February 10, 2023
I’ve written it before, and I meant it — we are living in the golden age of carry guns. Large pistols are made small, small pistols are made to hold more ammunition, and everything is modular, corrosion resistant, and reliable to a fault. Your only tough decision is figuring out which gun you like the best, and that decision is getting harder and harder, because new “ultimate carry gun” contenders are being introduced seemingly every month. The latest is Kimber’s R7 Mako.
The R7 Mako isn’t the first polymer-framed pistol Kimber has made, or the first striker-fired gun, but it is their first polymer-framed striker-fired gun. This pistol is (figuratively) aimed squarely at the concealed carry market. Currently chambered only in 9mm (and likely to remain that way, the .40 S&W is dead) this small pistol has a 3.37-inch barrel and is fed by double-column magazines. Each pistol is supplied with one flush 11-round and one extended 13-round magazine.
With the flush magazine in place this pistol is 4.3-inches tall and 6.2-inches long. The slide and most of the frame are less than one inch in width, but the palm swells on the grip frame increase the width to 1.2-inches. With the flush magazine in place this pistol weighs 22 ounces. If you run those numbers against the other small double-column 9mms on the market you’ll see the Mako is similarly sized.
R7 Optics Ready
Currently, there are two versions of the R7 Mako — the OR (optics ready) and the OI (optic included). I secured a sample of the latter for testing — it comes from the factory with a Crimson Trace CTS-1500 mini red dot mounted on the slide. There’s nothing in Kimber’s promotional material or on their website to indicate what the “R7” means, so I reached out to them. They told me that the pistol was a new, great product, so they gave it a new nomenclature.
Presumably the Mako in the name comes from the mako shark, not the actor Mako, but either would be acceptable as far as I’m concerned. Shortfin mako sharks are killer denizens of the deep, growing up to 13 feet in length. Mako, a U.S. Army veteran, spent almost fifty years as an actor in Hollywood, appearing opposite Steve McQueen (The Sand Pebbles, where he was nominated for an Oscar) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian), and ended his career providing the voice of Uncle Iroh in the epic and legendary animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. But it’s probably the shark.
There is one feature which sets this pistol apart from the competition, and that is the design of the barrel and slide. This pistol has a short recoil system with a tilting/moving barrel, but instead of having the chamber end of the barrel lock up to the breechface, Kimber went with a different design. There is a lug in the top of the barrel that locks into a recess in the slide, and as a result the top of the slide is closed.
Kimber says they did this, having an old-school right side only ejection port as opposed to using a standard barrel/breech configuration with an open top, to keep debris off the lens of your optic — no venting gases or brass into the lens of your slide-mounted optic. The 3.37-inch barrel is stainless steel, and both it and the stainless steel slide have a nitride coating for corrosion resistance. The slide has a somewhat rounded top, with flat-bottomed angled serrations front and rear. The Mako isn’t the least expensive subcompact 9mm on the market, and that’s because they give you everything you might possibly want or need on the pistol as it comes from the factory. At the top of that list are iron sights equal to or better than anything else on the market.
The Mako is topped with TruGlo Tritium Pro day/night sights. These are high-profile steel sights of a type normally found on full-size guns. The front sight has an orange ring around a tritium insert. The rear sight has a serrated face and a U-shaped notch. To either side of the notch is a tritium insert surrounded by a white ring. If you’re not running a red dot you’ll see the front of the rear sight has a forward cant, allowing you to rack the slide one-handed if you find the need. These sights use Glock-pattern mounting (dovetail in back, screw in front) if you want to swap them out. I’m not sure why you’d want to do that, but some people think putting spinning rims on classic muscle cars is a good idea, so….
Both versions of this pistol have slides cut to accept mini red dot optics using the Shield RMSc footprint. The slide is cut low enough that with the provided Crimson Trace CTS-1500 optic in place, you can use the iron sights through the optic. You can see the top 90% of the front sight through the notch.
Crimson Trace CTS-1500
The Crimson Trace CTS-1500 has a 5 MOA dot. It has a polymer housing and a glass lens. The dot automatically brightens and dims according to ambient light and has an auto on/off feature to conserve battery life. A polymer cover is provided for the optic which shuts the dot down to near zero to extend battery life even more, although it’s measured in years. Currently the CTS-1500 is not available separately and can only be found as OEM equipment on pistol packages from various manufacturers. The optics ready R7 Mako has an MSRP of $599, and this version with the red dot is $200 more.
Just to the rear of the ejection port you’ll see a roll pin through the slide. The breech block is pinned in place. Kimber states this is for ease of manufacturing, but it would make caliber conversions quite easy. I have no use for the .40 S&W and in a pistol this size its recoil would be abusive, but a .380 ACP Mako would recoil like a .22, and have a slide far easier to rack if you had grip strength issues. Kimber, are you listening? The pistol uses a captured recoil spring assembly, with a flat wire spring. I think the Mako is topped with some of the best sights to be found on any subcompact pistol. Another thing I think they did right is the grip frame.
