December 20, 2023
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I first got my hands on Kimber’s new KDS9c at the 2023 NRA Show in Indianapolis, where it was debuted, and it should be shipping to distributors now. This is a purpose-built EDC (every day carry) pistol, meant to give you the best of America’s two most popular pistol types (1911s and striker-fired compact high-capacity 9mms). If the name seems a mouthful or tough to remember, it’s not—just realize this is the (K)imber (D)ouble(S)tack (9)mm (c)compact. Some of you may feel I’m committing blasphemy by bringing up the plastic atrocity, the Glock pistol, in a discussion of a 1911-style pistol, but the Glock 19 was the carry gun against which all others were judged for three decades or so, for a lot of good reasons, including size, weight, and capacity. The biggest drawback to the Glock design, and most striker-fired pistols, is the mediocre (at best) trigger pull. The 1911, on the other hand, has the trigger pull against which all other pistols are and should be judged, but is generally big, heavy, and suffers from a lack of capacity. If only there was a way to combine the two…Enter the KDS9c.
Yes, I’m well aware that this “mashup” has been tried before, with varying results, and will talk about those later in this article, but for now let’s look at the KDS9c. The KDS9c is a single-action-only (SAO) semi-auto with an external hammer, chambered in 9mm. It is sized and built for daily carry. It has a 4.09-inch barrel and a frame just long enough to flush-fit a 15-round magazine. The pistol is 5.35-inches tall, 7.75-inches long, and weighs 25.3 ounces with an empty magazine in place. Big enough to shoot nearly as well as a full-size gun, while being concealable with the right choice of holster, belt, and covering garment. The reduced weight is due to the KDS9c having an aluminum frame, which shaves a few ounces off the total weight. Currently, there are two versions of the KDS9c available—one silver, and one black. Both versions have the exact same construction—a stainless steel slide over an aluminum frame—the only question is whether it will sport Kimber’s KimPro coating in silver or black. I secured a sample of the silver model for testing, but ironically what you see here in most of the photos is a one-off, with unique tall sights; more on that in a bit.
If you want to be technical, the KDS9c probably doesn’t count as a 1911, but rather simply a 1911-style pistol. It diverges in so many ways from John Browning’s original design that it is likely more accurate to say that it was inspired by the 1911 (or evolved from it) than simply a version of it. Compared to the original, the KDS9c is chambered in a different caliber, has a ramped bushingless barrel, an external pivoting extractor (as opposed to internal and tensioned), the plunger tube is integral to the frame rather than staked in place, and it’s fed by double-stack magazines—and those are just the differences I could list off the top of my head. But perhaps the most important thing differentiating the KDS9c from a true 1911 is that the gun has been sized down proportionately to fit the 9mm cartridge and the double-stack magazine which feeds it. There is a significant size difference between the .45 ACP and the 9mm.
John Browning designed the 1911 and the .45 ACP cartridge simultaneously, each for the other. That means the pistol was not only designed to handle the recoil of that cartridge, but designed to fit, feed, and function with a cartridge the length and width of a .45 ACP, which is somewhat long and quite fat. The girth of the cartridge isn’t so much of an issue—1911s chambered in .38 Super have been around longer than most of us have been alive, and they run just fine, mostly because that odd semi-rimmed cartridge (which provides 9mm+P ballistics) is the length of a .45 ACP. It’s the shortness of the 9mm Luger cartridge, in comparison, that has caused problems—feeding problem. Reliability issues. Gunsmiths and companies for years have been producing 1911s chambered in 9mm, but getting those pistols to operate reliably with that smaller cartridge has taken serious work. Most every one of those pistols (like this one) sports a ramped barrel, not specifically for more reliable feeding but because that ramp design more fully supports the chamber, something that is far more important with the high-pressure 9mm cartridge than the low-pressure .45. Other modifications to get 1911s to run with the 9mm have included variously-designed magazines with spacers. Mostly 9mm 1911s are completely reliable these days…but bigger and heavier than they need to be.
