Review: Kimber EVO SP

posted on August 27, 2019

Beauty sells. The trick is to figure out what your customers think is beautiful. In the shooting world this can get a bit complicated. Unless the buyer is focused strictly on an unusual piece of handgun art to be displayed on the coffee table or in a wall mount, your product must meet certain levels of performance. No matter how beautiful the hardware, failure to meet or exceed those performance expectations will cost you a sale.

It seems to me Kimber has demonstrated an ability to balance beauty and performance over the years. Its hunting rifles have been lightweight, accurate and elegant looking. The company’s line of 1911s has focused on the use of stainless steel with some interesting color contrasts and useful features, while delivering bullseye-shooting capabilities and fight-stopping performance. Throw in a marketing department that has never been shy about touting its products’ capabilities and it’s easy to understand why the company has had such a major impact on the semi-automatic market with a product line based on 100-year-old design. Fast forward to Kimber’s new 9 mm EVO SP CDP.

Extraction and ejection of spent cases was positive and strong. The pistol’s stubby, 3.16-inch barrel is still capable of generating velocities faster than 1,300 fps.

Upon first putting my hands on the EVO SP (Striker Pistol) Model CDP (Custom Defense Package), I was impressed that this is an ultra-compact pistol purposely designed from scratch for concealed carry. Specifically, all edges are nicely rounded and the gun is kept as narrow as possible. Unlike some blockier designs, the pistol is delivered fully “de-horned” and will ride close to the body without any telltale bulges printing through an outer garment. Even the slightly extended magazine base melts into the grip frame, creating a bobtail effect while providing additional space for the pinky on your shooting hand—and allowing seven rounds in the magazine.

The EVO package even contained two identical magazines, so the gun feels exactly the same with either one in the gun in addition to providing you with fast-reload capability. Under the old “two is one, and one is none” rule, I’d recommend getting a couple more magazines in case you damage one. You can also rotate them in pairs if you plan to carry the gun every day. The magazine-well edges are slightly beveled (as they should be on all self-defense pistols) for smoother, faster, fumble-free reloads.

There are four versions of the Kimber EVO SP, all of which function the same and deliver the same capabilities. The CDP model features a grey aluminum frame, black stainless-steel slide, is 6 inches long, a hair more than 4 inches tall, barely wider than 1 inch and weighs 19 ounces empty. With a loaded magazine the weight becomes more than I like to carry in a pocket, so I used a strong-side carry OWB Galco holster, a style I prefer when carrying any of the heavier pistols. The CDP has a match-grade barrel with a deep crown, a good idea for us clumsy folk. Grip panels, including on the backstrap, are fabricated from G10 and have diamond checkering, while the aluminum frontstrap has 30 lpi checkering.

All these contribute to a good grip and rapid shot-to-shot recovery times. The frontstrap has been relieved behind the trigger guard so you can get a higher grip more in line with the bore axis, an additional feature that improves recovery time. The slide has diagonal serrations both front and rear (three near the muzzle and seven at the rear) which definitely help in manual slide operation. In fact, the forward edges of these serrations are the sharpest edges I could find on the EVO, a nice testimony to Kimber’s melting treatment. The front edge of the slide has a slight taper that assists in a smooth return to leather.

(l. & ctr.) A bold white ring surrounds the front tritium lamp. The rear lamps are unadorned. (r.) A crowned muzzle, beveled slide and front cocking serrations are among the many nice details.

The sights are superb for an ultra-compact, concealed-carry pistol, highly visible in both bright and low-light conditions. The tritium night sights compensate for the absence of light, while the large white dot up front and the wide U-shape rear notch ensure quick acquisition of a sight picture during the day. The rear sight is dovetail mounted in the slide with a setscrew and is adjustable for windage. The vertical front face of the rear sight provides for one-handed operation of the slide: With your finger off the trigger, put the front edge of the rear sight on the edge of an adequately firm surface and push.

Kimber’s website says the EVO’s trigger is set between 6 and 7 pounds. What it doesn’t say is how smooth and consistent the trigger press is. After the slide is cycled and the striker cocked, there is about 18 inch of up slack moving the safety lever and trigger rearward and perhaps another 18 inch of resisted trigger travel until the striker is released. The last 18 inch required a quite consistent pressure of 5.5 pounds before the shot broke. Trigger reset was precise after a return travel of just over 18 inch.

While I’m not a fan of placing a manual safety in the center of the trigger, I recognize that this system is a reality in today’s world of striker-fired pistols and I had no problem running the gun. However, I did notice that the heavier recoil of the hotter DoubleTap loads was beginning to irritate the tip of my trigger finger after firing a couple boxes of ammo. This is not a criticism of the EVO; I’ve experienced this before on ultra-compact pistols featuring this style trigger.

(l.) The forward angling of the cocking serrations enhances purchase, which is important on such a small pistol. (r.) With its smoothly rounded edges, the trigger is both functional and elegant.

When shooting from the bench I did experience a couple of embarrassing moments. Picking up a loaded magazine from the bench top, I tried to insert it backward into the mag well. The extended spacer is tapered on the rear edge, which creates the desirable bobtail shape of the grip frame. Not paying much attention, the spacers resemblance to a bullet prompted me to face it toward the muzzle. The lesson here is to pay attention. If you follow your training and always insert the magazine into your mag pouch with the bullets facing forward, you will always put it in the gun properly oriented. If your mind wanders, it would be easy to load the spare magazine backward in your magazine carrier.

While a small pistol is desirable for concealed carry, it poses problems for those with larger hands. When I picked the EVO up from the bench and brought it to eye level, the sights were frequently aligned to the left of target. No problem for range testing; a slight adjustment and you’re on target with minimal delay. But, in a defensive situation, a minimal delay, particularly one that involves fumbling with your grip on the gun could change the outcome of the fight.

This problem ended when I started using the EVO with the Galco holster. Gunsite’s five-step training procedure on pistol presentation emphasizes the importance of achieving your firing grip during step one. Your holster becomes the extra hand that holds the gun steady while you find the proper grip. Once the proper grip is achieved and the pistol is brought to eye level, the sights are aligned with the target and you are immediately ready to fire. Like all handgun skills, it’s achieved through multiple repetitions done correctly.

The only serious problem I had with the EVO was trying to fieldstrip it. To me, the recoil-spring system seemed quite heavy, like many recoil-operated, closed-breech, small pistols. Holding the slide partially retracted with the disassembly notch in the proper position while simultaneously trying to remove the slide stop would be an excellent vocation for an octopus on steroids. I could manually operate the slide if I grabbed the rear slide serrations, but not by grasping the front serrations. Fortunately for me, I can easily remove the grip panels and put the gun in a Lyman sonic cleaner with the slide locked to the rear. A chamber check of the EVO is a bit difficult to do, but it’s an absolutely mandatory skill. You can tell when the gun is cocked because the back end of the striker protrudes from the gun, but that doesn’t tell you if there’s a round in the chamber.

The EVO breaks down into few constituent parts for maintenance, but takedown is a little tricky.

On the positive side, the EVO has a couple of less-touted features that I like. First is its strong, positive ejection of magazines. With the gun held horizontally, hitting the magazine-release button (which can easily be moved to the right side of the gun) will pop an empty magazine almost all the way out of the gun. Hold the gun in the normal vertical position and an empty magazine is long gone. And those extended spacers on the bottom of the magazine make it easy to positively seat and lock a new one in place with one solid push. Second is the EVO’s ability to fire without a magazine installed in the gun. If you have a problem during a tactical reload, it’s more than just comforting to know there’s one more usable round immediately available.

Finally, there is the most-important requirement of a defensive pistol: absolute reliability. And it was here that the EVO showed its true colors: Zero failures in 250 to 300 rounds fired by three different shooters. Rather than single out one outstanding brand of ammunition, note that average groups for all brands ranged from 2.3 inches to 2.7 inches. Accuracy testing was done at an indoor range with typical indoor ambient light. Velocity measurements were taken at an outdoor range on a cloudy day.

As it turned out, the small shoot-through window on the Chrony chronograph was lined up nicely with a steel silhouette target located 50 yards downrange. I could check velocities simply by aiming at the steel target. I couldn’t determine location of hits, but every round rang steel. While we think of ultra-compact pistols as being suitable primarily for up-close and personal attacks, should you find yourself needing to take a more-precise shot, the EVO can potentially make it.

(l.) While small enough for IWB carry, the EVO works equally well in an OWB holster. (ctr.) The rounded contours of the gun are maintained in the figure of the G10 grip panels, and even the shape of the magazine’s base. The shape of the EVO’s magazines is unique, so be sure they are oriented correctly when inserting them. (r.) A third panel of finely checkered G10 covers the backstrap, giving the grip frame a distinctive look.

Having all brands of tested ammo weigh within 10 grains of each other was not a deliberate act. It’s what I had available. That said, I am a believer in staying with lighter weight/shorter bullets in 9 mm loads for ultra-compact pistols simply because of the limited operating room offered by the short slides. On occasion, I’ve had longer/heavier ammo cause problems when trying to eject a loaded round from the chamber. Also, I tend to avoid +P ammo in small, lightweight 9 mms. Yet, the EVO performed flawlessly with all brands tested, which included the two +P loads from DoubleTap and the oddly shaped bullets of Black Hills’ HoneyBadger.

I can’t carry the little Kimber concealed in California just because of the state’s absurd gun policies, but I’d be quite comfortable packing the EVO in Galco’s OWB holster with an extra magazine anywhere else I travel in the U.S. Even though no one else would get to see it, the sight of it would always make me smile.


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