From the early days of polymer-frame pistols right up to today, the debate over plastic versus metal rolls on. Actually, there should be no debate since both style of pistols function as intended by their manufactures. It all comes down to personal preference and needed performance.
That said, there’s just something many of us appreciate in a metal-frame handgun. That solid feel in the palm, the crisp lines of machined metal, and the added heft when handling instills a level of confidence that is important in a defensive firearm.
Many fans of all-metal pistols, though, have yielded to the polymer-frame for their carry concealed needs. Polymer dominates the EDC segment today due to its light weight, generally more economical price, and the fact that nearly all semi-auto carry models have shed the hammer in favor of the striker-fired ignition system. Hammer versus striker-fired is yet another debate among gun enthusiasts and dedicated carry practitioners that has neither a right nor a wrong answer. The truth is, an entire generation of handgunners have now imprinted on striker-fired polymer pistols for their everyday carry and wouldn’t consider anything else.
Well, Kimber is out to change some minds about that.
Early this year, Kimber—a name that instantly recalls high-speed 1911 pistols—introduced a compact carry model that blends the precision-machined feel and no-doubt-durability of a metal-frame handgun with the sleek functionality of a striker-fired system. Called the EVO SP (the “SP” stands for Striker Pistol), this new handgun may well start a fresh movement in the everyday carry segment for those who appreciate the fine qualities of a metal-frame handgun but would never consider using a hammer system in a compact platform.
Kimber released the EVO SP in four distinct models: the TLE, CDP, Two-Tone, and Custom Shop. We opted for the Custom Shop model for our EVO SP test-drive.
Right away, the EVO SP caught our attention with its stylish KimPro II Charcoal Gray finish on the frame, FNC Black stainless-steel slide treatment, and two-toned black/gray G10 grip panels. Of course, good appearances are always welcome, but it was the first “grip grab” that really set the mood for us.
To start, the G10 grip panels and backstrap practically stuck to our hands. A solid grip is key to good pistol work, of course, and it is particularly essential in a compact handgun where hand acreage is at a premium. The grips and backstrap come with what Kimber calls a “Stiplex-inspired” pattern. This a series of stepped and machined circular dimples that create four points around each recess. The backstrap, especially, offers an aggressive purchase in the palm of your hand that simply refuses to let the pistol budge once you achieve a shooting grip.
The next thing we noticed was the overall quality feel of the pistol. The combination of all-metal construction and slim, single-stack design finds that elusive balance of compact size and confident weight that’s glaringly absent in conventional compact polymer handguns.
Another can’t-miss characteristic of the EVO SP is its smooth profile. Some folks like to call it “melt” but what it means is the elimination of all sharp or acute corners to facilitate shooter comfort and, most importantly, prevent snagging on clothing. Here, the EVO SP excels. Our Custom Shop variant doesn’t have a harsh line anywhere except for the rear corner of the front sight and the edge of the slide stop. Each angle and edge is baby-butt smooth, and this velvet touch takes away nothing from the gun’s performance. In fact, it makes us wonder just why ANY pistol intended for concealed carry would continue to be manufactured with sharp edges.
As mentioned, the EVO SP is a single-stack compact pistol with a seven-round magazine. That seventh round comes courtesy of what Kimber bills as an extended magazine. We’re not sure why they call it “extended” since both magazines the gun ships with include the polymer mag base that’s just long enough to offer purchase for a third finger. Whatever the case, the extension carries the contour of the grip and is well-rounded to ensure no hard corners.
The ergonomics continues with the mag release. Unlike most releases, it is aggressively textured, making it easy to depress because your thumb will not slip off it. Further, it is ideally positioned for quick mag drops and its ambidextrous design allows you to switch it over for left-hand use.
Absent from the EVO SP is a manual safety lever. Instead, the pistol utilizes the familiar safety block and disconnector systems. We absolutely prefer this setup for a compact carry concealed platform because it eliminates yet another part that could catch on clothing and it allows for a more natural and solid grip without a manual safety lever to chew up your thumb.
The EVO SP continues the metal treatment with its aluminum trigger shoe and trigger safety. The trigger shoe is one of the most ergonomic we’ve ever tested. It is sized just right and with a pleasing contour and rounded edges so that your finger quickly finds it center for a controlled pull. Travel is moderately short and quite smooth, with none of the loose feel or instability that we often experience in compact pistols with polymer trigger shoes. The pull weight is an easy six to seven pounds. The only thing we could identify as needing some refinement is in the trigger reset. The trigger return spring, which moves the trigger forward after firing, is too light for our tastes. A heavier pull here makes it easier to find the reset during rapid-fire sessions.