Except for one small rectangle on each side of the grip where you’ll find the Kimber name etched, the entire gripping surface of the R7 Mako is covered in a very aggressive texture. This includes the area above the trigger guard where your support hand thumb will/should rest. Small guns tend to have a lot of recoil (that’s simple physics) and Kimber has done everything they can to make sure your hand is going to stay on this gun while you’re shooting.
Both sides of the grip have been scooped out to provide relief for the bilateral magazine release buttons. The buttons are smooth steel and do not protrude beyond the edge of the grip, but because of the dished area are easy to use. As a general rule, the gunfight lasts as long as you’ve got rounds in the gun, so manufacturers offering guns sized for concealed carry which have increased capacity is a very good thing.
The slide release is another bilateral/ambidextrous control. They are serrated aluminum tabs on either side of the gun molded to match the contour of the ridge running along the top of the frame. And they actually work as a slide release. While they are somewhat small and don’t protrude, once you’ve loaded a fresh mag in, pressing down on the slide release with your thumb — one either side — will send the slide forward with a satisfying thunk.
The trigger shoe itself is machined aluminum. There is a polymer safety lever in the center of it. Kimber’s specs call for a trigger pull between 5.0–6.75 pounds, and they promise an even pull and a clean break. Trigger pull on my sample was 5.5-pounds, and about as crisp as you’re going to get with a striker-fired gun. The trigger group and other components in the frame are located inside a nitrided, stainless steel assembly, and that is the serialized part, not the polymer grip frame. It is not designed to be consumer removable. There is an oval cutout in the polymer on the right side above the trigger guard, and through it can be seen the serial number. Forward of the trigger guard is a small shallow rail for mounting a light. Above the rail on the right side you’ll see that this pistol was made in Kimber’s plant in Troy, Alabama.
The grip angle is roughly that of a 1911. With the flush magazine in place you’ll be lucky to get even half your pinkie on the flush magazine basepad. If you’ve got thick fingers your pinkie will be wrapped around the underside of the gun. With the extended magazine in place most people will be able to get their pinkie on the basepad, providing increased control and capacity. Normally extended magazines make the pistol less concealable, but check out the aggressive bobtail profile on the extended magazine’s basepad. It is the butt of the gun which prints under clothing. Because of the aggressive angle cut off the back of the extended magazine’s basepad, it really doesn’t print under clothing any more than the flush magazine.
The difference in concealability is negligible, while providing increased grip, control, and capacity. Which makes me wonder why anyone would ever carry it loaded with the flush magazine. But a lot of people drink garbage water (tea) instead of coffee, demonstrating that there’s no accounting for taste. Disassembly should be a familiar process to anyone who has ever taken apart of Glock. It’s the same, but different. There are steel tabs near the front of the trigger guard you pull down, and you’ll have to pull the trigger before the slide comes free. But the ejector is a big wedge of metal inside the gun, and the slide doesn’t really slide forward for disassembly as the ejector is in the way (take a look at the slide cover at the rear of the gun, there is no relief cut for any internal parts). The slide goes forward barely half an inch, and then you lift it up off the frame. Reassembly is the reverse — once the slide is all assembled, set it on the frame about a quarter inch forward of where it would normally rest, then cycle it backward to lock it in place.
The slide rides on steel rails. The forward rails are much larger than the rear ones. Unlike many striker-fired pistols when you take them apart and look inside, with the R7 Mako you won’t be wondering if/when the manufacturer is going to be sued by Glock for patent infringement. It’s a completely different animal on the inside. Internally it has only a vague design similarity to existing designs — more M&P and CZ P-10 than anything Austrian.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve learned to not comment on whether or not I find certain guns pretty or ugly, because my tastes are not yours. Some of you, for instance, strangely think Hawaiian shirts are ugly. You can look at the photos of the gun and determine for yourself whether or not you like what you see. And the appearance of a firearm has no real bearing on whether or not it works, just whether or not you’ll buy it. I love and would carry/have carried a lot of reliable, awesome guns I consider ugly (Walther PPQ, every factory Glock). I will say that (just like the competing Springfield Armory Hellcat) the slide of the Mako seems out of proportion to the grip frame…but I realize that means even people with small hands will be able to get a firm grasp around the Mako’s slim grip.
In looks and size the Mako most closely resembles the Springfield Armory Hellcat, so let me quickly compare the two. The Hellcat is just a tiny bit smaller, but the Mako has slightly better grip texturing and a better trigger pull. The Mako is more concealable with its extended magazine in place. Both are available with iron sights or mounting red dots from the factory, with identical MSRPs. Honestly, I am continually amazed at the capacities demonstrated by modern pistols, and the fact that the extended magazine of this pistol holds 13+1 rounds seems like it should violate some law of physics. The original 13+1 9mm was John Browning’s Hi-Power/P35, and that gun just dwarfs the Mako.
