May 24, 2022
I worked with Steve Quinlan several years ago when he was as an editor at another firearms publication, but Steve’s real passion was catch-and-release fishing for giant mako sharks off the California coast. His ability to consistently catch thousand-pound-plus makos made him something of a celebrity, and he appeared on the television shows Shark Hunters and Shark Hunters: East Versus West.
I once asked Steve why he specifically targeted mako sharks, and he seemed taken aback, as though I’d asked why he liked ribeye steaks or the Constitution. He told me the mako was the product of eons of evolutionary perfection. There were lots of fish in the sea, he said, but no others were like the mako.
I thought of Steve when Kimber announced its new American-made subcompact optics-ready 9mm pistol: the Mako R7 9mm. Like its namesake ocean predator, the Kimber boasts a sleek profile that’s fine-tuned for its environment. The texturing on the polymer grip extends forward onto the frame and looks like sharkskin, offering just enough purchase on the gun to keep it planted while firing without biting into the hand.
Slide serrations—six on the rear, five on the front—provide a firm grip when cycling the action, and the slide itself is machined with rounded edges that rest comfortably against the body and make the gun easy to conceal. The slide is stainless steel and comes with an FNC (ferritic nitrocarburized) finish that offers a durable layer of defense against the cumulative effects of moisture that can damage carry guns.
One prominent feature found on the Mako R7 is the hooded ejection port. Unlike competing subcompacts that feature a large gap in the top of the slide, the Kimber’s oval port sends gases and spent cases away from the pistol at a right angle and not up and potentially into the lens of a red-dot optic, thus preventing damage to the optic.
Another benefit of the design—especially for reloaders—is that empty cartridge cases are easier to locate. All the empties I fired at the range were in a scattered pile off to my right, which makes them easier to retrieve than cases that are flung pell-mell around the shooter’s head.
The optics-ready (O.R.) Mako R7 accepts Shield-pattern RMSc reflex sights, and there’s also an optics installed (O.I.) version that comes outfitted with a Crimson Trace CTS-1500 with a five-m.o.a. red dot. Both models feature TruGlo Tritium Pro night sights with an orange front ring and white rear dots that co-witness with the optic on the O.I. model.
The rear sight is dovetailed into the slide, and since the sights are Glock pattern, there are innumerable aftermarket options should you decide to swap them for something else. There’s also a small accessory rail under the Mako’s barrel where a small laser or light can be installed. The suggested retail price for the Mako R7 O.R. model is $599, and the O.I. model carries a price tag of $799.
The gun’s 3.37-inch crowned barrel features a 1:10 twist, and like the slide, it’s made from stainless steel and comes with an FNC finish. That gives the gun an overall length of just 6.2 inches. Height is 4.3 inches without the optic, five inches with the optic and the flush-fit magazine in place. Grip width is right at one inch, so this gun tucks neatly against the side of the body and is easy to conceal under lightweight clothing.
Despite its narrow profile, the grip accommodates stack-and-a-half magazines. A flush-fit 11-round magazine is included with the gun as well as an extended 13-round magazine with a finger extension. The Kimber’s metal magazines feature a bottleneck design that blends the capacity of a double-stack magazine with the center-feed simplicity and reliability of a single stack. Note: A 10-round magazine will be available to those who live in areas of the country with magazine-capacity restrictions, and a 15-round magazine is coming.
The Mako’s grip contains a stainless steel, serialized block set inside the polymer grip module. This has become a popular option as it offers a level of modularity not found in traditional polymer-frame pistols. As such, when the Kimber is disassembled, the slide lifts up and off the serialized frame rather than sliding straight forward off the rails. The Kimber didn’t come with interchangeable backstraps, but its grip design will likely be comfortable for most shooters.
Kimber engineered this gun with a low-tilt barrel that doesn’t rise as far from the frame as traditional striker-fired pistols when fired. According to Kimber, this mitigates recoil forces and also helps reduce the muzzle flip that is so prevalent in short-barreled carry pistols.
Working in tandem with the low-tilt barrel is a sculpted grip that is narrow at the top and widens at the bottom. With the 11-round magazine in place, the gun is comfortable to hold, but if your hands are large, you may prefer the extended 13-round magazine with the finger extension. The 13-round magazine adds only about a half-inch of overall height to the gun, so it’s still concealable. This grip geometry and the low-tilt barrel combine with a low bore axis to make the Mako one of the softest-shooting subcompact 9mms on the market.
The Mako’s Performance Carry Trigger is brand-new, but it has already earned a spot as one of the better triggers you’ll find in a subcompact striker-fired carry pistol. Kimber followed the popular trend of giving the Performance Carry trigger a flat face, and like many other pistols, it incorporates a blade. The blade acts as a trigger safety because it must be pressed back into the face of the trigger before the gun can be fired. There’s also a striker block safety on this gun.
There is no manual safety option, and so the trigger should have some take-up, which it does. That take-up is smooth, even and predictable. When tension tightens slightly, it takes just a bit of extra pressure to trip the sear and fire the gun. Kimber advertises a trigger pull between 5.0 and 6.75 pounds, but according to my Wheeler gauge, the test gun’s trigger was considerably lighter, breaking at just 4.5 pounds for an average of 10 trigger pulls.
