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Review: Kimber EVO SP CS

Review: Kimber EVO SP CS

The new EVO SP (striker pistol) from Kimber is a departure from the single-action 1911 designs the company is known for, but the EVO SP is not Kimber’s first striker-fired 9mm pistol. That title goes to the Kimber Solo, introduced in 2011. The Solo was a darn good-looking gun but was finicky when it came to ammo—finicky enough that Kimber listed recommended ammo choices in the owner’s manual. Kimber never saw the success with the Solo it hoped for, and the Solo was discontinued in 2017.

Both the Solo and the EVO SP are metal-framed striker-fired 9mm pistols, but the EVO SP is not a rebranded Solo; it is a completely new pistol. Kimber took all the lessons it learned with the Solo and its successful line of Micro 9 pistols and put that knowledge into the new EVO SP.

Currently, Kimber is offering four versions of the EVO SP: the Two-Tone, CDP (Custom Defense Package), TLE (Tactical Law Enforcement) and CS (Custom Shop). I received one of the latter for testing.

The Two-Tone sports a blackened slide over a silver frame with black G10 grips and backstrap. The CDP has a two-tone finish but swaps out the black grips and backstrap of the base model for red/black ones designed to emulate hardwood and adds a carry melt treatment to all the sharp edges. The TLE is an all-black model with the same features as the CDP but with olive drab grips and a backstrap with more aggressive checkering. The Custom Shop model of the EVO SP is a fully maxed-out version of this pistol and has a distinctive look.

The relief cuts on the CS model shave about an ounce of weight. On the frame they’re merely for decoration, but on the slide they help grippiness, along with the Stiplex texturing.

Of the four, I like the looks of the CS version the best because of the slide texturing, but the EVO SP as a whole is an attractive, well-proportioned handgun no matter which model catches your eye. Aimed squarely at the concealed-carry crowd, the EVO SP is a subcompact 9mm fed by a single-stack magazine. The extended stainless steel magazine provided with the pistol has a seven-round capacity, and two magazines are provided with the gun.

The EVO SP’s barrel is 3.2 inches long, 0.01 inch longer than that of Kimber’s Micro 9. The muzzle of the barrel has a deep crown. Both the barrel and slide are stainless steel, and the frame is aluminum. The CS model sports lightening cuts on both the slide and frame that take about an ounce of weight off the pistol. With an empty magazine in place, my EVO SP CS weighed 20.4 ounces.

With a length of 6.1 inches and a height of 4.5 inches—with the provided extended mag in place—the EVO SP will fit into a pocket, but I’m guessing a lot of them will find their way into inside-the-waistband holsters. The pistol is 1.15 inches wide at the fattest part of the grips, but the frame itself is only 0.8 inch thick and the slide 0.9 inch thick, so the pistol is very flat.

The front sight of the EVO SP CS is a bright orange circle around a tritium insert. These Tritium Pro sights from TruGlo are some of the best sights on the market.

All models of the EVO SP sport TruGlo night sights, but the CS model has upgraded TruGlo Tritium Pro sights. The front sight has a highly visible orange ring around the tritium insert. The fully serrated rear sight has tritium inserts to either side of the U-shaped notch. The forward edge of the rear sight is a sharp ledge so you can rack the slide one-handed off a hard surface if necessary. These are excellent sights, the equal to any on the market, and better than those found on just about any factory pistols of this or any size.

On this CS model you’ll see minor lightening cuts on the sides and top of the slide and sides of the frame. On the frame they’re for looks, but the ones on the side of the slide do help increase grippiness.

The aforementioned Kimber Solo felt wonderful in the hand, with every sharp edge blended into a smooth curve, and both the front and back of the metal grip frame were as smooth as a politician. The problem came when you went to shoot the pistol and discovered that a pistol as smooth as a bar of wet soap tries to jump out of your hand with each shot like a freshly caught fish.

Kimber learned from this misstep, and in the EVO SP you’ll see a checkered backstrap insert and 30-lpi checkering on the frontstrap of every model except the CS, which features Stiplex texturing on the frame/backstrap, the slide and magazine release. Panels of Stiplex also take on the role normally handled by forward and rear slide serrations.

The EVO SP features an excellent trigger, and that alone makes it stand out from the crowd—although the distinctive checkering on the slide, slide-lock lever and mag release help, too.

The Stiplex pattern is composed of dimples. It looks cool, but I think I’d rather have the traditional checkering found on the frame of the other EVO models, which is a bit more aggressive. I will say I didn’t have a problem with the pistol moving in my hand while shooting. The other models feature 30-lpi checkering on the magazine and slide release.


As I mentioned, the slide is stainless steel, with a black FNC finish. FNC is ferritic nitrocarburizing, also known by the trade names of Tenifer and Melonite. The frame has been treated with Kimber’s KimPro charcoal gray finish.

The magazine release of the EVO SP is reversible. It is teardrop-shaped and does not protrude from the frame any farther than the grip panels, so it cannot be depressed accidentally.

The trigger bow is steel and smooth. You’ll see a pivoting safety lever in the center of the trigger, and inside the slide there is a striker drop safety. There is also a tiny notch cut into the top of the barrel hood to serve as a loaded chamber indicator. Also a “cocked striker indicator,” otherwise known as the rear of the striker, protrudes slightly from the rear of the slide when it is cocked.

The grips and backstrap of all EVO SP models are G10 laminate. On the CS model they are black and gray, with Stiplex texturing on the lower two-thirds of the grip panel and all but the top curve of the backstrap.

Interestingly, you’ll note there are no grip panel screws visible on the EVO SP. The only screw you’ll find is a hex screw inset at the bottom of the frame between the magazine well and the backstrap. This is the backstrap setscrew.

With the EVO SP, the backstrap locks the grip panels to the frame, and the backstrap is held in place by the hex-head setscrew found on the bottom of the frame between the backstrap and the helpfully beveled magazine well.

Three versions of the EVO come with just one backstrap/grip panel set, but Kimber does plan to sell various sizes and colors of EVO grips to allow people to customize.

Unscrew the setscrew about a quarter-inch, slide the backstrap down about a half-inch, and then pull the backstrap off the rear of the pistol by the bottom. At this point the grip panels can be removed from the frame by pulling them out from the frame at the rear.

You don’t need to remove the grips or backstrap to clean the pistol, so why take them off? Well, the base Two-Tone model EVO SP will be sold with three grip and backstrap sizes of varying widths. The TLE, CDP and CS versions of the EVO SP come with just one specifically chosen set of grips and backstrap, but Kimber does plan to sell various sizes and colors of EVO grips for you to customize your gun. With the EVO SP CS you get medium grips with a large backstrap.

Factory specs call for a trigger pull between six and seven pounds. Before I even showed up to claim the pistol at my FFL, I had the folks there telling me how awesome the trigger pull on this pistol was. They weren’t lying. There was little takeup on the trigger, and a near-1911-level crisp break at 5.8 pounds. I think the feel of this striker-fired gun is so crisp because all the trigger parts are metal and don’t have the give you find with polymer pieces.

The trigger guard is nicely undercut. With the extension on the magazine, I can get my whole hand on the gun. A flush magazine would leave my pinkie hanging out in the breeze, but the gun would be more than half an inch shorter and would conceal better. There are always compromises with carry guns.

Instead of including two extended magazines with the pistol, Kimber should provide one flush and one extended magazine. But there are two reasons why it doesn’t. One, extended magazines are vastly more popular. Two, by not providing a flush-fit magazine the gun’s capacity will always be listed as seven and not six—an important consideration in this competitive marketplace, where shooters always take magazine capacity into account.

The recoil spring on the EVO SP is strong. So strong that disassembly—holding the slide partially open while pushing out the slide stop—took some doing.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, Kimber’s previous Solo had ammo restrictions issued from the factory to ensure reliability. The EVO SP has no such restrictions. I spoke with Winslow Potter, Kimber’s director of product marketing, and he told me the EVO SP has been tested with more than 25 different ammunition brands, loads, bullet types and weights to ensure complete reliability and functionality.

On my first trip to the range, I put 175 rounds through the pistol, a wide range of ammo to test its reliability. In addition to the loads listed on the accompanying chart, I also fired Black Hills 115-grain full metal jacket, SIG 124-grain FMJ, SIG 147-grain JHP, Winchester 147-grain “Defend” JHP, Hornady American Gunner 124-grain XTP JHP and Remington Golden Saber Black Belt 124-grain JHP +P.

I had only one malfunction, a nose-up feeding jam from the last round in a magazine with the American Gunner ammo, and I’m not sure that wasn’t shooter induced. On three occasions the slide didn’t lock back on an empty magazine, but I know that was shooter induced: My right thumb touches the tip of the slide stop under recoil. Those are the only problems I had throughout the entire testing.

After sending hundreds of rounds downrange through a small gun, I wasn’t in pain from shooting. The Kimber really is a lot of fun to shoot. The only pain I felt was in my thumb from loading the magazines over and over, because the springs in the Kimber’s magazines are strong.

The softest-recoiling load of the group was the Federal 150-grain HST, which is specifically tailored for short-barreled carry guns. Out of the Kimber it does about 830 fps, and gel tests out of short-barreled guns like the Kimber show this round provides more than 15 inches of penetration.

The market is now busy with quality, excellent subcompact 9mms. When I wrote up the SIG P365, I said I believed it was the subcompact 9mm against which all others should now be judged, and I stand by that statement. So let’s compare them.

Notes: Accuracy results are the averages of four five-shot groups at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. Velocities are averages of 10 shots measured with an Oehler Model 35P 12 feet from the muzzle. Notes: JHP, jacketed hollowpoint

The Kimber EVO SP is almost exactly the same size as the SIG P365, and during testing I fired them side by side and found they both had the same felt recoil. The Kimber has a more natural grip angle, at least for me. Also, it looks better, regardless of the model, and has slightly better sights and trigger pull.

Because of its slightly lower bore and heavier weight, the Kimber has a bit less muzzle flip than the SIG. The SIG has a higher magazine capacity and a substantially lower price. The base model Two-Tone EVO SP has a suggested retail price of $856. This Custom Shop model runs a bit more: $1,047.

For years consumers have been begging gun companies to make a gun that combines the best features of the 1911 and striker-fired semiautos: near-1911-quality trigger pull and 1911 looks, controls and ergonomics. I don’t know if it was the company’s intention, but Kimber seems to have finally accomplished this task with the EVO SP, at least in subcompact form. I would love to see a midsize version of this design with a four-inch barrel and a double-column magazine.

Of all the current subcompact 9mm pistols on the market—including the SIG P365, S&W Shield and Glock 43—the Kimber EVO SP to my hands feels the best and most ergonomic/natural. In addition, while no two people have the same shaped hands, just like no two people have the same tastes, of all the competing designs I think the Kimber is the best-looking striker-fired subcompact 9mm on the market. Of course, it’s also the most expensive—but in this case you get what you’re paying for.

TYPE: striker-fired semiauto
BARREL: 3.2 in.
OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 6.1/4.5/1.2 in.
WEIGHT: 20.4 oz.
CONSTRUCTION: stainless steel slide, aluminum frame
TRIGGER: 5.8 lb. pull (measured)
SIGHTS: TruGlo Tritium Pro
SAFETY: trigger, internal drop safety
PRICE: $1,047

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