For the slide stop, the EVO SP follows the 1911 pattern. Push it up when the slide is in the rearmost position to lock the slide open. You can push down on the slide stop to allow the slide to close, but we found the action to be quite stiff, requiring significant downward pressure of the slide stop to release the slide.
Digging deeper into the primary components, we find an aluminum frame protected by Kimber’s rugged and time-proven KimPro II finish. This is a charcoal gray finish that provides an elegant accent to the black Ferritic Nitrocarburizing stainless-steel slide treatment. The sides of the slide feature milled sections ostensibly added to shave some weight. We think the value lies more in visual refinement and provides an aesthetically pleasing home for the front and rear slide serrations (dimples, actually, in keeping with the Stiplex theme).
Furthering the premium intent of the EVO SP are TRUGLO Tritium Pro sights on the Custom Shop model. This is an excellent choice for an EDC pistol and a sight set we have used on several of our carry guns. These relatively low-profile sights offer an excellent sight picture, are solidly built courtesy of their machined steel housings, and offer good protection for the embedded tritium vials. The U-shaped rear sight notch provides quick sight alignment and the rear sight housing has a forward angle up front to allow one-handed slide manipulation when placed against a solid object.
Field-stripping the EVO SP for routine cleaning is straightforward stuff, although we did find removing the slide stop in order to separate the slide assembly from the frame to be a bit challenging until we got the hang of it. The recoil spring is fairly stout, and you must use a punch or similar device to push the slide stop out enough to grasp and pull it out with your fingers. Once removed, the slide assembly easily disassembles to its major parts—barrel, cam block, recoil spring assembly, and slide.
One of the nifty design features of the EVO SP is that there are no external screws securing the grip panels or the backstrap to the frame. A single set screw located at the bottom of the frame is all that is used to lock these three components in place.
So how does all of this come together in the real world? From a carry perspective, the EVO SP is one of the most comfortable compact models we’ve strapped on. Using a Crossbreed MiniTuck holster, we found that the EVO SP’s expansive “melt” treatment did an excellent job of preventing gun gouge. And with a sturdy holster platform such as the MiniTuck, the EVO SP’s weight was hardly noticed. All-day carry comfort is not an issue.
On the range, the EVO SP continued to please. The pistol is easy to handle with our medium-size hands, and with the extended magazine providing a true three-finger purchase, obtaining a solid grip presented no problems. From our experience, though, that third finger wrap is only good for the first shot. The smooth contour of the extension allows the pinky finger to slip off once the recoil hits. You can certainly continue shooting with great control with only two fingers wrapped solidly around the grip, but don’t expect to dump the magazine with all three fingers in place.
As for the recoil pulse, we did not find it to be harsh at all. Follow-up sight alignment came quickly—a byproduct, no doubt, of the pistol’s weight and the exceptional grip along the panels and backstrap that keeps the pistol firmly rooted in your palm.
Using Hornady 124-gr XTP, we started shooting with a bench rest at ten yards for accuracy. With that load, the EVO SP delivered a 14-round group size of 1.995 inches. Transitioning to 15 yards and shooting rapid-fire freehand, we managed a 2.118-inch group. For a compact pistol with a 3.2-inch barrel, we’ll take that performance any day!
Our groupings were high and to the left but consistent. The good news is that the TRUGLO Tritium Pro rear sight utilizes a set screw, so with a sight pusher or careful application of a punch and small hammer, the screw can be loosened and the sight drifted for windage correction. Unfortunately, we did not have our tools with us for the range day photos. We did, however, make the sight adjustment the next time out with no problems.
The new Kimber EVO SP follows the company’s well-trod path of producing fine-quality 1911s and 1911 variants. That they have successfully blended that premium, all-metal DNA into a compact striker-fire pistol that sets new benchmarks in what an EDC handgun can be will, we believe, start the next design movement for other manufactures to follow. Stay tuned…
Kimber EVO SP (CS) Specifications
Height (inches): 4.03
Weight (ounces) with empty magazine: 18
Length (inches): 6.1
Magazine capacity: 7
Frame material: aluminum
Finish: KimPro II Charcoal Gray
Width (inches): 1.06
Front strap checkering: Stiplex-inspired
Slide material: stainless steel
Finish: FNC Black
Barrel Length (inches): 3.16
Barrel Material: stainless steel, match-grade, deep crown and bushing-less design
Twist rate (left hand): 16
Sights: TRUGLO Tritium Pro night sights
Grips: Gray/Black G10 with Stiplex-inspired texture
Grip Size: medium
Back Strap: Gray/Black G10 with Stiplex-inspired texture
Back Strap Size: large
Trigger: premium aluminum
Factory setting (approximate pounds): 6.0- 7.0