April 26, 2022
By Keith Wood
We live in the golden age of concealed carry handguns. Almost every firearm manufacturer is building a lightweight, striker-fired, compact, optic-ready and high-capacity pistol for defensive use. SIG Sauer has the P365 series; Taurus the GX4; and Springfield Armory the Hellcat. With the 2021 introduction of the R7 Mako, you can add Kimber to that list.
It may seem like the R7 Mako is a bit late to the party, and there are already many strong options on the market. For another assignment, I had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with the engineering team at Kimber’s headquarters (now in Troy, Alabama). I can certify that they test and tweak their products exhaustively in a state-of-the-art laboratory and ranges before the gun media or public ever gets to see them. Kimber isn’t in a rush to sell new guns. It takes its time to get things right.
Kimber isn’t new to this category of handgun. It’s produced compact handguns for about a decade: Micro (2014), Micro 9 (2016) and the EVO (2018) are just three of Kimber’s subcompact carry guns. The market is changing fast, though, and it wants more than a six-to-eight-round capacity. It wants lightweight, and the ability to mount a micro red-dot optic. This gun was specifically made to fill that demand.
The R7 Mako is not an evolution of any previous design. It was engineered from the ground up to meet these requirements and became Kimber’s first polymer-framed handgun.
What I like best about handguns in this category is that they carry like pocket guns, but shoot like traditional compacts (particularly when used with the extended 13-round magazine). The R7 Mako is just over 6-inches long, is an inch wide at the grip and weighs a hair over a pound (unloaded). These attributes make it easy to conceal in almost any clothing, and comfortable to carry all day.
There are two species of the R7 Mako: an Optics Ready (OR) variant ($600), which has a slide cut for and ready to accept the optic of your choice, and an Optics Installed (OI) model ($800) that includes a Crimson Trace CTS-1500 red-dot sight already mounted to the handgun. Guns & Ammo has had three samples of the latter for its long-term testing.
The R7 Mako slide is machined to form from stainless steel and treated with Kimber’s black FNC finish. “FNC” stands for “Ferritic Nitro Carburizing,” which is better known to most of us as “black nitride.” This finish is hard, durable and corrosion-resistant.
One of the most obvious characteristics of the R7 Mako is the close-topped ejection port on the right side of the slide. Instead of the entire top and most of the right side opened up to facilitate ejection like most recoil-operated pistols, the R7 Mako only needs a relatively small window to ensure complete ejection. This enhances slide rigidity, and uniquely serves a significant purpose: to protect the optic.
On traditional open-top slides, brass can be sent rearward, impacting the red dot sight’s lens at high velocity. Propellant gasses and debris can build up, creating a film and carbon after a few hundred rounds, which can obscure transparency of the lens. Kimber’s ejection port design avoids these risks altogether.
Like many modern handguns, the R7 Mako does not use a traditional frame that’s molded within the glass-filled nylon shell. The serial-numbered “frame” is a stainless steel block that is secured within the grip module. We already know that this assembly provides a rigid platform for securing the slide to the pistol’s frame rails, while offering configurability. The bonus of this setup is that altering the grip does not permanently modify the internal frame.
The grip module is well-formed with a slight palmswell. It was comfortable to shoot. The design places the rear of the slide well behind the web of the hand, so there is nearly zero risk of slide bite. (Pun intended.) Textured grip surfaces cover much of the module and provide plenty of tactile purchase throughout the gun. The texture runs forward on the frame, too, so that both thumbs can contact it. (That’s a nice touch.) The area around the magazine release is relieved and smooth, which makes the magazine release more of an “easy button.” And at the front of the dustcover is a small accessory rail.
An 11-round flush-fit magazine was included with each of G&A’s R7 Mako samples, as well as a 13-round magazine featuring an extended base pad for more grip to hold. The extended magazine allows for a full five-fingered grip; for me, the flush magazine left my pinkie dangling below the frame. Another nice detail, the base pads are made of the same material and the texture matches the grip.
Everything is a compromise with a subcompact pistol. By including both magazines, Kimber gives the enduser the option of maximum concealability or more grip and capacity. (Don’t worry, 10-round versions will be available for restricted jurisdictions.)
