Firearms

Springfield Echelon: The Hellcat on Steroids?

Springfield Echelon with shooting glasses and hearing protection

Springfield introduced the subcompact Hellcat 9mm to great acclaim. Now, the full-sized Echelon 9mm pistol has earned an excellent reputation in a short time.

The Echelon is a modern design with interesting and useful features such as an internal removable chassis and innovative red dot mounting system. So, if you liked the XD, you will almost certainly like the Echelon even more. For the Hellcat fans, the easy-shooting Echelon is even better. While the Hellcat is a concealed carry pistol, the service-size Echelon is suitable for many chores and some types of competition.

Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-auto handgun, left quartering to
This is a clean design with good features.

1911 handguns, the XD, XDS, and other handguns built Springfield’s reputation, but no company can rest on its past achievements. Progress is important, and the Echelon represents progress. The Echelon is a pistol for this generation, and it is well appointed considering the price. In fact, it is more than fairly priced for the features in the polymer-frame striker-fired 9mm handgun orbit.

Springfield Echelon Features

If you consider running a 9mm striker-fired handgun on a combat course — in a tactical sense — there isn’t much one will do that the other will not. It depends most upon the user (when quality firearms are used). Just the same, the total picture of this handgun is attractive, including the grip, grip surface treatment, trigger action’s clean break, and optimal sights and controls.

Simply put, the pistol is affordable but not cheaply made, and it is designed for reliability. If you run the pistol on that combat course, and put your will behind it, you may be able to outshoot the competition. I did.

I’ve fired the pistol extensively. In fact, I have been shooting the Echelon regularly for more than a year as of this writing. I particularly enjoy the grip design and its good balance of abrasion and adhesion. It isn’t difficult to hang onto.

The pistol features a slight dip under the trigger guard near the meeting of the trigger guard and the grip. This results in a lower bore axis and better hand fit. The cocking serrations are well designed and aid in manipulating the slide.

Right, quartering to view of the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun with a red dot sight mounted
Springfield’s VIS allows a low mount for the red dot optic.

The pistol’s size and weight make it easy to shoot comfortably, while other features make it a superior combat pistol in many ways. I believe this is among the very few pistols designed on the drawing board for optics use rather than modified later.

Springfield uses a central operating group. This group is serialized. The Echelon features a firing pin block trigger safety. As for as the ability to mount a red dot sight (RDS), most optics-ready handguns use a shallow slide cut and some type of adaptor plate system. The plates are not always supplied, and a set of plates may be expensive depending on the application.

Springfield chose a deeper cut in its design with a hole pattern that accommodates a good range of RDS types. The deeper cut allows are more natural grip. Unfortunately, some RDS-ready pistols tie you to a couple of expensive red dot sights. I have used several red dot sights with the Echelon including the Holosun, TruGlo, and Meopta types. In particular, I found the TruGlo XR 21 a decent RDS to get your feet wet in red dot sights and shooting.

man shooting a red dot-equipped Springfield Echelon 9mm with a Dodge Ram pickup in the background
With the red dot in place, speed was excellent.

Firing a red dot sight well means more than simply firing with both eyes open. The grip is different, and you must practice with a different pitch or grip angle to receive the full benefit of a red dot setup. The slide cut and grip design of this pistol — designed specifically for red dot use — make a difference when a trained shooter addresses the target.

Going further, the pistol features fully ambidextrous controls. The slide lock is well designed for speed loads. I fired the pistol (as issued), although grip inserts are provided for customizing the grip to the hand.

A 2mm pin and tab design makes changing out the backstrap quick and easy. A slightly scalloped slide is recessed near the cocking serrations. The machining is clean.

3 removable grip panels for the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun
Grip inserts are detached simply by pressing a tab.

The barrel is 4.5 inches long. This makes for a compact service pistol, relatively speaking, but with better accuracy potential. A 4.5-inch barrel usually burns powder efficiently even when using +P 9mm Luger ammunition.

The recoil spring and guide are interesting with a new design for the flat recoil spring. To fieldstrip the pistol, simply lock the slide assembly to the rear and rotate a takedown lever. (So much easier than the Glock…) The slide simply moves forward, the recoil assembly is plucked out and the barrel removed.

A low bore axis is an aide in controlling recoil and muzzle flip. While a 30-ounce 9mm should not exhibit uncomfortable recoil, the slide sitting low in the hand, and the grip’s design overall, make for a pistol that isn’t tiring to shoot in long firing strings.