Sizing down the 1911 design to fit the 9mm cartridge has been tried by a number of manufacturers. The first that I can think of is the Springfield Armory EMP (Enhanced Micro Pistol), although I don’t know if Springfield was actually the first to market with this concept. The end result of efforts like this are pistols at least as reliable as the standard 1911 while being noticeably smaller and a bit lighter. Most of those “sized-to-fit-9mm” pistols (like the EMP) are fed by single stack magazines, but we live in an era of high capacity, where more is (almost) always better, and in a 9mm pistol this size, anything less than a 15-round capacity would likely be judged lacking. Now that I have fully and completely veered off the review track, let’s get back to this gun. With its aluminum frame, loaded or unloaded this pistol feels well-balanced in the hand. It also looks great. I’ve only briefly gotten to examine a black on in person, on the floor of the 2023 NRA convention/annual meetings, but I think it is just as attractive.
The stainless-steel barrel has been fluted. While technically this reduces weight and speeds cooling, in truth this is done more for appearance than anything else, and adds even more class to the gun. The barrel sports an aggressive target crown and sits flush to the end of the slide. It is a bull barrel, with no bushing. The barrel has the traditional 1911-style swinging link for lockup. The pistol has a full-length stainless-steel recoil spring guide rod, and the recoil spring plug, Cerakoted to match the slide, is captured by the slide. This pistol uses a single recoil spring, so cycling the slide by hand isn’t especially difficult. Takedown and reassembly is pretty typical for a “1911” with a full-length guide rod—in short, you won’t need tools, but it is a bit more of a pain than disassembling a more modern pistol design.
Everyone has different tastes, but aesthetically I think the KDS9c is a good-looking package, and that includes the far-from-traditional slide. The slide is Kimber’s take on what is called a “tri-top” slide. Instead of the traditional rounded top, the slide has a flat top with shallow angles to each side. The flat top is serrated 30 lines per inch (lpi). Back in the day, they used to say these serrations were done to “cut glare,” but mostly what they do is look classy and sexy. But, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that…
The slide sports aggressive serrations on the front and rear, and at the front the serrations are drawn up the slopes atop the slide, at a reverse angle. The serrations are shallower on the slopes. The flat-bottomed serrations are also graduated, with the space between them increasing as they move forward. The end result, I think, looks very good, but more importantly than that, they’re very functional. It would be hard to grab hold of this slide and not have your fingers contacting the serrations. Flat-bottomed serrations are more aggressive than others, simply because of the 90-
degree interior angles they offer. That said, there are no sharp edges on the slide, every corner has been broken, very slightly, from the front of the slide to the bottom left corner, which presses against your thumb with a proper thumb-high hold.
A brief aside on this, and you’ll be happy to know it is actually pertinent to the material being discussed, as opposed to me just ranting about politics or the misuse of the English language by ignoramuses or, ironically, the English: the proper way to carry a 1911 (or the KDS9c) is with the hammer back and the thumb safety engaged (otherwise known as “cocked and locked” carry or Condition One). It is also technically accurate to say that a 1911 should be carried “acock,” which is an old-fashioned word that sounds slightly naughty but simply means “in a cocked position.” Yes, I understand, that cocked hammer might look scary to the uninformed, but if the hammer is not cocked on this kind of gun, it’s just a really expensive paperweight. A pistol carried for self-defense should be carried in such a way that you can draw and fire it smoothly with one hand, in case your other is disabled or busy. With a 1911, deactivating that safety with your thumb should be done as part of the draw stroke.
Most striker-fired pistols offered by Glock, S&W M&P, CZ P-10, Springfield Armory Echelon, etc., have no external manual safety, just a small lever on the trigger that acts as a drop safety. (S&W does offer one for the M&P line but it isn’t as positive as a 1911-type safety.) The thumb safety on the KDS9c is much more positive. With it engaged (as it should be at all times, except when you’re on target), there’s no danger of the pistol firing if something gets wedged inside the trigger guard. Which is always a possibility when reholstering, especially when carrying inside the waistband.
