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Solo Act: Kimber Solo 9mm Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  May 24th, 2011 4

The doorbell rang at 7:30 in the morning. Luckily, I was already up or the dogs would have dismembered the delivery driver. Once the ritual signature was done, we were all happy: the dogs for having done their jobs, the driver for having escaped unharmed and me for having the new Kimber Solo here at Gun Abuse Central.

One evolution in carry guns we’ve been seeing of late is that of compact, bigbore pistols. These pistols, which old-school gunners would have seen as backup guns, are now first in line for emergency use.

It is a dance that we old-timers have done so many times that we forget it is a dance: Carry a big gun because, well, it’s a big gun. Then realize that backaches and torn clothing are a high price to pay and switch to a smaller gun, often a too-small one that is difficult to shoot well and doesn’t inspire confidence.

The group of handguns we eventually settle on is well represented by the compact, single-stack 9mm, a performance envelope that offers a lot—a decent supply of ammo, a caliber that you can depend on—in a pistol that is small enough to comfortably carry, yet big enough to actually hold and shoot.

The new Kimber Solo not only delivers all that, it does so with a basketful of new design elements and provides old-timers with a new option to our set-in-stone tastes.

Features and Function
The first thing you’ll notice about the Kimber Solo is the lack of a hammer. “Oh no, not another striker-fired pistol with a crunchy trigger,” you say. No, it isn’t. Well, there is a striker in there, but the trigger is something else again. While it looks like a long, double-action trigger, it doesn’t feel like one. The trigger actually feels like a very nice, long and smooth DA revolver trigger. This came as a pleasant surprise to every one of the 1911-packing shooters I’ve handed the Solo to. The routine is the same: I hand it over, they check to make sure it’s unloaded, and with a look of mild distaste, they stroke through the trigger. The trigger just comes back, no stacking, then at the end the striker falls with a click. They all then look up, and with a smile they say, “Hey, that’s not bad.”

There is one detail that we gunwriters perhaps make too much of: It does not offer a restrike capability. If you get a click, either due to a bad round or not having one chambered, you’re going to have to work the slide to solve that pressing problem. It is not, however, a detail unique to the Solo, and we are all now familiar with the “tap-rack-bang” solution. Indeed, after talking with Kimber, I learned that most end-users don’t really care about restrike capability. After all, if one primer in a million is a dud, who wants to try it again? Get to the next one.

If you’re used to spongy, stacking trigger pulls, this will be a breath of fresh air. If you’re used to clean, crisp, single-action trigger pulls, it’s a breeze to transition. All you do is dry fire a bit, and you’re there. Inside the aluminum frame there is a minimum of moving parts. After taking a look inside, I figure there are perhaps a half dozen moving parts in the trigger mechanism.

The stainless slide has a refreshingly small number of parts as well. One detail I noticed on the slide was a small bump at the lead edge of the stripper rail. On compact pistols, engineers have the problem of controlling the location and position of the top round in the magazine. The higher it sits, the better it feeds. But the higher it sits, the more likely it is to interfere with the extracting empty. The small bump pushes the top round in the magazine down, clearing the extraction path of the fired case. Once the bump has cleared, the top round pops up, ready to feed.

In discussing the Solo with the insiders at Kimber, I also discovered that they had refined the design so that in production they don’t have to fit the upper and lower assemblies to each other. Any slide assembly will fit and function 100 percent on any frame assembly.

The design refinements don’t stop there. The barrel, all 2.7 stainless steel inches of it, is chock full of interesting tidbits. The ramp is not merely a smooth trough. It’s a carefully sculpted ramp, with its surfaces meticulously calculated and tested to provide reliable feeding. The barrel flares at the muzzle to lock securely to the end of the slide.

The barrel rides inside of a slide that has cocking serrations on the back end (where they belong) and a big external extractor, but a comforting lack of sharp edges. Also, the sights are both dovetailed into the slide, so if you wish to change them to coincide with the point of impact of your favorite carry load or install night sights, you can.

The frame design, inspired by the 1911, was shaped to get your hand up as high as possible without getting it in the path of the slide. The shape decreases felt recoil without the need to add weight to soak up said recoil. The frame also has an ambidextrous thumb safety, so you can have your carry gun action locked while it rests in your holster. Along with the 1911 design parallel, the thumb safety works in the same manner as the 1911—down is ready to go, up is not ready, and when up, the slide is locked.

The result is a compact pistol whose unique design features Kimber has a number of patents on. As for the finish, the slide is brushed stainless, while the aluminum frame is done up in KimPro II, either black or silver.

Shooting and Packing
Now, the idea here was to make a pistol that would be easy to carry and absolutely reliable with 124- to 147-grain defensive ammo. Kimber recommends a break-in period of 24 rounds, using Federal Hydra-Shok JHP (124 or 147 grains), Remington Golden Saber BJHP (124 or 147 grains) or Hornady TAP JHP (124 or 147 grains).

Long-time readers will of course understand that as soon as I had fired the requisite 24 rounds (in this instance, Hornady, as it was what I had the most of on hand), I immediately began thrashing the little beast with everything else I could lay my hands on. I was not looking forward to this either. At this gun’s 17 ounces, who wants to be launching serious defensive bullets, in full-power loads downrange in volume?

What I found was that the Solo was surprisingly soft in recoil. Well, not “soft” as in “kicks like a .22,” but soft for what I was expecting from a pocket 9mm. The trigger made it easy to work on drills, and the recoil kept the sights relatively under control. As a bonus, Galco already has holsters for it. While I was looking over the Solo, yet another delivery arrived—an unexpected package from Galco, which was hot on the trail of the Solo. Take a tight-fitting Galco leather holster, slide it onto your belt behind your cell phone pouch, and under a jacket the whole thing just about disappears.

Being that this is a single-stack 9mm, any number of mag pouches will work, and I’m certain that Galco has matching ammo holders for the other side of your belt. Kimber ships the Solo with a six-round mag, but you can also score eight-round extended magazines as accessories. Me, I’d just store the six-shot mag in the cool storage case and go with a set of the extended-length eights only. Which brings me to a couple of niggling little points, peculiar to my hands, and a demonstration of why you must test your gear before you depend on it.

The Solo has an ambidextrous mag catch. You can press the button from either side and the mag drops. Well, it drops for you, but not for me. You see, my hand is big enough that the flesh of the edge of my hand bears on the butt of the Solo, right where the mag is. Mags don’t drop free for me. That, and my little finger overhangs the bottom of the frame. So for me, the eight-shot mags provide a better hold and purchase by which I can pull out the mag when I need more ammo.

This is not the fault of Kimber. This is my hand and grip. In shooting it, I found the Solo reliable with all loads save one, the Speer Frangible. Frangible ammo is an odd duck; it’s remarkable when anything but full-size guns run at 100 percent with it (any brand of pistol or ammo, any caliber). Even then, a pistol that runs flawlessly with frangible ammo is one you do not loan out. So a couple of bobbles out of a full box of 50 rounds is not a big deal.

What I discovered at the range was that it was a lot more accurate than I was expecting. The short sight radius, the hot loads, the light weight, the long trigger had me anticipating groups of full-target size at 25 yards. The sights were just a bit low left for me, but they’re adjustable, replaceable and durable. The majority of the loads were more than accurate enough for discouraging would-be miscreants from a life of crime. Some approached match quality. Incidentally, the slide locks open when the last round has been fired, and takedown is so similar to that of the 1911, I won’t bore you with the details.

The Whole 9
The next question many will have is, Does a 2.7-inch barrel deliver enough oomph to be a serious defensive tool? Face facts. For all the noise and recoil, you are not going to be getting full performance out of the Solo, no matter how you try. However, the Solo is going to deliver performance that no .380 can approach, and you’re not going to find a .38 snubbie that’s in the same ballpark.

Velocity loss is simply the cost of packing light. If you can’t stand the thought of a 115-grain JHP cruising along at something under 1,100 fps, you’re going to have to pack a bigger gun.

If you do, don’t complain about how much less comfortable your bigger blaster is. We’ve been there, done that and are packing the Solo as our solution to that problem.

 

Little guns snap when you shoot them. That’s a law of physics, no getting around it. But the Solo feels softer than you’d expect.

  • Bobc from Houston

    I got one of the first ones my gun store got. Took 7 months from the time the ordered it in Feb of 2011 but it is a dream. Small and really shoots like a dream. I can put it in my cargo pants pocket with a pant pocket holster and it is easy to draw and cannot be seen even when I sit down. I would highly recommend getting this pistol if your going to carry concealed.

  • Piti the plumber.

    This is a beutiful gun to cary around, but this is not the gun you want to take to the range and practice with. I had one and trded it. For starters youcant shoot regular range rounds thru it , it will jam every sigle time. Maybe the right gun for experts that can hit any target at the drop of a hat, but for beginers as myself , look to the Sig 938…

  • old aviator

    It is a lovely piece of machinery. I bought this on the basis of my experience with a Kimber 1911. Out of the box my Kimber Solo will not chamber a round if the magazine is full. Using five rounds in the mag let me get one shot off before jamming. The dealer’s gunsmith commented this is “known problem” and shipped the pistol back to Kimber. Three weeks later I am still waiting for its return.

  • LHS

    Two things. Well, OK, three things. Just unpacked a new Solo 9mm.@ a local retailer.
    1) The mag release is clumsy and way too hard – ambidexrous though it is..
    2) The springs are as tight as a Para Warthog Hi-cap, which I love, but it’s a ,45.
    3) The grip is too short for a pinkie grip.
    Other than that, I’d give you about $200 for it, then spend about $200 on some good
    gunsmithing. Kimber is overpriced and overrated.
    The trigger ain’t no prize either. Sorry.

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