Just a few short years ago, we had a choice between carrying a 9mm handgun that was micro-sized and easily (and comfortably) concealed, but held only 6 or 7 rounds – or one that held 10-12 rounds but was bulky and a bit cumbersome. That has all changed now, after SIG Sauer introduced the P365 the industry has been scrambling to catch up. And the industry always does catch up – and building the first mousetrap doesn’t always mean you’ve built the best mousetrap.
In this article, I will compare and contrast the five handguns that I think fall firmly into what I often call the “Miracle-9” category. They are 9mm micro-compacts that hold 10 or more rounds without the use of an extended magazine. They are small enough to fit in your front pocket (in a proper pocket holster) or be deeply concealed. Each of these guns is striker-fired, not by coincidence but because a striker system generally takes up much less mechanical space than a hammer-fired system.
Starting with the SIG Sauer P365, and giving it proper respect as the innovative handgun that invented this category – I’ll also be looking at: the Springfield Armory Hellcat; Ruger MAX-9; S&W M&P Shield Plus; and the newest contender – the Taurus GX4.
SIG SAUER P365
The P365 was the first Miracle-9 to market and literally knocked the industry on its butt. Despite rumors of intermittent problems or QA concerns, the marketplace beat a path to SIG’s doorstep and bought this pistol in droves. Being first to market has its rewards. The P365 is available in about a half-dozen variations, some significantly distinct – like the XL with its longer barrel and slide. This author has three versions of the P365 and many hours and rounds on the triggers of each. For this article, I will use the P365 SAS as my focus – though I will point out some of the other options available.
SAS is an abbreviation for “SIG Anti-Snag”, which is a treatment that SIG has given many of its models. It usually entails rounding the square edges and corners, softening the serrations, and lowering the sights. The P365 SAS took that concept further by eliminating the sights… well, eliminating them from the profile, that is. The gun employs a Meprolight FT Bullseye rear sight that sits almost perfectly flush with the top of the slide – and no front sight. The sight uses fiber optic tubes to gather ambient light and illuminate the large green “aiming dot” visible to the shooter when the pistol is properly aligned to the eye. The sight also contains Tritium® to provide illumination when no ambient light exists. The P365 is also available with standard night sights as well as an option that includes a slide cut for a mounted optic.
There are few external controls on the SAS. As part of that treatment, the slide stop has been miniaturized and recessed, and is effectively useless for normal operation; the takedown lever has been eliminated leaving only a pin that rotates, and the magazine release has been smoothed closer to the frame. There is an accessory rail on the dust cover, but it is somewhat proprietary and is not open all the way to the muzzle. Other versions of the P365 have more traditional controls. The trigger is a steel one-piece shoe design with a moderate-length stroke and a nice break and reset. All safeties are internal, and none are manually operated.
Magazines available for the P365 include the 10-round flush magazine; the same one with a pinky extension; an available 12-round extended magazine includes a longer polymer baseplate that marries to the grip frame; and the 15-round extended magazine also extends the height of the grip considerably. Lastly, the SAS version of the P365 is the only pistol in this class to include a standard ported barrel.
SPRINGFIELD ARMORY HELLCAT
Springfield Armory introduced the Hellcat with a standard flush-fitting magazine that holds eleven 9mm cartridges, raising the ante by one. The extended magazine holds 13 rounds. The Hellcat is well-appointed, with an excellent set of sights called “U-Dot” and a very nice trigger. It is available in two variations – with or without the slide cut for an optic (and the inclusion of an optic is a further option).
The Hellcat is a fully equipped handgun, complete with all the standard controls and available in a wide variety of options that can include not only the optic but also an available external ambidextrous thumb safety. It is also available in a couple of colors – black or flat dark earth. The Hellcat also boasts slide serrations that run over the top of the slide (rear only) to enhance grip for overhand manipulation under stress. The rear sight has a ledge that is suitable for racking the slide against a belt, boot, or your front teeth. With a very good texture in the polymer frame and a nicely elongated magazine release, the Hellcat is ergonomically fit for both function and a pleasing feel.
The trigger of the Hellcat contains a center safety blade that is wide enough to be a non-factor in the tactile department. Absent on the Hellcat is the rear grip safety that is found on XD models and tends to polarize opinions. Springfield Armory uses internal trigger and striker safeties on this one. The Hellcat also boasts a fairly unique guide rod design that causes the end of the guide rod to protrude slightly at the muzzle end of the gun. This is referred to as a ‘stand-off’ feature that allows the pistol to be pressed against an object without pushing the slide out of the battery. Beneath that, one finds a non-proprietary 1913-compatible accessory rail, complete with a cross notch below to secure a light or laser.