I’ve fired quite few loads, a diverse number of test munitions, and took careful notes. The totality of ammunition fired is nearing 2,400 cartridges without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. Armscor FMJ, Black Hills ammunition in several types, Buffalo Bore 124-grain +P, Federal 120-grain Punch, and 124- and the 147-grain HST accounted for the gun’s initial diet. I added Fiocchi 124-grain Extrema, Hornady 115-grain Critical Defense, Hornady American Gunner 124-grain JHP, Remington 115-grain JHP, and Speer’s 124-grain Gold Dot to the mix as the test progressed. Not to mention the D9 Defense all-copper loading.

The chances of a malfunction became less and less as the pistol ran through diverse ammunition loadings and proving its capabilities. I cleaned the pistol once at about 1,500 rounds fired. Most of the loads used were the less expensive FMJ types.

SPringfield Echelon 9mm handgun on a paper anatomy target showing bullet holes the heart, lung, and spine
Combat accuracy was good.

The Springfield Echelon gets on target quickly. It is very fast to an accurate first shot. In bullseye accuracy testing, I fired from a solid benchrest using the MTM Case Gard K-Zone at 25 yards. In short, the pistol is more accurate than most handguns of the type. Even burner loads and those using FMJ, went into 2.9 to 3.4 inches for five-shot groups at 25 yards.

When premium defense loads were used, five shots went into 1.8 to 2.45 inches. Part of the reason for the pistol’s good performance lies in the Echelon’s 4.9-pound trigger.

I fired the pistol with iron sights. The sights are good, very good. There is nothing to fault in this pistol and a lot of like.

Echelon Specifications:

Caliber: 9mm
Magazines: 17- and 20-round, two magazines supplied
Height: 5.5 inches
Length: 8 inches
Width: 1.2 inch
Weight: 24 ounces, unloaded
Frame: Polymer
Slide: Melonite-coated steel
Barrel length: 4.5 inches
Sights: fixed, U-notch rear, tritium front, optional three-dot tritium
Average retail: $675

Springfield’s Red Dot Mounting

The Variable Interface System (VIS) has promise. Red dot optics are popular with modern shooters. Defensive handgunners are finding red dot sights a good carry option. Provided there is sufficient training time, and the discipline to master red dot optics, speed, and accuracy are improved. The only real concern is the different footprints or mounting patterns of red dot sights.

Springfield Echelon VIS System for optics mounting with a red dot sight
The VIS set is a true innovation.

Integrating the sights with the pistol and keeping the mounting interface secure is the concern. Specific footprints for different brands require multiple mounting plates. In some cases, a range of plates are supplied with the handgun. In other cases, they are special order. Some pistols offer the ability to mount the sight directly but only for a specific pattern.

Quite a few shooters bring their handguns to a shop for proper mounting — even for sighting in. It adds to the gunsmith’s bottom line and isn’t that difficult. However, even for a gunsmith, the choices and plates can be confusing.

A modern, versatile system, developed by Springfield Armory, is designed to address the problems with red dot optics’ footprints. The VIS seems a good idea after a bit of examination. The system does not require a mounting plate. The VIS may accept up to 30 types of red dots. I did not take time to confirm this, but there are probably more than 30 types and brands when variation are taken into consideration.

Springfield Echelon VIS System for optics mounting
The author found the VIS system easy to use well and a true innovation.

A direct mount allows mounting the red dot lower than some mounting systems. Adding to this, the Springfield Echelon handgun (which the VIS system is mounted) is cut deeper than most, allowing a low natural mount. This means less of a transition and less time taken in learning to handle a red dot.

The Springfield Echelon is supplied with a slide plate covering the optics cut. This plate or cover is at the end of the slide just forward of the rear sight. The cutout is seen after the covering plate is removed. Two screws and the plate is easily lifted off the slide. There are several holes drilled and tapped into the slide surface.

The drilled and tapped holes, in left and right lines, are the core of the VIS systems. The Springfield Echelon 9mm is issued with three sets of specific pins. The pin set used depends on the optic to be mounted.

Smith and Wesson Shield and DeltaPoint Pro/EFLX mounting sets for the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic pistol
The slide cover is shown with the pin set.

