Springfield Armory Hellcat
Launched in 2019, the Springfield Armory Hellcat is the first serious industry response to SIG’s P365, and Springfield Armory made sure to one-up the P365 from the start. As Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap famously said, “This goes to eleven.” With 11+1 rounds in its flush-fit magazine and 13+1 in the included, extended-baseplate mag, the Hellcat packs a lot of hate in a small package. It’s a tiny bit heavier than the SIG at 18.3 ounces empty, and fits right in the micro-compact size window at 4” high, 6” long, and 1” wide.
Like the “XL” sized SIGs, the Hellcat is now offered in the larger Hellcat Pro variety, with a flush-fit, 15-round gripframe, and a longer slide and barrel. There are options with and without thumb safeties, compensators, and optics mounts, and stainless models are now available. The Hellcat is a solid offering and might be the right CCW pistol for you, so be sure to check it out.
Things we like: Great trigger out of the box. Standard picatinny-size light rail slot. Extra capacity in a still-tiny size. Comparatively moderate price.
Things we’d improve: The weird half-circle white-outline U-notch rear sight is a gimmick that doesn’t work as well as traditional setups. The grip texture is superior for actual shooting but rough on tender skin, and the shape of the P365 fits more hands better. Recoil could be softer.
Kimber R7 Mako
Kimber became famous for higher-end production 1911s in the 1990s, but their entry into the micro-compact CCW 9mm market is decidedly modern. The Kimber R7 Mako (launched August 2021) has a glass-filled nylon frame with functional, attractive texturing, a fantastic, smooth-faced striker-fire trigger, and a fairly unique barrel-to-slide lockup system that Kimber says reduces felt recoil and improves accuracy (and the pistol has proven to be very accurate).
The R7 Mako is a bit longer, taller, and heavier than some of its competitors, at 4.3” tall, 6.2” long, and 19.5 ounces empty, but is moderately priced, feels good, has comparatively mild recoil, and has fully ambidextrous controls (slide stop and magazine release).
Things we like: The R7 Mako looks great, feels great, oozes quality, and has one of the best triggers in this category. Recoil is relatively mild for this market. Glock-style takedown is simple and requires no tools. The Mako includes excellent, co-witnessed TruGlo tritium sights (Glock pattern if you want to change them), and provision for a micro red dot optic, with a factory-installed optic model available.
Things we’d improve: A proprietary light-mounting rail (similar to the SIG) means mounting a white light will be more trouble than it should be. The somewhat unique, hooded ejection port design and barrel lockup system means the slide is taller than it strictly needs to be, which places the sights pretty high above the shooter’s hands. Whether the internal extractor design will be an issue over the long haul remains to be seen.
Taurus has its roots in Brazil, where the firm made excellent licensed versions of the Beretta 92 for many years. Taurus USA has had a somewhat rocky reputation for quality and customer service over the past couple of decades, but is working hard to earn repeat customers and has been producing some of the most innovative and market-savvy pistols around recently. The Taurus GX4 , launched in May 2021, is definitely a “me-too” micro-compact 9mm in the vein of the SIG P365 and Springfield Hellcat, but like many of Taurus’s recent offerings, the pistol is proving to be well-made, ergonomic, good-looking, reliable, and very attractively priced, with a base model MSRP as of date of publication of $392 USD. The GX4 is the first of the micro-compacts to offer interchangeable backstraps as standard, so you can customize the gripframe to your preferences. Plus, the pistol has one of the better triggers in the micro-compact market.
While other companies have come out with different frame lengths, Taurus has elected to keep their GX4 frames all the same size, but offers their GX4XL model with a longer slide and barrel. Standard flush-fit magazine capacity is 11 rounds (similar to the Hellcat), barrel length is 3.06”, overall length is 5.8”, height is 4.4”, and overall width is 1.08”. The GX4 is among the lighter of the micro-compacts at 18.5 ounces empty.
Things we like: Good ergonomics, attractive looks, quality steel sights, a nice flat-face trigger with an excellent feel and clean break, good texturing, several cerakote color options, and interchangeable backstraps, all at a great price.
Things we’d improve: Initial models didn’t have provisions for red-dot optics, though they are available now. The magazine catch is reversible, but the slide stop is left-side only. Takedown is straightforward but requires a tool (flathead screwdriver or similar), and the standard sights lack tritium inserts.
Ruger had a fairly large success with their single-stack LC9 and LC9s CCW pistols (now discontinued but a bargain-basement version is still available in the EC9s), so it was ostensibly a fairly simple process to upgrade, widen, and update the platform for the new micro-compact double-stack Max-9, released in March 2021. Like many other pistols in this category, the Max-9 is a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm with a barrel length of 3.2”, an overall length of 6”, and a weight of 18.4 ounces unloaded. The frame is a tad longer top to bottom than some others, with an overall height of 4.7”, but that allows you to get a full firing grip with the flush-fit 10-round magazine in place, and the ergonomics are fairly good.
The Ruger comes with a pinkie-extension, extended baseplate in the box, which allows larger-handed shooters to get all of their fingers on the grip, making for a better shooting experience generally, with the obvious tradeoff that it effectively makes the grip longer and more difficult to conceal, particularly if you choose to pocket carry. The grip has a somewhat “boxy” grip cross-section with a 1911-style 18-degree grip angle.
