Review: Springfield Armory Hellcat 9mm Subcompact

The buzz is building around Springfield Armory’s new high-capacity subcompact 9mm.

Review: Springfield Armory Hellcat 9mm Subcompact

The race to build the best high-capacity 9mm handgun in the smallest possible package is underway. It began in early 2018 when a major manufacturer introduced a game-changing small — that company called it a micro — subcompact semi-automatic handgun chambered in 9mm Luger. It comes with a 10-round magazine as standard equipment.

Now, Springfield Armory has taken another step by producing a pistol that is about the same size but with an 11-round magazine. And a 13-round magazine is also available.

Springfield Armory, located in Geneseo, Illinois, is not related to the old government-owned Springfield Armory located in Massachusetts, but has carried on a legacy of its own by producing some very impressive, high-quality firearms.

A Different Design

The commercial Springfield Armory of today is well known for the XD line of semi-automatic pistols produced in Croatia. But the Hellcat, while also produced in Croatia, is of a completely different design.

Most obviously, the Hellcat has no grip safety. A grip safety can be very useful in preventing unintentional discharges when holstering the gun, but some people have trouble depressing them when it’s time to fire.

While Springfield Armory has produced compact versions of the XD line, none are as small as the Hellcat. And in spite of its diminutive size, Springfield offers a Hellcat that is ready to accept a red-dot-style optic. Red dots on handguns are gaining popularity and are much more reliable and robust than they used to be, but the gun I tested was set up with iron sights.

The Hellcat can be carried in a belt holster, inside or outside the waistband, but because of its size, many will choose to carry it in a pocket. It should be stowed in a pocket holster, however, and not loose in a pocket. Galco makes a good, inexpensive holster, the Pocket Protector.

The Hellcat’s slide has a Melonite finish that closely matches the black polymer frame. And the slide has serrations at the rear and near the muzzle to assist in obtaining a good grip when racking the slide. Although small, the slide is still large enough to rack easily, unlike some other micro-compact handguns with slides so small they are almost impossible to grasp with an overhand, thumb-to-the-rear grip.

At the rear of the slide, the drift-adjustable sight has a round bottom notch that is centered in a U-shaped white line instead of the traditional two dots. Some people are going to like it, and some will hate it. I am told, however, that at least one major aftermarket sight maker plans to bring out a three-dot sight system for the Hellcat. The Hellcat’s rear sight has a vertical ledge on the front side that can be used to rack the slide with one hand by catching the ledge on a solid, fixed object. It’s a good feature, but using it is a skill that should be practiced before it is actually needed.

Up front, the sight is a post or blade with a tritium dot that glows brightly in dim light. The dot is outlined in white. And night sights are an excellent addition to a self-defense pistol, so this is an important feature.

Good Grip

Since the Hellcat is built for close encounters, the recoil-spring guide rod acts as a stand-off device to prevent the slide and barrel from coming out of battery if the barrel is pressed into something. To most people, that feature is of dubious value unless it is really needed, in which case, it is really needed.

A rough texture wraps completely around the grip for enhanced control. There is also a small textured panel at the top of the grip on either side just above a small thumb rest. Springfield has thoughtfully placed a small rectangular patch of texturing on the side of the frame just above the trigger guard. It is a tactile index point for the trigger finger to rest on away from the trigger when the gun is not on target and ready to be fired.

Placing the trigger finger alongside the frame and away from the trigger until the shooter decides to intentionally fire the gun is a smart thing to do. It’s a training issue. With proper training, the shooter does not need a tactile patch on which to place the trigger finger. But most shooters neglect to get proper training, and the rough patch may help to remind them to keep the trigger finger away from the trigger until it is actually time to fire the gun.

Familiar Feel

Controls on the Hellcat are in the traditional places American shooters expect to find them. The slide catch or release, depending on your choice of nomenclature and its use, is located at the top of the grip just below the slide. It is large enough to activate easily, but not so large that it is likely to be activated unintentionally.

The magazine release is at the front of the grip on the left side where the trigger guard and front strap join. The trigger has a flat face with a safety lever that prevents the trigger from moving to the rear unless it is deliberately pressed. Flat triggers are becoming something of a big deal in firearms lately and this is, again, a feature that some will like, and some will dislike. Most likely, the owner won’t really care one way or the other as long as the trigger works.

The trigger on the sample gun had an average pull weight of 6 pounds, 7.5 ounces. There was significant take-up, some creep and a spongy break. Actually, it was pretty typical of striker-fired gun triggers. I expect, with the seeming popularity of the Hellcat and based on some rumors I have heard, that aftermarket triggers will soon be available. Nevertheless, the factory trigger is functional.

The Hellcat, besides being equipped with a trigger-lever safety, has a passive striker-block safety that is deactivated to allow the striker to move forward and strike a primer only if the trigger is pulled. The purpose is to make the gun safer to carry with a loaded chamber. Speaking of loaded chambers, the Hellcat has a viewing port at the top of the slide and rear of the chamber that allows the shooter to see if a round is chambered. That assumes the cartridge brass is bright enough to see and there is enough light to see it. There are better ways to check for a loaded chamber and again, training is required.

The polymer frame is equipped with an accessory rail on the dust cover. This is a feature many handgun manufacturers are now making standard and is very handy to have for mounting a light or aiming laser, both of which are excellent additions to a fighting gun.

As mentioned earlier, the Hellcat comes with two magazines, one with an 11-round capacity and the other with a 13-round capacity. The lower-capacity magazine has a baseplate with an extension at the front that provides a place to rest the little finger when firing, and the larger-capacity magazine comes with an extended baseplate that also provides a finger rest. For those who want it, the Hellcat is also delivered with a flat magazine baseplate. Both magazines dropped freely away from the gun when the release was pressed.

Serious Contender

In testing, the Hellcat performed well and there were no malfunctions with any of the types or brands of ammunition used. Loads from Ammo Incorporated, Black Hills Ammunition, Federal, Hornady and Magtech Ammunition were used in testing and all functioned well in the gun with an acceptable degree of accuracy.

Accuracy testing was done using a pistol rest from a bench at a distance of 7 yards. It’s a 3-inch-barreled gun, after all. Each brand exhibited a best group of around 0.6 inches, which is much better than the accuracy needed in a self-defense gun. And despite the small size and light weight of the Hellcat, recoil was quite manageable and not uncomfortable.

Judging by stories heard from retailers, this gun is going to sell well and is a serious contender for the title of best little 9mm semi-auto.


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