I was using a TruGlo optic (Shield footprint). The pin sets will fit into the specified holes in the slide for the most common red dot optic footprints. No plates, simply direct mounting.

Holosun and Delta Point red dots, as well as the Shield footprint, are easily mounted. If you prefer the Noblex-Docter footprint, a plate must be special ordered from Springfield. I could not mount one of my favorite Meopta IV red dots sights without ordering this plate as well.

While the Springfield Echelon pistol is new, my friends at the shop are already making bets that some will be coming in for trade in with the pin sets degraded, damaged, or missing. As most of you know, it is common for firearms to be brought in for trade with a lost magazine.

Rotating the COG removal lever on a Springfield Echelon pistol
To remove the COG internal chassis, the takedown lever is rotated out.

About half the Ruger Single Six pistols I see are missing one, or the other, cylinder. Springfield offers mounting kits for about $20, so we will not be in a pickle should the originals be lost.

The VIS uses self-locking pins. As the mounting screws are screwed into place, the pins exert lateral pressure into the interior mounting system. This makes for a tight fit with very little left or right lateral deflection. The system features threaded holes for mounting screws and other lines of self-locking pin screws.

I like this system. It is trouble free and seems simple enough. Mounting the TruGlo XR 21 red was easily accomplished. The firing test proved that the lower mounting of the red dot added considerably to the natural point of the Springfield Echelon pistol. While the VIS system will be our primary concern as we are called on to mount red dots, order mounting kits, and make recommendations on optics, the Echelon has other features we should understand.

Central Operating Group

The grip inserts are remarkably easy to change. Simply place the finger into the magazine well and depress the panels retaining tab. The grip panel is easily removed. To replace the panel, take care to slide the grip insert into grooves at the bottom of the grip and replace the insert. Slap the insert to be certain it is seated.

Another first for Springfield is the removeable chassis. Springfield calls this chassis the Central Operating Group (COG). This may be a more important feature of the Echelon when grip modules become available. The COG isn’t difficult to remove.

Central Operating Group (COG) being removed from a Springfield Echelon pistol
A nudge is needed to lift the chassis from the pistol.

Ensure the handgun is unloaded. Fieldstrip the pistol by locking the slide to the rear, rotating the takedown lever, and releasing the slide. Set the slide aside. The takedown lever is then pulled halfway out of the receiver/frame.

Next, rotate the takedown lever clockwise as you also pull the takedown lever outward. This will remove the lever. Lift the ambidextrous slide stop levers. Press the bifurcated trigger enough to deactivate the trigger safety. Slide the Central Operating Group forward. As you do so, maintain upward pressure on the slide stop levers. The rear section of the COG is then rotated upwards. The Central Operating Unit may then be lifted upward, off the grip frame.

Conclusion

While the VIS system is an innovation, the entire Springfield Echelon package is interesting. They seem in good supply and sales are brisk. We will see them in the shop for red dot mounting and eventually changing frames.

What’s your take on the Springfield Echelon? It is a new platform or a full-size Hellcat? Have you mounted an optic to the Echelon? What was your experience? Share your answers in the Comment section.

  • Man in the desert shooting a Springfield Echelon 9mm handgun
  • man shooting a red dot-equipped Springfield Echelon 9mm with a Dodge Ram pickup in the background
  • field stripped Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-auto gun
  • Springfield Echelon atop a paper target with bullet holes
  • Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-auto handgun, left quartering to
  • Springfield Echelon VIS System for optics mounting
  • Rotating the COG removal lever on a Springfield Echelon pistol
  • Central Operating Group (COG) being removed from a Springfield Echelon pistol
  • Central Operating Group (COG) removed from a Springfield Echelon handgun
  • 3 removable grip panels for the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun
  • Springfield Echelon VIS System for optics mounting with a red dot sight
  • Pin set 3 for VIS on the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun
  • Smith and Wesson Shield and DeltaPoint Pro/EFLX mounting sets for the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic pistol
  • slide cover for the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun
  • rear view of the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun showing its slim profile
  • Right, quartering away view of the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun with a red dot sight mounted
  • Right, quartering to view of the Springfield Echelon 9mm semi-automatic handgun with a red dot sight mounted
  • Springfield Echelon with shooting glasses and hearing protection
  • SPringfield Echelon 9mm handgun on a paper anatomy target showing bullet holes the heart, lung, and spine

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. @HW STONE-“Uh, ROCKIT– ambidextrous safety and mag release are “off the shelf” items for the AR platform without any modification to the lower, and “lefty” uppers are the same way requiring no special tools or skills to change to lefty or to ambidextrous.”