The controls on this gun are few, and they’re simple in design. There’s a slide stop that’s incorporated into a polymer ridge that runs the length of the top of the frame and a D-shaped magazine release that’s recessed into the front of the grip. Both the slide stop and mag release are ambidextrous, so this gun works well for both right-handed and left-handed shooters.
Takedown is simple. A takedown tab extends from both sides of the frame just above the trigger guard. The look is smooth and streamlined—just like the shark for which this pistol is named.
The Mako is a well-thought-out carry pistol that’s compact enough for daily carry yet still comfortable to shoot. It’s also quite accurate for a pistol in this category. The testing protocol here at Handguns is to evaluate accuracy for pistols with barrels less than 3.5 inches at 15 yards, which is a reasonable outer limit for subcompact pistols. At that distance the Mako produced five-shot groups as small as 1.27 inches, and except for one errant shot, that group might have gone under an inch. On the average, though, this gun produced five-shot groups at or around two inches from 15 yards, which is better accuracy than is required for a subcompact self-defense pistol.
That accuracy is certainly improved by the inclusion of the Performance Carry Trigger. The flat-front design, smooth take-up and predictable break help improve accuracy from the bench. When firing multiple shots offhand, you’re more likely to notice the trigger’s short reset, which allows for very fast follow-up shots. This, combined with the barrel design, low bore axis and grip angle and geometry, makes the Mako one of the fastest subcompact pistols to shoot both accurately and quickly.
Some single-stack 9mms with short barrels have an unmistakable bite under recoil and a dramatic muzzle climb. That may not be intimidating to experienced shooters, but new gun owners may find that these guns buck too much in the hand for maximum control and comfort. The Mako isn’t as abusive and should be manageable for shooters of all skill levels, though it does feel a bit nose-heavy. There are subcompact 9mms I would never take to the range for extended shooting sessions, but even after firing the Mako over 100 times, I was still ready for more.
The Mako’s oval ejection port was initially a concern for me—although I like the look, which is faintly reminiscent of the round black eye of the oceanic predator for which this gun is named. Smaller ejection ports mean smaller targets for spent cases, but my fears were unfounded.
I didn’t wring out the Mako extensively, but I put well over 100 rounds of varying bullet weights and velocities through it and didn’t have a single malfunction. Twice the slide failed to lock back, but both instances were while the gun was being fired from a fixed rest and not offhand. The Mako proved to be a very reliable pistol.
The Kimber’s metal magazine locks in place with an audible snick and doesn’t need to be coerced into position. Mag changes are fast and easy, and the Kimber’s slide stop is one of my favorites of any subcompact pistol. The stop is large enough and long enough that you can reliably activate it without taking your eyes off the target, yet it’s tucked into the small polymer ridge (or fin, if you like) that runs the length of the top of the frame. This position keeps the slide stop out of the way when holstering or drawing the gun, yet it’s still instantly accessible.
I wasn’t as big a fan of the magazine release, but for no practical reason, other than it wasn’t as intuitive to me as other designs, which is a matter of personal taste. It’s perfectly functional, and many shooters may find it more to their liking than the traditional round button found on guns like a 1911.
If there’s a specific red dot you love, then the OR version saves you a couple of hundred bucks, but if you want a red dot-equipped pistol that’s ready to use right out of the box, the $800 OI model is a superb option. The Crimson Trace 1500 red dot is easy to use and offers a long battery life and auto brightness and shutoff. The iron sights are also very good, and because they co-witness, shooters can switch between the red dot and the irons as desired and a have a suitable plan B if the battery ever happens to die.
I checked the screws on the CT 1500 sight before testing and found they were snug. The sight was nearly centered for shots at 15 yards, which meant I just had to make minor adjustments, which are accomplished by rotating the screw on the top of the sight to adjust elevation and the screw on the right side to control windage. Wrenches were included in the hard plastic case in which the Kimber ships, as were the 11- and 13-round magazines, an owner’s manual, and a gun lock.
I didn’t have a Mako-specific carry holster, but I made do with a bellyband with a Velcro strap. That wouldn’t be my first choice for carrying this pistol, but it gives a good indication of just how discreetly this gun can be worn. It’s worth noting Kimber offers a host of Mako holsters and accessories on its website.
The dimensions and design of the Mako allow it to ride close alongside the body, and the gun’s sharp edges have been rounded to prevent pinching and jabbing. I like the grip angle, and the rear of the slide is positioned well back and away from of the hand. The gun is also compact enough that it can be carried in the appendix position without having to hike up your pants past your belly button.
There is an ocean of subcompact red-dot pistols on the market, but there is only one Mako. The new Kimber enters the most competitive market in all of firearms, and while it wasn’t the first of its kind, this gun will be an immediate standout. Like its namesake, the Kimber mako is perfectly adapted to survive in its environment.
Kimber R7 Mako O.I. Specifications
- Type: Striker-fired semiauto
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 11, 13
- Barrel: 3.4 in.
- OAL/Height/Width: 6.2/4.3 (no optic)/1.0 in.
- Weight: 19.5 oz.
- Grips: Polymer, wraparound texturing
- Finish: FNC
- Trigger: Performance Carry, 4.5 lb. pull (measured)
- Sights: TruGlo Tritium Pro night sights, Crimson Trace 1500 co-witness red dot (as tested, OI only)
- Price: $799 (as tested)
- Manufacturer: Kimber, KimberAmerica.com