When shooting, proper form for a 1911 is with what’s known as a “thumb-high hold.” That means you keep your thumb over the top of the safety while shooting. This does a lot of things—it forces you to choke up on the gun, providing more recoil control and ensuring your grip is consistent. It keeps your thumb knuckle from accidentally knocking the safety up under recoil. Shooting like this wedges your hand against the grip safety and the back of the frame, and the reason why beavertail grip safeties were invented. But even beavertails couldn’t completely eliminate slide bite.
My first 1911 was a Colt, bought circa 1991. At this time, Colt was still counting on brand loyalty and name recognition for sales, but the guns they were making weren’t the best on the market, or as good as they’d used to be. The bottom corner of the slide was razor sharp, and tended to cut the inside of my thumb up pretty badly, as I was shooting a 1911 chambered in God’s Favorite Caliber (.45 ACP) and I gripped it tightly. And I’ve got medium-size hands, with narrow fingers. Guys with big hands had it even worse, and a common gunsmith mod (after installing a beavertail grip safety) was to bevel that slide corner. Original Colts will slice you up like a jealous woman in a Mickey Spillane novel (and if that kind of reference doesn’t date me, I don’t know what will). With the KDS9c that corner, and every other sharp edge on the gun…isn’t sharp.
A brief note about the sights on the gun you see here—they’re special. The normal sights offered on the KDS9c are these, but standard height. A steel dovetailed front sight with a green fiber optic front sight, and a fully adjustable plain black rear sight that has a truncated, blocky, almost square look due to it sitting on the very rear of the optics plate. The tall “suppressor-height” sights seen on this pistol are custom, Kimber showing off what they can do. The rear sight is one piece with the plate. There is a chance they’ll offer what you see here as a special model.
The iron sights (both these and the standard ones) provide a very solid sight picture. The fiber optic insert in the front sight is very visible, although I wish the notch in the rear sight was a little larger, deeper and wider, as this isn’t a target gun. But I would have no problems carrying this pistol as is. However (you knew there was going to be one of those), if I was going to be uber picky, it would be this—whether in standard or this extra-tall version, I find the blocky rear sight ugly. Aesthetically out of place on an otherwise curvy, sexy gun. Normally, the rear sight comes off with the plate, and when you mount an optic, you won’t have a rear sight unless there’s one built into the housing of your optic. Considering how the only thing batteries are guaranteed to do is die, not having a rear emergency iron sight seems like a very poor decision for a carry gun.
This pistol was shipped to me with the tall iron sights and a Holosun 507K installed on a steel factory plate. This optic has a rear sight machined into the rear of the housing, but that was unneeded with these tall sights, which sit in the lower one-third of the optic window. On a SAO pistol like this, the size, shape, position, and function of the thumb safety is important. On that note, the folks at Kimber did everything right. The thumb safety of the KDS9c is single-sided and positioned right where a 1911 safety should be. The rear of the safety body is rounded, so there are no corners to dig into the web of your hand. The lever on the safety is exactly as long and wide as it needs to be, and the serrations along the top are nicely aggressive. Best of all, it clicks up and down loudly and positively.
The Kimber KDS9c doesn’t look much different from a high-end compact 1911, but you’ll definitely notice the difference as soon as you get one in your hand. The single-stack magazine of the original 1911 made for a very narrow frame, and the purpose of the grips were to give it a little curve and make it more ergonomic. The KDS9c, fed by a double-stack magazine, has the reverse issue, and the grips you’ll see are as thin as they can make them. Compared to a single-stack 1911 the KDS9c will feel a little chunky at first, but it’s not much different in girth from most double-stack 9mms on the market. The SAO operating system, combined with a frame built for the shorter 9mm cartridge, means it is a short reach to the trigger, so even if you have small hands you shouldn’t have an issue.
