January 04, 2023
Early in the race to build the mightiest micro compact, an emerging class of high-capacity super-compact pistols, Springfield Armory brought to market the Hellcat, a striker-fired 9mm offering 11-plus-1 and 13-plus-1 capacity. Since its introduction in Guns & Ammo’s December 2019 issue, the concealed-carry pistol market has grown rapidly — and so has the Hellcat.
The Hellcat RDP, introduced in February 2021, and the Hellcat Pro, launched in March 2022, add features and functionality to the original and expand the platform’s appeal to specific sectors of the personal-defense market. But which one is right for you?
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the Hellcat’s latest littermates and put them to the test to compare performance. First up: Springfield Armory’s Hellcat RDP.
Introduced on February 23, 2021, Springfield Armory’s Hellcat RDP — “RDP” stands for “Rapid Defense Package” — represented a collection of running upgrades for the Hellcat and a bold reimagining of what a micro-compact defense pistol could be. The original Hellcat was optionally available in an optic-ready configuration for an additional upcharge, which was designated “OSP” for “Optical Sight Pistol.” The Hellcat RDP comes optic-included. That included optic is a Hex Wasp 3.5 MOA micro red-dot. Hex Optics is a separate brand launched by Springfield Armory on the same day as the RDP.
The Hellcat was acclaimed for its shootability, a cumulative characteristic describing ergonomics and manageable felt recoil. To further control muzzle rise on the new RDP, Springfield added a freaking compensator! The company’s Self Indexing Compensator threads directly to the 3.8-inch barrel’s ½-28-threaded muzzle, and it directs vented gasses upward through ports at the top and on the sides. The vents act like thrusters, driving the muzzle down to counteract the upward forces of recoil. The RDP’s comp effectively keeps the front end of the gun more level than without as the slide cycles. The threaded barrel will also accept a suppressor, or it can be capped with an included thread protector when no muzzle device is desired.
Another Hellcat enhancement was launched with the RDP: A new Gen 2 trigger. It is now standard equipment on all Hellcats. Springfield Armory touts that it was “contoured for enhanced ergonomics,” and stands as “a refinement of the most important interface between the pistol and the shooter.” As a Hellcat shooter who has covered the line since its introduction, I would suggest that description is a bit inflated. As far as I can tell, the only changes were an overall smoothing of the trigger shoe and its face. The Gen 1 trigger was vertically serrated. And there was a slight change to the overtravel lugs, which are now flush with the sides of the trigger shoe. If anything, the Gen 2 is just a simpler, smoother component — and that’s not a bad thing! The Hellcat’s new trigger is serviceable, though perhaps a touch heavy, and the Gen 2 component brings no noticeable adjustment to the feel or weight of the pull. All Hellcats I have tested averaged between 6 and 61/2 pounds.
Finally, the RDP introduced a new, low-profile, bilateral, manual thumb safety. It’s a simple up-for-safe, down-for-fire arrangement that was well placed, providing a positive and tactile click when engaged or disengaged. My personal RDP is equipped in this manner, though I admit that I never use the safety except for administrative functions such as providing an extra degree of protection and peace of mind when handling an unloaded gun. I had the same relationship with the Smith & Wesson Shield that I carried for years; it had a safety, but I never used it. The nice thing about both of those everyday carry (EDC) pistols is that the safety never got in my way during normal function, and they were never engaged accidentally or unintentionally. The Hellcats have the usual arrangement of internal and trigger safety mechanisms, but if you are a belt-and-suspenders kind of person, the standard Hellcat and Hellcat RDP offer the manual option, as well.
I’ve already mentioned the included Hex Wasp, but it is worth noting that the RDP slide has the same Springfield Micro OSP mount as the original model. A coverplate with grasping grooves is included. The metal sights remain unchanged, pairing a green luminescent and tritium-powered front with a white outline, U-notch rear. The RDP comes with two magazines, an 11-rounder with a pinky-rest baseplate and an extended 13-round mag. Both provide a good firing grip for my medium-size hands, but my preference is for the higher-capacity unit.