Red Dots for Carry Guns
I am nearly the lone voice crying out in the wilderness against red dots on handguns meant for self-defense as they are slower to use for 99% of people at every realistic defensive distance. For compact and smaller carry guns they’re an even worse idea, the physical manifestation of the phrase “redoubling your efforts after losing sight of your goal.” But red dots on carry guns are the hot thing, and you can’t blame Kimber for offering what the customer wants. If car companies did that the world would be a far happier place. In case you’ve missed one of my rants about red dots on carry guns, here’s a quick run-down of the pros and cons:
- A red dot is like a night sight in that it is visible in every lighting situation.
- A red dot is simpler to use than iron sights.
- For aging eyes that can’t get a front sight into focus, a red dot solves that problem.
- Most people can shoot slightly more accurately with a red dot than iron sights.
- For just about everybody except expert shooters who have been using/training with them regularly, red dot sights have been proven to be slower at every realistic defensive handgun distance.
- Red dots are electronic devices powered by batteries. Batteries die. Usually at the worst possible time. And electronics break. And they are held to the slide by screws, which tend to loosen.
- The incremental (15%) increased accuracy provided by red dots over iron sights is irrelevant in a real-world defensive situation, but the increased time required to use them is very definitely not.
However, I will say that red dots do make it far easier to train new shooters. During one visit to the range with the Mako I brought my son who was home on leave from the Army, and he brought along several of his friends, who have little to no shooting experience. The Mako was the first pistol one of them had ever shot, and the Crimson Trace red dot — which was zeroed as delivered from the factory — made it much easier for her to get hits.
Kimber calls the R7 Mako a “Micro-Compact” pistol. And they aren’t alone in this — Springfield Armory calls their similarly-sized Hellcat a micro-compact too. Hey, this is America, do whatever you want, call it a Frumious Bandersnatch if you so desire. In the firearms world, there is no technical definition of compact or sub-compact, so micro-compact can be whatever you say it is. However, to me, anything labeled “sub-compact” and smaller should fit discreetly into your pocket, and the Mako doesn’t really do that, unless you’re talking a cargo pocket and it’s not wearing a red dot. In my mind, a micro-compact would be something like a Beretta .25 auto or one of those tiny NAA revolvers. But the R7 Mako is very concealable, and provides the sights, trigger pull, and capacity that you should want in a carry gun. It’s roughly as concealable as a snubnose revolver, while providing twice the capacity.
And remember, “compact,” much less “sub-compact” and “micro-compact” are in the eyes of the beholder. Or the hands of the holder. My son grew an inch after he enlisted, which makes him 6' 3" and still an inch shorter than his brother. In his hands the Mako looks compact. His college-aged friend whom he helped teach at the range is 4 foot 10 inches and weighs 90 pounds — in her hands the Mako looked like — heck, was a full-size pistol. She also struggled to rack the slide until I showed her a few tricks…but the Mako is chambered in a full-power cartridge. A smaller pistol would recoil even more, all things to consider if you’re small of stature or shopping for a pistol for someone who is. At the range I and my volunteers punched paper and used the Mako to knock down steel — full-size and compact Pepper Poppers, an MGM Targets plate rack, even a Texas Star. Reliability with the pistol was 100% using a wide variety of ammunition, and accuracy was at least equal to its competitors.
Ten years ago, subcompact single-stack 9mm pistols (most of them polymer-framed and striker-fired) were all the rage. Now, the market is seeing higher capacity double-stack subcompact pistols barely larger in size than their single-column forebears. Manufacturers have figured out how to provide consumers with more ammo while barely increasing the size of the pistols. And now it is a rare subcompact pistol which isn’t at least optics ready, if not supplied with an optic like this R7 Mako. DeSantis and other holster makers already have leather and polymer holsters available for the Mako. The concealed carry pistol market has never been more competitive, and consumers have never had better carry guns from which to choose. With the R7 Mako from Kimber, consumers now have another quality choice.
Kimber R7 Mako Specs
- Type: Striker-fired, semiautomatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 11+1/13+1 rds.
- Barrel: 3.37 in., stainless, nitride
- Length: 6.2 in.
- Height: 4.3 in.
- Width: 1.2 in.
- Weight: 22 oz. (w/mag)
- Finish: Nitride
- Slide: Stainless steel
- Frame: Polymer
- Sights: TruGlo Tritium Pro day/night sights
- Optic: Crimson Trace CTS-1500 (5MOA)
- Trigger Pull: 5-6.75 lbs. (5.5 lbs. tested)
- Safties: Striker block, trigger safety
- MSRP: $799 ($599 without optic)
- Manufactuer: Kimber America
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
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