The trigger itself is aluminum, and a tad narrower than in a standard 1911. Kimber provides a spec of between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds for the trigger pull. My sample had an unremarkable 4.0-pound trigger pull—and that’s one reason why the 1911 has continued to be the pistol of choice for discerning consumers, the trigger pull. A four-pound, crisp, ultra-short trigger pull, with an equally-short reset is, truly, unexceptional for a 1911—but for a striker-fired gun, it would be almost impossible, and any manufacturer of a striker-fired gun who produced a trigger anywhere close to this in quality would be shouting to everyone who listened that it was “best in class.” Which is why everyone has always clamored for “a Glock 19 with a 1911 trigger pull.” Which is what Kimber has aimed to provide them with the KDS9c, it is just about the size and weight of the ubiquitous Glock 19, offering the same capacity, with a superior trigger.
As this is only a 1911-ish pistol and not a 1911, it doesn’t have a grip safety. That piece which includes the beavertail does not pivot. Inside the pistol you’ll find a “Series ‘70”-type trigger system, which means no firing pin safety. Now it seems time to mention the competition—while there have been previous attempts to blend the best aspects of the 1911 with modern striker-fired pistols (such as the Hudson H9 and others) the best and most successful of all of them is the Wilson Combat EDC X9. This wouldn’t be an honest or complete review of the KDS9c without at least mentioning the Wilson Combat pistol, as many people will view the Kimber as a factory competitor to the Wilson Combat custom piece.
Just like the Springfield Armory Prodigy is meant to appeal to those consumers who want a Staccato but can’t afford it, I believe the KDS9c is meant for those shooters who like the idea/concept of the similar Wilson Combat EDC X9 but can’t swing the three thousand-dollar-plus price tag for a carry gun. If you haven’t flipped ahead, I’ll give you the punchline—the Kimber KDS9c has an MSRP of $1,499. While Wilson Combat is a custom shop, and often builds things to order, it appears the least expensive version of the EDC X9 starts at $3,210.
The Wilson guns are absolutely a more polished product. The fit of the EDC X9 is better and more consistent than that of the Kimber. Wilson Combat is, after all, a shop which produces custom firearms. But, truthfully, 80% of everybody (and 50+% of veteran 1911 fans) either won’t care or won’t be able to spot the differences in fit/performance between the two guns, but they’ll definitely notice that huge price difference. You can buy two Kimbers for the price of a Wilson. Or one Kimber and a lot of ammo. Since we’re already talking Wilson, Bill Wilson built the EDC X9 around the proven magazine of the Walther PPQ. I reached out to Kimber about their magazine, assuming they’d been smart and seen no need to reinvent the wheel. I was right—they told me the KDS9c magazines “…are based on an existing magazine. They are not interchangeable with other designs, though.”
A little comparative research showed me that Kimber seems to have used the very proven SIG P226 magazine as the base for their KDS9c magazine. The body has the exact same dimensions/angles/feed lips, only the magazine release cutout is different—on the KDS9c magazines, it’s up a little higher. The P226 magazine is not just proven, but slender as double-stack 9mm magazines go, which probably was a consideration for a gun that would end up with a chunky grip. Kimber has announced that longer 18-round magazines will soon be available for the KDS9c, which makes me think they have plans to introduce a larger pistol sooner rather than later, likely called simply the KDS9 if they follow their same logical naming system.
An aluminum frame built around a double-stack magazine is not especially slim, and to offset that girth Kimber has equipped the KDS9c with slim G10 grips. The grip panels are gray and black with what Kimber calls a “Crosshatch” pattern. The pattern milled into the grips meets up nicely with the same pattern machined into the front and rear of the frame. The end result looks good. While not as aggressive as texturing, it seems to keep your hand properly locked into place while shooting. The same grips are on the black pistol, and I think they look even better with that color contrast. I wish the rear of the frame, between the grips and the mainspring housing, sported the same crosshatch patterning, as that is a significant amount of smooth surface in a spot that presses firmly against your palm, but that’s a minor complaint.