A few months after the release of the Hellcat RDP, on May 17, Springfield Armory further enhanced the platform’s capabilities when it introduced 15-round magazines. The extended tubes held more bullets and included a grip-extending collar, not unlike those used in the XD line (albeit with the Hellcat’s Adaptive Grip Texture).
Whether carried as a reload or in the gun — especially in the RDP — the extended mags pushed the Hellcat platform to cross over into the functional realm of popular compacts, matching the capacity of the category’s standard-bearer, the Glock 19. Though not yet a direct competitor to the G19, I asked Springfield Armory’s Vice President of Marketing Steve Kramer when a 4-inch barreled, full-grip, 15-round Hellcat would available. His reaction told me I’d found my mark. Before long, I was handling the Hellcat Pro.
The newest member of the Hellcat pride is premised on improved functionality rather than introducing new features. Its most distinguishing characteristic is its size. The Pro’s hammer-forged, Melonite-finished barrel measures 3.7 inches, longer than the original’s 3-inch pipe. The slide is appropriately lengthened, as well, which offers a longer sight radius for aligning its familiar irons. There is an additional grasping groove among the forward cocking serrations, too.
The grip is longer to accommodate the 15-round magazines (sans collar) and the overall dimensions come quite close to that of the G19, though it is noticeably thinner with overall width barely exceeding 1 inch at its widest point.
The gun’s weight is also up, just more than 20 ounces overall. That’s about 2 ounces more than the original. The Pro weighs just more than 21 ounces if a Hex Wasp is equipped. It’s not a significant difference, but the combination of size and weight drastically changes the shooting experience. There is no getting around the fact that small guns are going to kick a bit more when paired with a full-power defensive cartridge like the 9mm. But with more gripping surface and additional weight, and more material to absorb the recoil, the Hellcat Pro shoots like the slim, compact that it is, more comfortable than its micro-compact predecessors.
At writing, the Hellcat Pro is only available as an OSP model. That means that it is “optic ready,” not “optic equipped.” It is without a manual safety and comes with two, 15-round magazines. I can see Springfield Armory expanding the line to include a thumb-safety model, but I can’t see any reason for a solid-top slide in today’s market. Shooters who prefer sights can leave the cover plate on, and if they change their mind this pistol is already machined for an electronic sight. It’s “future proofed.” A cool rendition that might be fun would be to apply the RDP treatment to the Pro, to make the most shootable and range-ready Hellcat yet.
The Purr-fect Pistol
The appeal of both the RDP and the Pro is that they offer a better shooting experience through improved recoil management versus the original micro-size Hellcat, the RDP using a comp and the Pro with its size and weight.
Truth be told, the shooting experience ended up being similar with both. I’ve shot them during multiple range sessions, about 2,000 rounds, to try and determine if one or the other provides the better experience; I find both exceptionally capable. However, for customers on the fence, I’d suggest that examining the gun’s intended use can help you decide between the Hellcat RDP and Hellcat Pro.
For greater concealment, I’d opt for the Hellcat RDP. The added length at the muzzle from the compensator does not raise its profile when carried inside the waistband (IWB), and both the 11- and 13-round magazines protrude and print less than the 15-round option. Fast shooting and accurate, the RDP earned its defensive designation.
Likewise, the Pro lived up to its name. For shooters who prefer the improved control and greater capacity of larger-frame compacts, the Hellcat Pro will scratch that post. Even better, for those who find comparable compacts a bit too wide or blocky, the thin, ergonomic profile of the Pro model is a welcome solution that sacrifices nothing of capability: 15-plus-1 rounds of full-power 9mm is on tap, and IWB concealment is just as good for shooters who are comfortable carrying compacts.
Among the new additions, does the original Hellcat still have a role? Absolutely! I have mine configured with the 11-round mag and no optic for maximum concealment when cover garments are their lightest, i.e., the summer months. It’s also my “milk-run gun” since I carry it without an optic, and it’s easy to holster up and go.
I’ve identified the different features and functional advantages of the various Hellcat models, and they each fit a different role in my daily routines. Magazine compatibility helps with logistics, and platform familiarity is a benefit for training and defense. The Springfield Armory Hellcat series, through its RDP and Pro models, has successfully made the crossing into the compact-concealment and -capacity categories.
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine