.
When I examined the pistol, I noticed an unusual bump on the bottom of the breech. Once again, Kimber’s engineers wouldn’t talk about the protrusion because of pending patents, but it appears to be designed to give the slide every possible chance to pick up the next round in the magazine. That little bit of insurance could, quite literally, mean the difference between life and death.
The Solo Carry’s frame has a beveled magazine well that accommodates a flush-fitting, six-round magazine. An optional extended eight-rounder is also available. An ambidextrous magazine release is located exactly where Americans would expect a mag release to be, at the base of the trigger guard. But the ambidextrous release isn’t reversible; there are actually release buttons on both sides of the pistol.
Other controls include a slide lock/disassembly lever similar to that on a 1911 and an ambidextrous safety. The safety is in a location familiar to 1911 devotees, but the levers are much smaller than the extended shelves that many of us run on our full-size pistols.
The pistol’s thin, polymer grips are half smooth and half checkered. They are held on by two Allen screws so they can easily be replaced with Crimson Trace laser grips, which will be available for the Solo soon. A generous, nicely shaped trigger guard houses the pistol’s polished, stainless steel trigger.
The Solo Carry’s trigger controls a silky smooth ignition system. Kimber calls it a single-action trigger pull, but the pull is slightly longer and a bit heavier than the 1911 triggers to which I am accustomed. Factory specs call for a seven-pound pull weight, but mine averaged 71/2 pounds for five pulls.
The Solo’s trigger feels similar to other striker-fired designs, but the steel-on-steel design seems smoother to me than the triggers of most of the striker-fired, polymer guns I’ve tried. I am not crazy about its long reset, but that’s simply a training issue. Some may decry the fact that the Solo lacks repeat-strike capability, but trained shooters will default to the old tap-rack-bang routine anyway.
Save a few minor machining marks inside the slide, the fit and finish are first rate. The Solo Carry’s two-tone look is one of my favorites, and the classic Kimber carry bevel package gives the gun a sleek, sexy profile. But cosmetics don’t matter much when your life is on the line, and the innovative pistol has just as much substance as style.
I was on a very tight deadline and didn’t have much time to shoot the gun or order any of the ammunition recommended by Kimber. Fortunately, I had a supply of Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shoks on hand as well as some 147-grain Winchester Silvertips and 115-grain Hornady Critical Defense. Though the Winchester and Hornady loads are not specifically recommended by Kimber, they worked just fine.
Kimber specifies a break-in period of 24 rounds for the Solo. I used those 24 rounds to get used to the gun’s sights and trigger. Subcompacts occasionally have issues early on, so I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a few feeding issues in those first six magazines, but the little pistol just chugged along, easily putting every round inside a three-inch circle.
I figured out very quickly that the little Solo requires a firm hand. When I used a more relaxed, target shooting grip, muzzle flip was significant. But when I gripped the gun properly and leaned into it, the pistol’s low bore axis kept recoil and muzzle flip to a minimum during rapid-fire drills for faster follow-up shots.
The Solo’s trigger took a bit of getting used to. Its trigger pull was smooth and felt much lighter than my test gun’s measured 71/2 pounds, and as I mentioned, I wasn’t too fond of its long reset because I’m used to a 1911. But I had it down by the time I began my accuracy evaluation at the 150-round mark.
Because of its stubby barrel and short sight radius, I performed my accuracy testing from the 15-yard line. I fired five, five-shot groups with each of my three test loads over a sandbag rest. The tiny pistol performed very well, averaging under 11/2 inches with the Federal load and less than two inches with the Hornady load, but I never got over the feeling that I wasn’t doing the gun justice. I kept putting three shots together and then opening the group with the fou
rth or fifth round. I think I could have done better with a bit more time, but 11/2-inch accuracy is impressive for any carry gun.
With my accuracy work out of the way, I devoted the rest of my ammunition supply to running rapid-fire drills on steel and shooting some long-range targets. Thanks to its excellent sights, I had no trouble hitting football-sized targets at 50 yards. Accurate double-taps will require a bit more time behind the Solo’s trigger, but the little gun was very controllable during rapid-fire drills. The Kimber digested all 300 rounds without a hitch.
Its excellent ergonomics, brilliant sights and phenomenal trigger make the mini Kimber a joy to shoot, and a wonderful carry bevel package, short barrel and 17-ounce weight make it a joy to carry, too. In fact, I’ve been wearing mine around for the last week in a Kimber-marked Galco Stinger holster.
Carried high and tight on my belt in the Galco rig, the Solo disappears easily under a T-shirt or polo. Its light weight makes it easy to wear for extended periods, and its stubby barrel helps it clear leather quickly.
Kimber didn’t give its engineers an easy task when it asked them to come up with a powerful, subcompact pistol with excellent ergonomics, outstanding accuracy and unfailing reliability. Asking them to make that gun easy to manufacture at an affordable price made it even tougher. But my evaluation showed that Kimber’s engineers rose to the occasion with the Solo Carry–creating a terrific everyday carry rig you can count on.