September 25, 2019
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In early 2017, a group of us gathered at SIG Sauer headquarters to handle a prototype subcompact 9mm. As we fondled the de-sign and oohed and awed, the product manager told us the pistol’s capacity and our jaws dropped. No one thought 11 rounds could fit inside a pistol so small.
That gun was the SIG P365, and it rocked the shooting world. Here was a gun that carried like a .380 but shot almost as well a full-size 9mm. The P365 quickly became the “it” gun for concealed carry, and I wondered if its supremacy would ever be challenged.
For the past few years, Springfield Armory has been hard at work to do just that. Its newest pistol, the Hellcat subcompact 9mm, is striker-fired, ergonomic and accurate. With its flush-fit magazine, you get 11+1 capacity, one round more than the P365 with its flush-fit mag. The extended mag ups the Hellcat’s capacity to 13+1.
Available in two configurations — standard (# HC9319B) and OSP (Optic Sight Pistol, # HC9319BOSP) — the greatest feat of the Springfield Hellcat is cramming additional rounds into a P365-size frame. With a price of just $569 for the standard and $599 for the OSP version, the Hellcat has a legitimate chance to dethrone the P365 as the king of concealed carry.
Small and well balanced, with its three-inch barrel, the Springfield Hellcat standard weighs 18.3 ounces with an empty flush mag — half an ounce heavier than the P365. In my hand, the Hellcat feels a tad larger than the P365, but with that size increase you’re getting more capacity.
Springfield achieved the larger round count by developing a patented stack-and-a-half magazine that tapers near the top to become a single stack. As such, it fits the diminutive magazine well without wasting a cubic millimeter of space.
No matter the capacity, a pistol is useless if it doesn’t fit the shooter. The frame of the Springfield Hellcat is textured polymer and just large enough to offer a solid purchase. With the extended magazine, a full grip can be achieved. With the flush-fit mag, the pinky finger rests at the bottom of the magazine well.
To achieve traction, Springfield stippled the Hellcat frame in a unique way. Called Adaptive Grip texture, it is a surprisingly intricate process.
“Each tiny bump is made by hand in the mold,” said Steve Kramer, vice president of marketing at Springfield. “The seamless, pressure-activated grip texture features a pattern of staggered pyramid shapes.
“The taller pyramids have a flattened top to ensure comfort in the waistband and reduced wear on clothing while the shorter pyramids come to a point and are engaged when the pistol is firmly gripped. This creates a unique surface that is smooth to the touch yet firm when gripped.”
And that’s exactly what I found. The Hellcat’s frame texture is soft on the surface and aggressive beneath that. The harder you squeeze, the more it sticks in the hand. It’s the best balance of texturing I’ve felt on a pistol. A generous beavertail extends beyond the rear of the slide and enables a high grip that locks the pistol in the web of the hand. This results in minimal muzzle rise during recoil.
Grip angle of the Springfield Hellcat allows for instinctive sight alignment with the U-notch rear and front sight, which has a tritium vial and luminescent ring — as well as the Shield RMSc red dot that can be mounted on the OSP version.
As good as the Hellcat’s iron sights are, red-dot sighted pistols are quickly gaining ground for defensive uses. Why? Because they are superior to iron sights, enhancing both precision and speed by allowing the shooter to place the red dot on target instead of focusing on the front sight.
Worried about a dead battery or, God forbid, sight failure? The iron sights on the OSP version of the Hellcat co-witness with the red dot, so you can simply use the irons if something goes wrong.
I think anyone considering a Springfield Hellcat would be a fool to pass on the OSP version. This is not the place to save the $30 upcharge over the standard model. While the OSP model doesn’t ship with the $400 Shield RMSc, it offers a much simpler, cheaper way to add one at a later date. (I know because I forked over $125 to $150 to have slides on my pistols milled to accept a red dot.)
