Kimber CDP Review

The Kimber CDP (Custom Defensive Pistol) has been heralded as one of the best factory 1911 type pistols ever to be put on the market.   Specifically engineered for concealed carry and as a general purpose self defense pistol, the CDP sports many standard features once found only on custom guns.  In fact, the CDP had started out as a limited offering from Kimber of America as a semi-custom gun for the well heeled 1911 enthusiast looking for the ultimate in an out of the box 1911 carry pistol.

 The price tags on most Kimber pistols are not for the faint of heart, with the CDP being in about the middle of the pack for the product line and having retail pricing in the $900 to $1000 range depending on the buyers choices in a narrow range of options.   The quality and reputation of the pistols is such that models like the CDP seem to retain their value quite well and represent a sound purchase for the survivor who is not afraid to throw down some more serious cash, but still keeps an eye on retained value.

Among the many standard features that got me on the bandwagon for this pistol were the ambidextrous safety, meltdown treatment, full checkered front strap, nice rosewood grips, and stainless steel internals.  The frame is aluminum, but guaranteed to be of the highest grade and will offer long life under normal use.   One really nice part of the two tone setup with the stainless steel slide is that you are not going to get any significant finish wear on the slide from lots of drawing from or inserting it into a holster.   An appropriate holster for this gun would be something in good leather which would abrade the finish on a normal gun.

Although the pistol is not considered a target gun, the accuracy it delivers is astounding.  Far superior to many “target grade” .45s on the market.   A capable shooter can easily and consistently shoot clay pigeons with this pistol at 25 yards.  That is largely a testament to the high quality standards at Kimber when it comes to assembling parts, and the primary reason a well built 1911 is worth considerably more than the sum of the parts that go into building the pistol.   Certain labor intensive processes simply take time and thus cost money.   The checkering is one example of an intensive process that is as much art as function.   A person who carries the Kimber CDP is as much expressing themselves as a connoisseur of quality as much as having a tool for defense.   That has led many utilitarian shooters to refer to the CDP as a “botique” gun, carried mainly by fashionable permit holders.

Most models of the CDP will come with a very bright set of fixed night sights.  Don’t worry about the complex process of zeroing “fixed” sights.  These come dead on the money from the factor.  The picture to the left shows what the home defender is paying for in a pistol with trijicon sights.  The bright glow of the sights allows for aiming in the dark.  Hence, the unwanted nocturnal visitor can be dealt with effectively with a minimum of ammunition expenditure.   Unlike lasers, these types of sights will not give away the user’s position, to the naked eye, but a refraction of the light could be seen by persons with third generation night vision equipment.

Ok with the happy camper stuff said, the pistol is not exactly at the level of being G_d’s gift to shooters.   Having bought mine at about the same time a friend bought his Eclipse custom (one step up from the CDP, but primarily a target pistol), we found that the Kimbers can be finicky about magazine and ammunition combinations.  I suggest that you use Kimber brand magazines and then experiment from there.   Our guns were not 100% reliable with Chip McCormick brand 10 shot mags that all seem to work fine in my other 1911 pattern pistols.  The Kimber magazines, however, worked in all of the 1911 pistols we had on hand for testing.   I think some minor fitting and break-in will solve this small problem.   While the factory magazines are all “8 shot” types, we found that they run a lot better on 7 rounds.  It proves fairly difficult to do a tactical magazine change by inserting a loaded eight shot magazine with the slide forward on a loaded chamber.

Our fine Oregon weather quickly attacked some parts of the pistol to reveal the fairly high carbon content in some of the “stainless” components.  Hence, rust set in within minutes of me touching the barrel and side of the hammer.   In fairness to Kimber, this is usually a sign that the manufacturer is using a more durable grade of steel on these components.   Like nearly all other handguns on the market, the Kimber still needs a bit of break-in before offering optimum performance.   Unlike many cheaper import guns of this design, the Kimber have a lot of cast parts.   People argue about what is better since many of the new casting processes produce good parts, and the Kimbers use mostly Chip McCormick components which a lot of gunsmiths consider an upgrade from normal factory parts used by other companies.   What I found was that nearly all of the internal parts are finished castings.  In my opinion a grade lower than actual machined parts, albeit the best castings in the breed.

