Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Ayoob: Kimber For The Defense

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine

So, there we were, editor Jeff and I at the 2014 NRA show, fondling the new laser-sighted 9mm Solo and baby-1911 .380 at the Kimber booth. “Whaddaya think?” asked Jeff. “Send me in, coach,” I answered.

And lo, Colt created the little Mustang .380 and it was good, better in many ways than their own Colt Pocket Model of 1908, but they did drop the marketing ball and it came to pass that SIG duplicated the design with their P238 pistol. By 2013, the P238 had become SIG’s best-selling pistol. And Colt harkened to this, and returned their .380 to the market with a polymer frame, and behold, Kimber was watching too.

The result, of course, is the Kimber Micro CDP. Drop safe, cocked and locked, six little .380 torpedoes in the magazine and a 7th in the launch tube as it cruises beneath the surface of visibility in concealed carry. Small single-action .380’s have a pretty good history of reliability. Lighter by far than the 24-ounce Colt .380 General George Patton carried on “light days” when he wasn’t carrying his Remington 51, and which John Dillinger was pulling out of his pocket on a hot summer night in 1934 when Federal Agent Charles Winstead shot him dead with a .45 1911, the Micro CDP weighs a feathery 13.4 ounces unloaded.

Kimber’s Solo has a much more modern design: sleekly hammerless and squeezing six rounds of 9mm Parabellum into the magazine, plus one in the chamber. Where the Micro CDP has a good 1911 trigger (just scaled down, with shorter and—for most folks—easier trigger reach), the Solo has its own unique system in which there’s a bit of a take-up and then a smooth roll to let-off. Introduced in 2011, the Solo was plagued early on with malfunctions and even a recall, but Kimber’s engineers got on top of things, and of late, complaints seem to have petered out. We’ll discuss this more, momentarily.

Both pistols have ambidextrous thumb safeties that will be “old home week” for 1911 and Browning Hi-Power enthusiasts. I found the Solo’s twin levers to be like Momma Bear’s porridge: “just right,” both on and off.

Both pistols get top marks for sighting arrangements. Each comes with excellent Tritium night sights, backed up by Crimson Trace LaserGrips. Each pistol required a consistent, firm grasp to keep the laser beam “on.” The Solo came out of the box with the laser zeroed, and so did the little .380, but the latter had a tendency for the beam to go from bright to not-so-bright and back again, despite consistent grasp, something I haven’t seen before with CT LaserGrips. Each pistol came with only one magazine, which I thought was a darn shame, because it precluded testing them in backup gun matches or even backup gun qualifications for purposes of this article.

Trigger pulls were measured from the center of the trigger, where the human index finger normally falls. Kimber’s Micro CDP .380 averaged 7.58 pounds on the Lyman digital gauge. There was a tiny bit of take-up, then consistent firm resistance, which felt like less than the measured weight. Why? Because the very short trigger reach of this miniaturized 1911 allowed the distal joint of the trigger finger to make contact with the trigger face, and that gives the index finger more leverage, making it feel like less effort. Trigger backlash was minimal and re-set was very short and very positive.

The Solo has a longer pull, definitely with a double-action feel to it, but very smooth. There’s a little more backlash—that is, rearward trigger movement after the shot breaks—than with the 1911-type trigger, just enough to feel the muzzle dip a little in dry firing. That wasn’t really discernible in live fire, though. There is no palpable “stacking” in the trigger pull; it’s smoo-o-o-th.

Pull weight on the Lyman gauge ran lighter than the .380, 5.98 pounds average. If that seems counterintuitive, the explanation is simple: the longer pull allows more leverage, ergo, less effort.


The Micro CDP has a beavertail grip safety for the hammer to nestle into, low profile sights for a smooth draw and ambidextrous safety. The laser beam emits from the top fo the right-side grip panel.


The Solo has low-profile iron sights for a snag-free draw in addition to Crimson Trace Laser Grips. The safety, slide release and magazine button are conveniently located and easy to acquire.

In slide manipulation, the two were completely different. The Solo required some force to operate the slide against necessarily strong recoil spring resistance. One petite female on the test team complained about that, but she didn’t have any trouble making the gun work. The little .380, on the other hand, was close to effortless. Even an arthritis patient could cock the hammer back with the heel of the free hand to alleviate mainspring pressure, and then rack the slide with the very minimal effort the Kimber Micro CDP requires with its 8-pound recoil spring.

Smaller handguns often require more attention to handling. With a snubby 5-shot .38 revolver on a .32 frame, for example, you can expect ejection failure if you don’t hold the muzzle vertical and smack the ejector rod smartly, and if you have a big hand your curled-down thumb in traditional double-action grasp may block your trigger finger. Small autos like these two Kimbers also have their own idiosyncrasies.