Lastly, I mentioned the U-Dot sights initially – and they are a significant contribution to the shooting experience of the Hellcat. The “U” shaped rear notch is accented by a painted white U that makes it quick to acquire against the matte black steel sight. The front sight is a Tritium® night sight insert surrounded with a bright yellow disc – making this a top-quality set of stock sights.
Ruger introduced their version of miracle-9 almost quietly, with no real fanfare or media blitz to speak of. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bonafide contender in this field. In fact, in true Ruger fashion, they not only anteed up but raised the stakes. The Ruger MAX-9 is the only pistol in this class to come standard with a slide cut that is ready for a mounted red-dot optic. Complete with a steel cover that bears the Ruger emblem and is not only matched in finish with the slide, but the rear serration cuts are completed on it. No optic to mount? No problem. The MAX-9 comes standard with an impressive pair of sights. The front sight is a long one that houses a florescent yellow fiber optic, and the rear is matte finished, constructed of steel, and stands ready to act as an emergency slide-racker.
Designed in sync with Ruger’s modern ergonomics, the MAX-9 has a familiar profile and feel to the Ruger faithful. The polymer grip is well textured. The model examined for this article is the Pro version, which is sans safety lever, but many versions of the gun are equipped with an external safety switch. The trigger is also very “modern Ruger” in design and function. The stroke is somewhat long, but it is an adequately light and delightfully crisp trigger to shoot.
The slide stop control is small and can be quite difficult to use as a slide release – a common trait for Ruger handguns. No matter which camp you’re in on that topic – that is the fact of the matter. The magazine release button is the smallest of the bunch, but I have found it to be quite effective and its size has never made dumping an empty mag any trouble.
As always, Ruger has entered the arena perhaps a bit late – but has brought some ideas and value to the table that no one previously had. Most likely why so many gun owners are so faithful to the Ruger brand. This one does not disappoint. The Pro model comes with one 10-round and one 12-round magazine, the other models come with two 10-rounders.
SMITH & WESSON M&P SHIELD PLUS
The Shield is most likely the best-selling micro-compact 9mm handgun in the past decade. Industry statistics are not readily available to prove that, but it is a common assumption. Smith & Wesson were strangely quiet during the initial mania that surrounded the new higher capacity micro-compacts, and then one day there it was – the Shield Plus.
Like others, I was curious to see how much bigger the Shield was going to have to be to grow from its previous capacity of 7 rounds in the flush magazine to 10 rounds. I was amazed when I first held the Shield Plus that it didn’t feel any larger at all. If you put calipers on it, you’ll see the differences here and there, but for all practical purposes, it is the same size gun. In fact, it only gained 1.2 ounces of weight.
All the other aspects of the M&P Shield remain unchanged. The fantastic grip texture of the m2.0 design and the newest, improved trigger. It is available in several variations that included sight upgrades and the presence or absence of a manual safety switch. My copy has the standard white-dot sights and no external safety.
The Shield Plus has the distinction of being the only gun on this list that existed in a previous form, making comparisons both easy and obligatory. That’s been done – so here, it’s just about comparing and contrasting to the other Miracle-9s.
With the Shield Plus, Smith and Wesson has given the market a gun with millions of rounds of experience and credibility, proven popular ergonomics, and the presumption of staunch reliability. This is a tough combo to compete with.
The newest entry in this category was also a surprise to most people. Taurus, long known for making budget-friendly handguns that follow the popular trends – has tossed its hat into the ring with the new GX4. This pistol is among the smallest in the bunch and still holds 11 rounds in the magazine.
The design of the GX4 follows closely to the very popular TX22 in terms of ergonomics and grip texture. The GX4 is clearly much, much smaller – but the family resemblance is immediately obvious. The controls are well placed and function very nicely. Similar to the P365 SAS, there is no takedown lever that protrudes from the frame, just a rotating pin. Taurus does provide a nifty little tool for this – in the form of a GX4-shaped-keychain.
This reviewer has found the trigger of the GX4 to be less than ideal – i.e., much heavier than necessary, but others have given it glowing marks. Perhaps this means there is inconsistency, or that my sample of one is an outlier. I mention it only as a consideration.
The availability of holsters and other accessories may not be as fast as for other brands, but if this little gem takes off in popularity, there will no doubt be a marketplace to support it. The pistol is remarkably small and yet feels very good in the hand. It is well equipped with good sights, and the fit and finish are top-notch. It also gives every indication of being very reliable and durable – I have not experienced a single malfunction with it. The GX4 certainly belongs on the list of Miracle-9s.
In the final analysis, it comes down to personal preferences – or even simple brand loyalty for most folks. The marketplace is responding in unison to the consumer’s demand for micro-sized pistols that carry 10 or more rounds of 9mm. I believe that we will see this trend continue and that this new form-factor will be expected of every gun maker. It’s a great time to be buying a carry gun!
For more info and buying guides, use the links below: