January 03, 2011
Kimber, the company that several years ago fundamentally and permanently changed the M1911 pistol market, has never stopped making innovations to that classic design. This year, among several new pistols offered are two that particularly stand out in the company's extensive line. They are the SIS and the Gold Combat II. While each is a superlative item that has its own appeal, they are substantively different in several ways that merit examination. Recently, we received one example of each pistol and got the chance to compare them.
The New SIS
The SIS is the much-ballyhooed new gun developed for the LAPD Special Investigation Section. This unit, not dissimilar to New York City's Stakeout Squad, is a unique entity within the police force. Tasked with targeting violent, repeat offenders, SIS routinely engages and apprehends some of the worst felons in the City of Angels. The undercover unit also serves as test bed and proving ground for various tactics and weapons systems before they are employed by the rest of the force.
In 2002, Kimber won the prestigious contract to supply LAPD SWAT with new duty pistols. Because of the success and satisfaction experienced by SWAT with those guns, SIS met with Kimber and asked the company to develop a pistol specifically for its mission. Kimber agreed, and the result was actually a family of four guns now known as the SIS pistols.
The guns include a compact model with a 3-inch barrel and short grip frame called the SIS Ultra, a 4-inch-barreled model dubbed the SIS Pro, and a standard 5-inch version known as the SIS Custom. A 5-inch version with an integral Picatinny accessory rail is called the SIS Custom RL.
The gun I tested is the 5-inch SIS Custom RL.
When Kimber first introduced mass-produced pistols with custom features, it was news. The guns so changed the market that many of these features are market-wide now and don't bear repeating. Instead, it's more important at this juncture to look at how the SIS departs from the typical M1911 available today.
New or notable are the self-lubricating KimPro II finish, SIS-pattern cocking serrations, Kimber Service Melt dehorning, SIS night sights, SIS hammer, and logo grips.
The finish is gray, evenly applied, and both handsome and functional. Although the slide and frame are of stainless steel, the KimPro II finish adds extra protection and the tactical advantage of dark coloration and low reflectivity to the pistol.
The most distinctive feature of the SIS is the patterning of the cocking serrations to spell out "SIS." Honestly, it looks pretty slick. The problem is it also feels slick. The combination of the shallow, irregularly shaped cuts, the self-lubricating finish, and the smoothing and rounding of sharp edges resulting from the Service Melt treatment means that the serrations are quite slippery. The slide is often difficult to rack without employing the rear sight for leverage. The Service Melt makes the gun smooth on the draw and comfortable in the hand and is, like the finish, a nice touch. However, the stylized cocking serrations are an affectation that can hinder operation of the pistol.
The reason the rear sight works well for cocking the pistol is that it was designed with that purpose is mind. From a tactical standpoint, it may be the pistol's best feature. Its face is relatively square, allowing an operator with only one available hand to lodge the rear sight against a belt, steering wheel, door jamb, barricade, or what have you and rack the slide.
The new hammer on the SIS is touted as shortening locktime and improving accuracy, but it is rather small and angled such that there is not a lot of space on top when it is down. This makes thumb-cocking the SIS rather difficult. I'd argue that it is not a gun for carrying in Condition Two.
The black laminated wood grip panels are attractive and comfortable. The front edges, sweeping down and back, are stippled, whereas the top, rear, and bottom are smooth. They provide adequate friction for a good, secure hold but do not catch on clothing. Grip is enhanced by 30-lpi checkering that provides purchase without abrading the skin during firing.
Other features include a solid aluminum trigger, raised pad on the beavertail grip safety to ensure activation, and a flat-top slide.
An Enhanced Classic
The Gold Combat II from Kimber's Custom Shop represents the top of the line in the company's tactical pistols. This year's guns have been tweaked to keep them on the leading edge of feature-packed defensive pistols. New this year are a serrated topstrap, fine cocking serrations, redesigned night sights, a deep-crowned bushingless barrel, micarta grip panels, and 24-lpi frontstrap checkering.
The serrations in the topstrap break up reflected glare in bright sunlight. I tested the benefit against the flat-but-ungrooved topstrap of the SIS and found it was difficult to generate problematic glare with either pistol, but at the angles at which it was possible, the Gold Combat II offered an advantage.
The cocking serrations are a series of fine grooves cut at an angle at the front and rear of the slide. They provide excellent purchase for racking the slide and give the gun a handsome, no-nonsense look.
The tritium rear sight is redesigned to allow it to be used for racking the slide. However, the design is a bit of a compromise; the front face is not as steeply angled as the unit on the SIS, and it isn't quite as efficient for that use.
The deeply crowned barrel is a comfort to anyone who makes the kind of investment required of a Gold Combat II, and it's good to know that the rifling is well protected. The barrel itself is of a thick, bull configuration. It has no bushing and locks up tight to the slide.
The herringbone-pattern micarta grip panels are attractive and functional. The pattern seems as effective as typical checkering but is more distinctive. Together with 24-lpi checkering on the frontstrap, the combination offers good purchase. This is greatly enhanced by the extreme undercutting of the trigger guard. The top of the grip frame beneath the guard has been made as narrow as possible to afford the best, most comfortable grip imaginable on a full-size .45 ACP-caliber M1911.
Additional Gold Combat II features include a full-length guide rod and a beveled magazine well.
Two For The Show
I took both pistols to the shooting range used by the Marietta, Georgia, Police Department. The 138-person force is charged with protecting the sizable industrial city just west of Atlanta. Officers and firearm instructors handled the new Kimbers and had favorable opinions of both models.
Patrolman and Instructor Greg Walker preferred the Gold Combat II, praising the handling. "It's just a good-feeling gun," said Walker.
Sergeant and Instructor David Barnes concurred, adding that he particularly liked the high grip cut, grip panels, and extended magazine well. He also lauded the precision apparent in the gun's manufacture. "The fit and finish is without equal," said Barnes. "You can't get a production gun this nice without having it tricked out by a gunsmith."
Patrolman and Instructor Mark Bishop opted for the SIS, citing its grips, checkering, comfort, and appearance. Asked to critique the pistol, he said, "It's a Kimber--what can I say?" He added that the department's SWAT Team would do well to use such a gun.
The SIS locks up good and strong, like all Kimbers, but is not bank-vault tight. This is a tactical, hard-use duty pistol and reliability must be at a premium. Nonetheless, accuracy was more than satisfactory for a service gun. The Gold Combat II outshot it, but that is to be expected from such a high-end model. The Gold Combat II, as noted, has a bushingless lockup, while the SIS relies on the more traditional barrel-to-bushing-to-slide system.
We noted that while the SIS felt better when you ran your hand over the slide and frame--owing to the dehorning--the Gold Combat II felt better to most shooters when the gun was settled in the hand in firing position. It is also interesting to note that the Gold Combat II seemed to balance a bit better, despite the added weight of the SIS RL's accessory rail. By the way, a rail-equipped version of the Gold Combat II is available as the Gold Combat RL II.
Which pistol is right for you? Well, we liked the Gold Combat II, but it comes at a premium, though that premium is admittedly lower than what a custom gunsmith would charge. On the other hand, there is a certain undeniable cachet to carrying the same pistol used by one of the top law enforcement units in the country, drawing some to the SIS. Of course, if you're really torn, I'm pretty sure Kimber will sell you one of each.