Kimber Compact Stainless II 45 ACP, $1009
Some of us who know that there’s no substitution for bullet mass when it comes to stopping power prefer the 45 Auto for self defense. But no one likes to pack a heavy handgun, so most makers offer some solutions to that problem in the form of lighter-weight 1911s. These generally utilize aluminum frames, with shorter grips and slides. Any 45 Auto requires good management by the shooter, so these lighter and shorter-grip guns are not for everyone. One of the better 45 compromises is the use of a full-size aluminum grip frame combined with a short slide. Colt calls this setup the Lightweight Commander. We found a handgun by Kimber that is mighty close to that concept, the Compact Stainless II, $1009.
The finish on the Kimber was all matte stainless except for the fixed sights, which were matte blued, and the grips, which were black checkered rubber. The slide was marked with the gun’s designation on the right and the Kimber logo on the left. The extended left-side safety was easy to use, and we liked the look and feel of the black rubber grips. The rear mainspring housing was checkered, and although it was made of plastic like that on the Colt CCO, we had no problems with the method or material of construction, having had years of experience with the Colt setup. It works, and is lighter than steel. The Kimber did not have checkering on its front strap. In fact, only the Sig had that feature. One magazine came with the gun, but we also got two extras ($30 each) with slam pads. The slam pads make it easier to speed-load guns with the shorter grips. We noted the magazines for the Sig are identical to those for the Kimber, i.e., made by the same company, and they’ll both fit the Colt CCO.
The fit and finish were excellent on the Kimber. One fault was the sharp edge all around the ejection port, which could cut hands in clearance drills. The Springfield also had some knife edges on the port, but the good folks at Sig have realized knife edges belong on knives, not handguns. The Kimber’s sight picture was pretty good, as it was on all three guns, but we thought the Kimber could use a bit more light on the side of the front blade for faster work. Both front and rear sights were dovetailed into the slide. The rear had an Allen screw to lock it. The front relied on friction.
This gun had no front barrel bushing. The barrel gets fatter at the front to fill the hole in the slide. Beneath the barrel is the rod-like keeper for the recoil spring, and you need a suitable tool to remove it. Kimber provides two of them. To get the gun apart you clear it, rack it open, insert the bent-wire tool, slowly release the slide, pop out the slide-stop pin and take the slide off the frame. Then the parts come out easily, spring to the rear and barrel to the front. The spring assembly can be taken apart for cleaning, using lots of care and always wearing safety glasses.
The result of such a design is that you have fewer parts to the gun, which makes maintenance less of a chore. From what we’ve seen, the performance is not affected in a negative way either, by the elimination of the original-design spring and plunger and front bushing. However, traditionalists, die-hards, and older gun writers will always prefer the original 1911 system, which the Sig has, so you can take the gun apart entirely by hand, with no tools needed. Will you have that takedown tool with you in the field?
Inside the gun we found excellent workmanship, with one questionable area that we’ll watch in our follow-up shooting sessions. The feed ramp was slightly pitted or rough. We had test fired the gun before disassembly, and it appeared as if the bullet noses had slightly battered the aluminum of the ramp. This was not an issue on the Springfield, which had a steel extension from the barrel that formed its ramp. The Colt and the Sig both had aluminum ramps, but neither showed any battering. We would watch this area carefully if we owned this gun.
At the range we had no problems with the Kimber. We tested with Black Hills 230-grain JHP, Lawman 230-grain ball, and with Winchester 185-grain BEB ammunition, and they all fed and fired and ejected with zero problems. The accuracy was way more than adequate, with smallest five-shot group from the Winchester BEB ammo, which measured 0.9 inch. We had another fine four-shot cluster with the Lawman ammo of just 0.6 inch, but one of the five made it a 1.3-incher.
Rapid fire presented no major problems either, but again we noticed the lack of white space on the sides of the front-sight blade. The rubber grips seemed to aid in recoil handling. We would have liked to have either night sights or a white dot on the front sight to help us see the sight picture faster in questionable light. Red or white nail polish is one quick way to accomplish that. The clean trigger broke at just over 4.5 pounds.
Our Team Said: We like the feel and balance of the Kimber. It shot exactly to its sights with our test ammo. We could not fault it in our short test time. It always worked, shot well, and looked great, we thought. While we would have liked night sights and front-strap checkering, these are not all that necessary and would add lots to the overall cost. We though the Kimber’s price tag was reasonable. Finding a good holster would not be a problem here either.