I likely haven’t enraged anyone yet, so here goes—Kimber will likely be asked by a few people to offer a version with a frame rail, so they can mount a weapon light to the gun, but I don’t know that they should. This is a compact gun, meant for concealment. Weapon-mounted lights on the concealed carry pistols of private citizens (not home defense guns) are an affectation, so you can look cool, like a SWAT cop or a Delta Force operator. Don’t agree? Explain to me how a private citizen, using a loaded handgun drawn from concealment, would need/use that weapon-mounted light without violating one of the four basic rules of gun safety. I’ll wait. If you just want a light on your gun because it looks cool, or reduces recoil, or simply “just in case,” that’s fine…but again, if not to me then yourself, detail how you’d employ that light on a concealed EDC piece without violating one of those four basic safety rules Jeff Cooper helped codify.
The magazine release is a teardrop-shaped checkered steel button that is reversible. It sticks out from the frame only a tiny fraction of an inch further than the G10 grip panel, so you are not likely to accidentally dump a magazine by mistake. One thing I really like with this pistol is the plunger tube. This is on the left side of the frame, and is the raised section stretching between the slide release and the thumb safety. At either end there is a steel detent pin, and in-between there is a spring which provides tension against the slide release and the thumb safety. Traditionally, in a standard 1911, the plunger tube is “staked” to the frame, secured via two pins whose ends are flared to keep it in place. But they can come loose. The plunger tube on the Kimber is all one piece with the frame, machined as part of it. I don’t know why every 1911 manufacturer isn’t doing this, as it reduces the number of parts, assembly time, and the chance of a problem, but I’ve only ever seen this once before, in a Ruger 1911.
At the base of the frame you’ll see the magazine well is lightly beveled. The back of the frame/mainspring housing comes down a little further so that it reaches the bottom of the magazine when inserted. The pistol is provided with two 15-round magazines, in addition to a nice nylon carrying case with multiple pockets for magazines, cleaning supplies, ammunition boxes, etc. The KDS9c is sized just large enough for just about everybody to fit their hand on the grip, and I tested this by having my older son handle it. He’s 6' 4" with hands just as big as his size 14 feet, and his paws fit just fine on the KDS9c.
The first time I actually fired one of these pistols was during the Outdoor Sportsman Group Roundtable media event held at the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex in Grand Junction, Colorado. This facility is unique in that most of the “backstops” consist of a giant mountain towering above you, and the steel rifle targets are set up so high that to engage the distant ones (600+ yards) you are truly shooting upward at a 45-degree angle. With an iron-sighted KDS9c, shooting offhand, I could ring the steel silhouette at 50 yards with every pull of the trigger. Once I figured out where to hold, I could hit the 150-yard steel every third or fourth round. That was solely due to a crisp trigger and sights that provided a crisp sight picture. Using a red dot at that distance would only increase your accuracy.
For accuracy testing, I used the red dot. The average front sight is between 10–15 MOA in width, and more precision is one inarguable advantage red dots have over iron sights. At home, with this test gun, I knocked down steel and had some fun doing speed and transition drills on IDPA and USPSA silhouettes. Most of my shooting was done with various JHPs, and I’m happy to report I didn’t experience a single malfunction. The Kimber KDS9c worked perfectly. It was quite controllable whether I was shooting light target ammo or +P defensive loads. Reliability is the most important thing for a carry gun, but the KDS9c adds quite an upscale appearance. It’s not perfect, but the few complaints I have with the KDS9c are minor. It looks good and performs, it conceals well while providing significant onboard capacity, and it is priced competitively.
Kimber KDS0c Specs
- Type: Hammer-fired, semi-automatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 15+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 4.08 in.
- Overall Length: 7.75 in.
- Height: 5.35 in.
- Width: 1.33 in.
- Weight: 25.3 oz.
- Slide Material: Stainless steel, KimPro finish, black or silver
- Frame Material: Aluminum, KimPro finish, black or silver
- Safeties: Thumb Ssafety
- Sights: Green fiber optic front, fully adjustable rear, optics ready
- Grips: G10
- Trigger: 3.5-4.5 lbs., (4 lbs. tested)
- Accessories: Two 15-rd. magazines, cable lock, soft case
- MSRP: $1,499
- Contact: Kimber America
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