Kimber Solo Carry 9x19mm Subcompact Pistol
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Kimber is a U.S. firearms manufacturer. Originally located in Oregon, where they achieved fame with their elegant, bolt action .22 rifles, the Company is now located in Yonkers, New York and is perhaps best known for their 1911 style pistols and ultra light big game rifles. Whether rimfire rifle, centerfire rifle or pistol, Kimber products are known for their high quality.
The Solo is a single stack, 6+1 shot, short recoil operated, subcompact pistol chambered for the 9x19mm (9mm Luger) cartridge. It offers superior power in a package similar in size and weight to many .380 or .32 ACP pocket pistols. The Solo is available with a lightweight aluminum frame or a heavier stainless steel frame. Standard sights are Patridge, three dot, low combat type, but Tritium night sights and a laser sight are optional. Included with the pistol, in addition to the usual Instruction Manual, literature and gun lock, is a zippered nylon carrying case.
We requested the standard, aluminum framed version for this review. This comes with a matte silver stainless steel slide and trigger and a black frame. The Kimber's frame is finished with a smooth, semi-gloss "KimPro" finish, a nice change from the dull black finishes so common today. The Solo's contours are rounded, which makes it more attractive than the more squared-off Glock 26 and Kahr PM9 subcompact 9mm pistols to which it might be compared. It is a handsome little pistol with the best finish in the class.
This is a small pistol by any standard and especially for the powerful 9x19mm cartridge. The Solo is nearly identical in size to the Kahr PM9 and considerably thinner than the Glock 26 with its double stack magazine. To the best of our knowledge, the Kimber and the Kahr are the smallest 9x19mm pistols on the market at the time of this review. (See the PM9 / Solo comparison article on the Handgun Information - Reviews index page.) Here are the specifications for our test pistol.
Kimber Solo Carry Specifications
Kimber considers the Solo a single action pistol, although there is no hammer to manually cock and it has a long trigger stroke. Most pistols with a similar trigger action, most notably the Austrian Glock and the U.S. made Kahr, are called "double action only." Internally, the Solo's design is completely different from the Glock and Kahr actions, as the rearward motion of the trigger plays no part in cocking the striker. This makes the Solo a single action pistol.
The Solo provides a consistent, long, smooth trigger pull for every shot. The trigger pull measured about 6.5 pounds per our RCBS gauge. The pivoted trigger is wide and smooth. It has more curve than we prefer. This trigger pull is such that the gun is not likely to be fired accidentally. The long, heavy trigger pull and a striker block that is deactivated during the trigger stroke are the primary safety features of the Solo pistol.
Like a double action revolver, the shooter need only refrain from pulling the trigger to keep the Solo safe to carry, particularly in a fanny pack or holster that covers the trigger. Unlike "safe action" type pistols, the Kimber also has a manual thumb safety. The Solo's ambidextrous manual safety (up for "safe," down for "fire") blocks the sear to prevent release of the striker.
Another safety feature is a port drilled in the top rear of the chamber through which the edge of the rim of a chambered cartridge can be seen, at least in good light. This serves as a loaded chamber indicator, although it is worthless in dim light.
Like most pistols with metal frames, the Solo's black plastic grip panels are attached by two screws and are removable. The grip angle is modeled on the 1911 pistol. The grip is short, only providing room for the middle and ring fingers of the shooting hand. The little finger curls below the grip. This did not bother Chuck, but it did bother Jim Fleck, our Chief Technical Advisor. Jenn, our Custodial Engineer and a woman with average size hands, found the Solo's grip comfortable.
With a magazine in place, the Solo measured 3.760" in height from the bottom of the grip to the top of the slide, per our digital caliber. The slide measured 0.920" thick just forward of the chamber. On our digital scale, the little Kimber weighed 17 ounces, exactly as claimed.
The Solo has a 2.7" barrel. In reality, because autoloading pistol barrels are measured including the chamber, the effective barrel length is about an inch shorter. This isn't much barrel for the high pressure (35,000 psi) 9x19mm cartridge.
The slide stays open after the last shot. With a very short barrel, the Solo needs a very powerful slide return spring. The rear of the slide has deep gripping serrations to increase traction, but we found it difficult to manually retract the slide and lock it open, especially using a "slingshot" grip on the rear of the slide. (The "overhand" method of slide retraction allows better leverage and works better.) Many women, the infirm or the very elderly may find it impossible to operate the Solo's slide. This is partly due to the Kimber's rounded slide contour and small slide catch. When the slide is locked back, it takes a lot of pressure on the Kimber's little release lever to drop the slide. We found it easier to pull back on the slide to release the slide lock. The Kimber's super strong spring also makes it difficult to hold the slide back to remove the slide stop to field strip the pistol for cleaning. The Solo, in fact, requires more thought and strength to field strip for cleaning and reassemble than almost any other modern autoloader we have encountered.
When reassembling the Solo after field stripping, you must be sure the notch in the slide stop engages the little "U" shaped wire that spring loads the slide stop to keep it down when firing. If you assemble the Solo and the slide stop over-rides this spring, the gun will lock its slide open after every shot, rendering it a magazine fed single shot pistol. Be warned, this happened to us.
G&S Online contributing writer David Tong ran into a problem with the trigger bar coming loose from its position against the inside of the right side of the magazine well while dry firing the Solo with the magazine removed. When he later attempted to field strip the Solo, he had to remove the left grip to push the bar back into place before the slide would come off.
The ambidextrous magazine release is at the rear of the trigger guard and the stainless steel magazine drops free when the button is depressed. The Kimber's magazine release is a steel part and wear should not be a problem. Although right handed, Guns and Shooting Online Editor Gordon Landers found the ambidextrous magazine release convenient, using his right index (trigger) finger to press the button. Our other shooters (both right handed) used their right thumb.
The Patridge type front and rear sights are mounted in dovetails that allow drift adjustment for windage. They are the familiar three dot type. Kimber gave the Solo bold, yet low profile, sights with a relatively wide rear notch that facilitates fast sight alignment. These are much better than the sights on most pocket pistols.
The Instruction Manual that comes with the Solo says to clean and lubricate the pistol before firing. We generally disregard this advice without any problem, but found that in the case of the Solo it was indeed necessary. The Instruction Manual also says to fire 24 rounds to break-in the pistol. This doesn't seem like enough to us and, in fact, proved insufficient.
Kimber recommends using only premium factory loads with 124-147 grain bullets. They warn that loads using lighter bullets and inexpensive "practice" loads may compromise reliability. Kimber specifically recommends Federal Premium Hydra-Shok JHP, Remington Golden Saber JHP and Hornady TAP JHP factory loads.
We did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle and pistol range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility provides covered shooting benches with target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. We normally test fire pistols for accuracy at 25 yards using a Pistol Perch or other solid rest and we used Hoppe's bull's eye targets. Guns and Shooting staff members Chuck Hawks, Jim Fleck and Gordon Landers were on hand for the shooting chores.
The Solo Instruction Manual recommends Premium 124-147 grain factory loaded ammunition for use in the Solo. While the bullet weight is certainly important, what many call “practice ammo” has inconsistent and/or lower pressure. These factors change the cycle time of the slide, which is carefully timed to work with the kind of ammo most carry for personal defense, degrading reliability.
Unfortunately, we normally shoot 115 grain factory loads in our 9x19mm pistols. Thus, our supply of 124 grain and heavier ammo is severely limited. We were forced by necessity to attempt to include Remington/UMC 115 grain ball, Winchester/USA 115 grain JHP and Winchester/USA 115 grain ball, our usual 9x19mm ammunition, in this review. Sadly, we found the Instruction Manual to be correct. The 115 grain loads sprayed all over the target (and sometimes off the target) at 25 yards and their reliability was unacceptable.
We had some premium DRT 124 grain frangible cup point ammo on hand, left over from a previous review. This we used successfully in the Solo.
A call to our friends at Big Green produced some Remington/UMC 124 grain MC, the only 9mm factory load heavier than 115 grains they had in their warehouse. Their 124 and 147 grain Premier loads were out of stock at the time of this review.
The nice folks at Winchester Ammunition kindly supplied some premium Supreme Elite 147 grain JHP Personal Protection factory loads, along with USA (white box) 124 grain FMJ and USA 147 grain JHP ammo for this review. Unfortunately, the little Kimber steadfastly refused to digest the 147 grain Win./USA load, jamming on every shot. The 124 FMJ white box load fared little better, jamming on average on three out of five shots. Regretfully, we were unable to include these loads in out testing. (Our Glock 19 and Browning P35 pistols function perfectly with these loads!)
Hornady came through with a box of Custom 124 grain XTP factory loads for this review. We appreciate the efforts of the good people at the American ammunition manufacturers to assist us with this, and many other, reviews. Without ammunition there would be no gun reviews.
Here are the shooting results with the factory loads the little Kimber could digest.
As you can see, we found the Kimber to be a rather accurate sub-compact pistol with ammunition it prefers, although--like other subcompact pistols--it is hard to shoot accurately. This accounts for the wide range between the smallest and largest groups we recorded. Its best bench rest groups were on a par with some service size pistols, although sub-compact pistols are seldom tested at 25 yards. (Most publications shoot some rapid fire double taps at seven yards and call it good.)
Unfortunately, as predicted due to our inability to get the recommended ammo for this review, its reliability was not 100%. This illustrates a potential problem with an ammunition specific gun design in times of ammo shortages, which was the situation at the time of this review.
Even after the required break-in, we experienced a jam due to a failure to eject with the Remington/UMC 124 grain load and constant failures with the Winchester/USA white box loads that eliminated them from our testing. We suspect that a break-in of, say, 200 rounds would have improved the Kimber Solo's reliability. Unfortunately, we did not have enough premium ammunition to find out for sure. On the positive side, we can report that the Solo Carry functioned properly during our testing with the DRT 124 grain, Hornady Custom 124 grain and Winchester Supreme Elite 147 grain ammunition, the three premium brands we had available for testing.
There is considerable muzzle blast from the Solo's short barrel and the recoil is noticeably sharp, although not painful. The Solo's sharply curved trigger bothered Gordon and caused Jim considerable discomfort, biting his finger with every shot. Jim presses the trigger with the pad of his index finger. Chuck, who pressed the trigger with the first joint of this index finger, had no problem with the shape of the trigger, although he prefers less curve.
We recommend loading the magazine, inserting it in the pistol with the slide locked back and letting the slide run forward to chamber the top cartridge. This somewhat reduces the tension on the magazine spring, a good thing. In the Solo's case, an additional benefit is that you don't have to drop the mag, top it off (getting the sixth cartridge in isn't fun) and push from the bottom with your thumb to seat it. Not worth the effort to get 6+1 shots, instead of six. We feel that, in a social crisis, if you can't do it in six, you probably can't do it at all.
We'd recommend the Kimber Solo only to experienced shooters. Not only is it challenging to shoot accurately, due to its long trigger stroke, short sight radius, small butt and light weight, but also because every manipulation (besides pulling the trigger and sliding the safety) is a high effort affair. This is the sort of pistol you carry a lot and shoot a little. Of course, one must shoot often enough to keep in practice, but we would not call the 9mm Kimber Solo Carry a fun gun for recreational shooting. It is, however, chambered for a powerful cartridge and easy to keep available. The first rule of gun fighting is always to bring a gun.
Copyright 2012 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.