Wisely, Ruger milled the slide for a micro red dot optic from the get-go, and also installs very functional and durable steel sights as standard, with a nice fiber-optic/tritium combo on the front. The magazine release is reversible, but the slide stop is left-side only. There are models available with and without an external thumb safety. American-made and priced very competitively, the Max-9 is sure to be a hot seller.
Things we like: The price is right, it’s optics-ready, recoil is not unpleasant, the gun fits the hand well, the grip texture is not too aggressive (which you may prefer for carry but not for actual shooting), and accuracy with the hammer-forged barrel is potentially surprisingly good if you can manage the trigger effectively.
Things we’d improve: The reach to the trigger is quite long for people with small to average-sized hands, and the long, hinged safety dingus is more scissor-like than on other pistols in the category. The trigger takeup is long and spongy, though the break is fairly clean, and there’s a lot of overtravel after the break. There’s also no provision/rail for a light. But our main niggle is the silly, complicated, stupid takedown process which requires an elaborate dance with the controls and a punch to remove a blind pin, which could be easily lost.
Smith and Wesson Shield Plus
Just as the original (and top-selling) 9mm Shield from S&W was a bit larger than the single-stack pocket 9mms it competed against (like the Kahr PM9), the new double-stack Shield Plus (2021) is a bit larger than its contemporaries and a tad heavier at 20.2 ounces unloaded with the included, extended 13-round magazine in place. The Shield Plus is 4.6” in height with the flush-fit 10-round magazine installed, again, a tad taller than the average, with an overall length of 6.1” and a width of 1.1”. The original Shield allowed a full firing grip with its extended 8-round magazine, and the Shield Plus is similarly comfortable to shoot, but with a tasty boost in capacity, and with provisions for a red-dot optic if you so choose.
The Shield Plus comes with excellent, steel night sights, with an orange outline around the tritium vial in the front, and blacked-out tritium dots at the rear. The new flat-faced trigger is a welcome addition for those who hated the previous M&P style with a hinge in the middle, and the Shield Plus’s trigger is excellent for the category, with minimal takeup, a clean break, a short reset, and not too much overtravel.
The S&W Shield is a proven design and the new double-stack Shield Plus looks to be just as reliable. In addition, it fits nearly all original Shield holsters, so you don’t have to spend money there if you’re already a fan of the platform. S&W offers ported-barrel options, as well as models with or without a thumb safety, and a longer-barreled variant. S&W also pioneered the new .30 Super Carry cartridge in this platform, and in that caliber it offers a 13+1 capacity in the flush-fit mag, and 16+1 in the extended magazine.
Things we like: The trigger, the sights, the ergonomics, and the comfortable recoil. We like the simple take-down method and the option for deactivating the sear without pulling the trigger. Smith & Wesson also has a reputation for quality and good customer service, so if any issues arise, you can be confident they’ll take care of you.
Things we’d improve: The polymer frame appears to be textured and then coated with a Cerakote-type coating, which has us scratching our heads as to why. The texturing is still effective but it’s not as good as it could be, and we wonder about the long-term durability of a coating on a flexible plastic frame. We wish the controls were fully ambidextrous. The thumb safety (when present) is stubby and difficult to use compared to other designs, so we usually favor the models without the thumb safety.
We saved some space here to talk about a few pistols that don’t strictly fit the striker-fired “micro-9mm” mold, but still offer some interesting features and options to consider.
This is a very unexpected offering from Smith and Wesson. The CSX or “Chiefs Special X” features an aluminum-alloy frame with interchangeable polymer backstraps, a single-action trigger (like a 1911), and a hammer-fired design. It may seem like the answer to a question practically nobody was asking, but the pistol is very shootable, is as light (or lighter) than the similarly sized Shield Plus, and offers a metal-framed gun and a single-action trigger that some shooters prefer.
The CSX features ambidextrous slide releases and manual thumb safeties (which are essential due to the hammer-fired, single-action design of the pistol), and an included left-handed magazine release that can be swapped in if the user desires. The trigger still has an integral safety lever, and the break isn’t as good as it could be in a SAO design. Overall, kudos to S&W for thinking outside the box!
Glock 43X and 48
The Glock 43 was a strong player in the super-slim, single-stack 9mm pocket gun market, but for reasons unknown the 43X and 48 didn’t take advantage of the available potential capacity, coming with a somewhat disappointing 10-round magazine in a rather long 5.04” tall grip frame (compared to other offerings in this space). Shield Arms offers 15-round, aftermarket, metal magazines for the platform, but even so, the 48 (with its longer slide and 4.17” barrel) is broadly similar in size to the Glock 19, just significantly slimmer. Still, this may be the way to go for you if you’re a “Glock guy or gal” and want to stick with the brand. These small Glocks are very shootable, but in our view are not truly pocketable like some other offerings in the micro-compact market.
The LCP MAX is a .380 ACP pistol using the same principles as its larger brethren. Since it doesn’t have to handle the higher pressures of the 9mm cartridge, the LCP MAX can be quite a bit smaller and lighter than the 9mm micro-compacts. This is a truly pocketable pistol, at just over 5” long, 4” high, with a slide width of 0.81” and a 10.2 ounce unloaded weight. If you want the tiniest gun with a 10+1 round capacity and don’t mind betting on the .380 ACP cartridge, the LCP MAX might be the right CCW pistol for you.
Keep your guns secure in a Liberty Safe
When your CCW pistol is not in your direct control, it’s important to keep it out of the reach of unauthorized users, and thieves, and also protect it from damage. The best way is in a Liberty gun safe or handgun vault. Check out our online catalog or visit a dealer near you.