On the Micro CDP .380, I found the manual safety occasionally going “on” when firing. On a full-size 1911, I would diagnose that as a job for either a gunsmith or an exorcist, but photos taken while shooting it showed what was happening. As the Micro CDP moved in recoil, either the proximal joint of my right index finger was hitting the right side of the ambidextrous thumb safety or my thumb was doing the same on the other side, driving it upward. One advantage of the Micro over traditional full-size 1911s is the manual safety can be “on safe” when manipulating the slide, which is generally a good thing. Thus, the inadvertent raising of the safety during the recoil did not interfere with cycling. The solution proved simple: if the firing hand thumb rode the safety lever with downward pressure a la Col. Jeff Cooper’s teachings, the problem disappeared. It works particularly well left-handed, where the laser module of the Crimson Trace is directly under the safety paddle, forming a very comfortable thumb rest.


The Micro CDP is exquisitely controllable: Mas is firing one-handed, arrow shows brass from last 3 shots in the air, muzzle still on target for next shot. At 25 yards from a rest (inset), this is the group he got with hot Buffalo Bore .380 JHP.


A fast “double tap” finds the Solo on target, ready for the next shot—arrowed brass shows speed of fire. At 25 yards (inset), the first rested shot tended
to print away from the others. The ammo? Remington 9mm 124-grain Remington Golden Saber +P.

The only feed issue noted with the Micro .380 during the test was a failure to completely extract, on a hot Buffalo Bore +P load of all things. This happened when shooting from the bench rest, with firing hand thumb riding the safety and support hand thumb extended in front of it; I can’t be sure my forward thumb didn’t put pressure on the slide. That’s notorious for jamming .380s, which don’t have all that much power to run the slide in the first place, so the single malf was as likely my fault as not.

The Solo was another story. When you put relatively powerful cartridges into smaller guns with smaller parts, things change. Kimber is aware of this, and if you buy a Solo, for Heaven’s sake read the owner’s manual. The leaflet with the new Solo states explicitly, “USE ONLY RECOMMENDED AMMUNITION” (Kimber’s caps). The Solo is designed to function optimally using premium hollowpoint self-defense factory ammunition with bullet weights of 124 or 147 grains. Examples include Federal Hydra-Shok JHP, Remington Golden Saber HPJ and Hornady TAP JHP. While other ammunition may perform well, lighter bullets and inconsistent pressures often found in lower-quality ammunition may lead to decreased slide cycle time and compromise function.”

We learned early with the Solo that to pack six rounds into its very short magazine, you have to pack the 5th and particularly the 6th carefully. You want to make sure the case head is all the way back against the rear of the magazine, and the nose is up. This takes some extra attention to achieve, but if you don’t pay attention, you can get a nosedive and a 6 o’clock misfeed. Some Solo fans have gone to downloading the mag to 5+1 in the chamber, channeling their inner revolver shooter and invoking, “Six for sure.” In testing Kimber Solo Carry DC serial number S1130836, we found the gun worked fine with Kimber-recommended ammo and the magazine carefully loaded all the way up.

It should also be noted Kimber recommends replacing the recoil spring every 1,000 rounds. That’s wise advice with any powerful, short-barrel pistol built for minimum size.


Mas recommends shooting the Micro CDP .380 in the Jeff Cooper 1911 fashion, with the thumb of your firing hand holding the safety lever down in the “fire” position.


Nine mil at the left, .380 at the right: At 7 yards, offhand groups with each gun were ample for self-defense.


On The Range

Conventional wisdom holds short-barrel guns are short-range guns, and in this case there was some truth to that. Each of the little Kimbers was tested from 25 yards, handheld on a Caldwell Matrix rest on a concrete bench. The Solo showed a distinct “4+1” pattern common to auto pistols and, to my knowledge, first identified in print by fellow gunwriter Wiley Clapp. When this happens, the first hand-chambered round sends its bullet to a different point of impact vis-à-vis point of aim than the subsequent, automatically-cycled follow up shots.

Thus, I measured the whole 5-shot group first, then shots two through five, and finally the best three of the five. The latter tends to factor out enough unnoticed human error to give a good approximation of what the same gun and load might do for all five from a machine rest, assuming each cartridge was cycled into the chamber the same way.

With the 9mm Solo, Remington 124-grain +P Golden Saber put all five shots into 6.35 inches, with numbers two through four in 3.40 inches and the best three in 2.60 inches, always measuring center-to-center to the nearest 0.05 inch. The Solo delivered five of the new SIG brand V-Crown 124-grain standard pressure hollowpoints into 5.70 inches counting the first hand-chambered round, with the subsequent four in 3.45 inches and the best three in 1.95 inches. The 147-grain Winchester subsonic with jacketed truncated cone bullet did 7.15 inches for all five, with the last four in 2.90 inches and the best three in 1.70 inches. Muzzle jump was mild, the sharp toe of the trigger pinched the index finger a little if that finger rode too low and recoil stung the hand just slightly at the base joints of thumb and index finger.

Next page please…

The Micro CDP .380 did not exhibit any particular 4+1 syndrome. The last five rounds of Buffalo Bore +P 90-grain The Micro CDP .380 did not exhibit any particular 4+1 syndrome. The last five rounds of Buffalo Bore +P 90-grain JHP I had on hand, rated for 1,175 fps velocity and 267 ft-lbs of energy by its manufacturer, delivered a 4.30-inch, 5-shot group at 25 yards, with a “best three” of 1.75 inches. MagTech 95-grain .380 FMJ measured 6.55 inches for all five shots, with the best three (including a double) clustering in 3.20 inches. Economy Remington-UMC 95-grain ball measured 5.50 inches for all five, and 3.45 inches for the best three. Recoil was extremely mild, allowing very fast follow-up shots.


The Kimber Micro CDP (above) takes down easily similar to other 1911-style .380 pistols. The Solo (below) takes down easily, even though you’ll need to hold the slide back against recoil spring pressure to pop the slide stop. Just make sure it is unloaded because you’ll need to squeeze the trigger to remove the slide.




Those 25-yard groups aren’t what I’d expect from my 5-inch Kimber 1911 pistols, but they aren’t those pistols! The Solo 9mm and Micro CDP .380 are little pocket guns. Historically, it has been presumed they’ll be used only at short range, and most gun magazines now accuracy-test such handguns at maximum distances of 15, 10 or even only 7 yards. (I still test them at the 25-yard police service pistol qualification line, because I’ve never found a case where bad guys cut good guys slack because the good guys only had short-range guns.)

The gun magazine standard for “acceptable (full-size) service pistol accuracy” has long been 4 inches at 25 yards. None of the loads in either tiny Kimber made that, but neither is a full-size service pistol. We should note with every load tested, the 9mm Solo made standard with the last four of five shots fired, and with every load tested, the wee Kimber .380 met that mark with its best three. None of the groups, if centered, would have strayed out of the 8-inch diameter “down zero out of five possible points” zone on an International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) target at 25 yards.

At 7 yards, shooting at a pace of a couple of seconds per shot, the Kimber .380 put five Remington ball rounds all in the headbox of an International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) target, in a group measuring 1.35 inches. The Solo 9mm put four rounds of 147-grain Winchester subsonic under an inch at that distance, and would have done so for all five if I hadn’t felt myself jerk the last shot down, extending the group to 1.65 inches.


Both the CDP and Solo feature Meprolight 3-dot tritium sights (above). Easy-to-acquire sights were not always a hallmark of small pocket autos! Both the CDP (below, left) and Solo (below, right) feature beveled magazine wells, as well as a real ace in the hole—Crimson Trace LaserGrips.




These two particular Kimbers are small, their triggers are sweet, and their accuracy is well within the parameters of their intended function. Their superior Tritium night sights and out-of-the-box LaserGrips greatly improve hit potential in close and fast shooting. The streamlined rear of the Solo’s slide, and the shape of the Micro CDP when cocked-and-locked, eliminate a high, square edge found on many striker-fired autos that can hang up on the fabric during a pocket draw.

Yes, like any small .380 you have to take care how you grasp the Micro CDP, and the 9mm Solo requires a specific diet. Think of them as high-maintenance girlfriends: they’re expensive, you’re proud to have them and if you treat them right they’ll make you happy, but you’ve got to stay attentive to their needs or it won’t work out well in the end.

Maker: Kimber
1 Lawton Street, Yonkers, NY 10705
(888) 243-4522,


Gun: Micro CDP Solo Carry DC
Action type: Locked breech semi-auto Locked breech semi-auto
Caliber: .380 ACP 9x19mm
Capacity: 6+1 6+1
Barrel length: 2.75 inches 2.7 inches
Overall length: 5.6 inches 5.5 inches
Weight: 13.4 ounces 17 ounces
Frame: Aluminum Aluminum
Slide: Stainless Steel Stainless Steel
Finish: Matte silver slide black anodized frame Matte black slide, Diamond-like coated frame
Sights: Meprolight 3-dot tritium Meprolight 3-dot tritium
Grips: Crimson Trace LaserGrips Crimson Trace LaserGrips
Price: $651 (base model $815 (base model)
$1,406 (as tested) $1,204 (as tested)

Interactive Whiteboards by PolyVision



Kimber’s Micro CDP can provide 6+1 rounds of .308 “pop” from a 13.4 ounce package.

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