Variations in hardness can problem in keeping consistency on the fit of the parts under hard use and I noticed a significant deterioration in the smoothness of the trigger pull after a few days shooting.  This was attributed to me releasing the slide several times onto an empty chamber as a step in clearing the gun at the end of a string of fire in IDPA shooting.   Such action can apparently put undue wear on highly tuned components of these pistols, but never seemed to hurt my old Springfield Armory .45 auto or any other handgun I have owned.  I chock that up to the bank of knowledge, that fitted parts may not stay fitted and cannot always be equaled with parts that were broken in.   Discriminating shooters will have many of these parts replaced with better quality components which leave me wondering why one would spend close to $1,000 on a pistol that may well still not be perfect out of the box.   I mean, if you are going to replace half the parts in a gun, why not buy a $600 Colt and start hacking from there?  That said, many serious shooters will often have over $1500 in a single pistol and will reach a point that anything less will be mediocre.   The Kimber being an excellent top of the line production gun still does not elevate it out of the realm of factory guns.    I do not see the potential for improving the gun beyond its current level to justify spending a lot more money on it.   The brand is a known quantity on the market and people generally respect them without the need for a gunsmith workover.

The size of the pistol at first glance is the same as the Colt Combat commander, but in fact, the slide is about 1/4″ shorter.  That may not sound like much of a difference, but the gun does have a lot sweeter balance than a standard Commander.   This shorter top end combined with the light frame makes this a very fast gun to bring into action.  A light and crisp trigger makes for quick snap shots, but I found that traditional double taps will rarely put both rounds very close together with this pistol.   Snappy recoil and the light fast trigger will usually equate to the second shot being significantly above the first.   I suggest a slight alteration in shooter tactics to deal with this aspect of the gun.   Either take the extra nanoseconds to aim more carefully and take only one shot, or pay extra attention to the likely shot pattern you will get in a double tap and never aim for the head on the first shot.

Controls like the magazine catch, safety and slide stop are positive and crisp.   That said, this is probably not the type of pistol that would be preferred by an assault element in a field environment.   It is not built to take abuse or offer its high level of performance under long exposure in a harsh environment.   Again, I personally see this as largely a result in the materials that went into building this pistol.

In action, the pistol is very fast.  Fast to draw and point, fast to fire, and fast for follow up shots.  Again, these are all results of the gun being short, light and with a crisp light trigger that is well tuned.   This buys critical time in competition or a real world confrontation where winners’ and losers’ actions are separated by fractions of a second.

In conclusion, the Kimber CDP is a winner for those looking for the near perfect balance of power and convenience in a carry gun.   The lightweight nature of the CDP series (there are three sizes) makes them viable back-up options for a survivor or hiker who is looking to travel light without compromising much on firepower.   It is a status symbol class 1911 and priced that way.   Consider this the new benchmark in off the shelf quality 1911 type carry pistols but far from being the best you could have.

As an update on the article.  While my first impressions on the gun were positive, with the handling and accuracy of the CDP being high points, reliability was a low point – to say the least.   I ended up taking the pistol to a well respected gunsmith for a tune-up and to have him look at an issue which appeared to be a badly fitted safety.  He recommended sending it back to the factory for the repairs, since such problems are very rare in Kimber pistols, especially their higher end “flagship models” like the CDP and Eclipse.   I called Kimber  customer service about the problem and they said “fine, send it back and we will take a look at it”.   Now among experienced shooters and gun collectors, that usually translates to “send your gun away to us and we will get around to looking at the problem you are experiencing which is probably your own fault, on our own time when it is convenient for us because we are busy dealing with regular production that makes us money, not some chump with an attitude who we already got the money from”.   That means usually means anything from two weeks (average Ruger repair)  to Four months (small shops like Special Weapons).   I sent the gun out by Fedex on a Friday and figured I should give them a week before I even check up on it so I would not seem rude to be pestering them.   I checked the tracking number on the package online and the Fedex site showed the package delivered on Monday morning.   “OK, well enough”, I thought, maybe they can get to it this week.    Tuesday afternoon, an unexpected box arrived from UPS.   Not recognizing the name of the sender, I opened it up and to my surprise, it was my CDP,  apparently repaired and sent back in a matter of hours, not days, and that done on the far opposite end of the country.    I can’t even get a mirror replaced on my motorcycle that fast.   As it was, the gun was fixed up and tuned up good to go.   For that kind of customer service, it is worth noting that I have to now consider Kimber as holding the world record for fast service on their product.   That is no light feat at all considering the timeframes normally accompanying high end and custom tuned guns.

Cost – High, but reflective of the parts and labor that go into the construction of these pistols.  Some would argue that you are paying for the “Kimber name” but it is nearly impossible to find comparable features in any other US made 1911 pistol for less money. Accessories – The CDP series come pretty well “decked out” so accessories would be limited to little more than some different grips or a holster.   The function of this gun is a delicate balance of fitting in the parts, so adding stuff may actually detract from the usefulness and value of the gun.
Mags – An unfortunate weak point with my sample pistol.   The gun seems to only function reliably with Kimber brand magazines, although in theory all 1911 type .45 mags should fit and function with this pistol.  This is disappointing since I would much rather prefer to use mags with a rounded basepad to facilitate more secure fast reloading and soften the contour of the pistol when it is in the holster. Longevity and durability – Not known exactly, but this 1911 variant will definitely not live as long as it’s steel framed cousins.  In long term ownership, mine has not weathered so well with normal knocks and dings one would expect to encounter with a service gun used only occasionally.   This is a gun for the well dressed in a fairly protected environment, not hardware for the badlands.
Ammunition – Easy to obtain almost anywhere pistol ammunition is sold.   Normal solid point jacketed .45 bullets are sufficient combat/self defense loads for this pistol. Power – Unquestionable stopping power, dismal armor penetration.   The .45 is strictly a short range weapon and more appropriate for the street than the battlefield.
Parts –  Spare parts for these pistols are readily available but often require a skilled gunsmith to install. Ergonomics and handling – Excellent and enhanced by several special features.   Many pistoleers consider the 1911 grip design to be “perfect”.
Popularity – The CDP was once a custom production gun but has become a centerpiece of the Kimber product lineup.   The cost of the gun keeps it from becoming “popular” with most shooters although it is generally based on the most popular handgun design of all time. Maintenance and repair – The pistol seems particularly sensitive to any imbalance with lubrication and maintenance.   Run it dirty and dry and it will jam like crazy.   Parts are anything but drop-in in and even disassembly for cleaning requires some skill and dexterity.
Accuracy – Absolutely phenomenal.   The main reason I did not chuck this out with the trash or sell it off to some sucker years ago.   The people at Kimber definitely have accuracy fitting of these guns figured out. Reliability – The test specimen has not exhibited acceptable reliability for life and death use although this shortcoming can be attributed to the magazines most of the time.   Expect to need some additional fitting and gunsmith attention given to these pistols before betting your life on their reliability.


Larry Pearson is an NRA certified pistol instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as a former police officer, former military firearms instructor and lifelong student of the martial arts. He also felt that he had something of value to share with the firearms community, and wondered which gunzines he should approach with the above essay. The problem was that he was dealing in ideas and concepts, and virtually all of the present gunzines only want articles about products and services so that their advertising department can sell space and everyone can make money. This is the American way. This is his first published work.

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