You might be wondering why Springfield chose this particular sight. That’s easy: size. Sights like the Trijicon RMR, Docter Optic, Leupold DeltaPoint Pro and even Shield’s own RMS are too big to fit on the slide the size of the Hellcat’s. The RMSc is currently the only red dot narrow enough, hence it was Springfield’s logical choice for the slide adapter footprint.
Besides the lack of a grip safety — a departure from Springfield’s previous striker-fired pistols like the XD series — controls on the Hellcat are standard fare. The trigger features a safety blade, and the pull weight averaged seven pounds for our early samples. We did have one OSP model that had a considerably lighter trigger pull, coming in at 5 pounds, 7 ounces. It’s consistent and clean, allowing speed and precision when required. Reset is short and sweet. At the front of the frame is a dustcover rail with standard-size slots for accessories.
Disassembly for cleaning is accomplished by removing the magazine, ensuring the gun is empty, locking back the slide and lifting the takedown lever upward. Ease the slide forward and pull the trigger to remove the slide assembly.
Springfield Hellcat 9mm Performance
Enough of the details. How’d the pistol perform? The short answer is far better than I can. After rounding up range ammo and defensive loads, I ran both Hellcat models through two days of reliability and accuracy testing. From conventional positions, the pistols never sputtered, even when staggering the mag with different loads and bullet weights.
My only issue occurred while practicing “hip shots” — close-quarter fire at the point where the pistol just clears the holster — with the OSP model, as the slide locked back once after firing. Most likely, my thumb got under the slide catch and put enough upward force on the lever to lock back the slide. But I’ll never know, because I was unable to duplicate it. One shooter-induced stoppage in 500 rounds is pretty impressive.
At distances from seven to 50 yards, as close and as far as I shot, the pistols humbled me as a shooter. Whenever the target had a flyer, I knew the culprit was behind the trigger. Even so, from 15 yards, the Hellcat shot great. Best accuracy was achieved with Federal’s 124-grain Syntech Training Match load. Four groups averaged one inch. I was pleased.
Keep in mind this is a subcompact pistol. Compared to a full-size duty gun, small pistols require far more work (and frustration) to extract top performance. As a carry gun, however, the Hellcat blew me away. Pull the trigger fast and you can spit lead into a cantaloupe-size cluster. Shift into precision mode — slow down, breathe, squeeze — and T-zone head shots would be no problem.
After expending about 500 rounds, I have one complaint. After firing large quantities of ammo, my finger got sore from contacting the trigger blade. Besides that, the Hellcat provides an enjoyable shooting experience, especially when firing the 100-grain Honey-Badger load from Black Hills. Recoil is soft, yet the terminal ballistics of this bullet are superb.
For defensive-minded shooters, the Springfield Hellcat OSP might be as good as it gets, with compact dimensions, a cavernous well of ammo, great accuracy and reliability, along with the ability to mount a red dot on the pistol. At less than $600 suggested retail, Springfield’s biggest issue will be making enough of them. Will the Springfield Armory Hellcat replace my beloved P365? Hell, it just might.
Springfield Hellcat 9mm Specs:
- TYPE: Striker-fired semiauto
- CALIBER: 9mm Luger
- CAPACITY: 11 + 1, 13 + 1 (extended mag)
- BARREL: 3 inches
- OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 6 / 4.1 / 0.9 inches
- WEIGHT (standard): 18.3 ounces w/ flush mag., 18.6 ounces w/ extended mag.
- WEIGHT (w/ OSP): 17.9 ounces w/ flush mag., 18.3 ounces w/ extended mag.
- CONSTRUCTION: Melonite-coated forged steel slide, black polymer frame
- SIGHTS: Tritium/luminescent front, white-outline U-notch rear; removable optic plate to accept Shield RMSc on OSP model
- SAFETIES: Trigger lever, striker-pin block
- PRICE: $569 (standard), $599 (OSP)
- MANUFACTURER: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com
The Springfield Hellcat review will appear in the December/January issue of Handguns. Check here for current issue and subscription ordering information.
Need more information? Check out what Guns & Ammo had to say about the Springfield Hellcat.