What I liked best about the R7 Mako was its trigger. Though the flat aluminum trigger is being advertised as “5 to 6 3/4 pounds,” our test samples measured consistently at a tame 4.2 pounds. Since the pre-travel on this trigger is on the long side, I’d have no qualms about the weight of this trigger for carry. Outside of weight, the trigger pull characteristics are what you would expect on a striker-fired pistol. There was some creep on the front end of the press that was only noticeable when trying to shoot groups for accuracy from the bench.
As far as controls go, besides the trigger, there is only a magazine release button and a slide stop. Both are located in their traditional positions, and both are fully ambidextrous. While on the range, I was able to easily reach and use both the magazine release and slide stop without conscious thought.
No manual safety is included (or available) on the R7 Mako. Instead, the handgun employs two passive safeties. A glass-filled nylon lever in the face of the trigger prevents movement unless it is depressed, which is pretty standard on striker-fired handguns. The second safety is a block that prevents the striker from moving forward and making contact with the primer unless the trigger is actuated to move it out of the way.
Whether you choose the OR or OI version, high-quality TruGlo Tritium Pro sights are included. The front combines a tritium insert with a high visibility orange ring — one of my personal favorite arrangements. The rear sight’s tritium lamps are located inside of white dots for contrast. The rear blade is serrated and uses a generous U-shaped notch that makes using these sights easy. The rear is drift-adjustable for windage and secured to the Glock-pattern dovetail by a screw.
Both of G&A’s pistols were the OI model, so I also used the Crimson Trace CTS-1500 sight during range testing. It features a 5 MOA red dot, which adjusts brightness automatically to ambient light. Crimson Trace describes the battery life in terms of “years.” An included cover can be placed over the sight when it’s not in use, which turns off the device and saves battery life.
The CTS-1500 mounts directly to the slide using two screws. It sits very low, too. Not only does this minimize the dimensions of the OI pistol, it allows the dot to co-witness with the sights, which is uncommon. Co-witnessing means that the dot is located on the same sight plane as the irons. When zeroed, the dot sits on top of the front sight post. Aim naturally, and the dot will appears. If, for any reason, the dot fails, the irons are right when you need them.
The CTS-1500 is zeroed by turning either an elevation or windage screw, both of which use a small hex wrench. An accessory pack for the sight, which includes all of the necessary tools, is included with the pistol.
Why would you want a red-dot sight on a carry gun? There are several advantages: Speed is the most prominent. Precision is another advantage. A red dot sight such as this can help those individuals with degraded vision.
If an optic on a carry gun isn’t your thing, the OR version will save $200. A polymer plate fills the slot on the top of the slide, which is held into place by two screws. If you decide to purchase an optic down the road, the R7 Mako is ready to accept it. The slide on this handgun is compatible with the Shield RMSc.
After completing the mandatory accuracy testing from a shooting rest, I gave the R7 Mako a range workout on multiple steel targets placed between 7 and 10 yards. This is the kind of shooting that the pistol was designed for, and it performed well. Thanks to the Crimson Trace sight, target acquisition was fast. I found that the R7 Mako is very controllable, and the gun proved 100 percent reliable with the four loads of 9mm ammunition.
Disassembly of the R7 Mako for cleaning and maintenance was relatively simple and Glock-like (for those who know). After confirming that the gun is unloaded and without a magazine, the slide is retracted just a quarter-inch and held. With the other hand, the disassembly tabs located on both sides of the frame need to be pulled down. The slide is then allowed to move forward as the trigger is dry-fired. The slide assembly can then be lifted straight up and off the frame and grip module. Reverse the process to reassemble.
What more can I say? The Kimber R7 Mako performed exactly as you’d expect. It is light, compact, powerful, accurate and reliable. It is a carry gun that handles better than you’d expect. The addition of Crimson Trace’s red dot places its capability to another level. For fans of Kimber’s quality and excellent fit and finish, the R7 Mako is one you must dive in for.
Kimber R7 Mako Specifications
- Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 13+1 rds. (extended); 11+1 rds. (standard)
- Overall Length: 6.2 in.
- Height: 4.3 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 3.5 oz.
- Slide: Stainless steel, optic ready
- Grip: Textured, glass-filled nylon module
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 4 oz. (tested)
- Safety: Trigger lever; striker block
- Finish: FNC
- Sights: TruGlo Tritium; orange (front); U-notch (rear)
- MSRP: $800 (OI); $600 (OR)
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