    All true, but also kind of bass-tard-ized to get there. So many items coming out ambidextrous now that are factory, just saying, why not update the AR platform? Only reason the ambidextrous magazine release is such an issue is, unlike manufactures like Glocks ambidextrous magazines, EVERY AR magazine EVER made has the catch on the left side, making it hard to make it work ambidextrous, but even that could be overcome by just an updated platform, like say an ambient release in front of the trigger guard.

    “The bolt catch is the holdout, but the left handed people seem to like it where it is now instead of drilling the hole and installing the lever and spring to trip it from the other side.”

    To me, the “ping-pong paddle” is like the #1 dumbest thing EVER incorporated onto a firearm, right or left handed, it is a dumb design. It screams: in the design of the AR, OH CRAP, WE FORGOT THE BOLT CATCH! That said, for a Lefty, it is really hard to beat the B.A.D. lever accessory, and for a Left-hand upper, The “Phase 5” one-piece version clears the upward moving left-hand door (necessary because of that rediculoous ping-pong paddle concept), but oddly enough, the B.A.D. lever accessory actually works much better for a lefty, than it does a righty.

    In todays times, there are starting to be a lot more, and better, ambidextrous options from manufactures, than the dated AR platform. So maybe some manufactures ARE listening to Rockit? 🙂

  2. Bought my echelon a couple of months ago and took it directly to the range. Read the manual, field stripped it and tried all three backstraps and never had to touch a tool. I am a fan of Springfields ergonomics and grip textures and this didn’t disappoint. Ran 300 rounds mixed FMJ and JHP without a single glitch. Accuracy and ease of shooting were impressive. My only issue was the trigger, its too good. The reset is audible and tactile, but very short. I had several unintentional double taps before I got used to it.
    All in all, another fine gun from Springfield.

  3. It’s no secret to some of y’all that have been around the Shooter’s Log for a while that I’m a Smith guy… both my brother and wife have Hellcats. I’m not a fan of SA or the Hellcat. This new Echelon… overall, sorry, it looks like crap. The front serrations/machine work is just too much. Some of the texture locations are a bit silly. Why on the front of the guard? The finger pads are blocky looking. Takedown lever looks silly and WTF is the deal with the magazine? It looks like an afterthought. I’ll give them credit on the rear serrations wings and a flat face on the rear sight . Grip texture looks promising. As far red dot mounting… so what? I absolutely despise those things. Aside from looking rediculous (about like putting glass on a levergun) they completely screw with my accuracy. I’m way more accurate and faster without them. My brother has one mounted to his Hellcat and he trains with it. He’s not bad. I told him to take it off and watch. On a platform I don’t regularly shoot/handle, I ran a faster time and scored higher. I outshot him with his own sidearm and without his fancy sight on it. I suppose the swappable chassis is a decent feature if you want to go from duty size to compact to *possibly* sub-compact if possible. But overall… it’s a big pass for me. I’ll stick to my M&Ps and SDs.

  4. I bought the XD-M Elite, of which I love and not too long after, SA came out with the Echelon. I could say I wish I had waited but I have no regrets. I’ll just have to invest in another handgun!!
    Me to my wife: “Yes, I did need that” lol !!

  5. Uh, ROCKIT– ambidextrous safety and mag release are “off the shelf” items for the AR platform without any modification to the lower, and “lefty” uppers are the same way requiring no special tools or skills to change to lefty or to ambidextrous.

    The bolt catch is the holdout, but the left handed people seem to like it where it is now instead of drilling the hole and installing the lever and spring to trip it from the other side.

    .

  6. Id like to see the Springfield Echelon offered in other calibers. Any word if that will happen in the future??

    1. In January 2024, Springfield put out a release that the Echelon would be coming to the California Roster soon, but no word yet. ~Dave

  7. “The VIS may accept up to 30 types of red dots. I did not take time to confirm this, but there are probably more than 30 types and brands when variation are taken into consideration.” Makes one wonder what the advantage would be of a “International Standardization Organization”? Like maybe call it ISO2000? Or even a “Mil-Spec”?

    “Going further, the pistol features fully ambidextrous controls.” Always nice to see manufactures appealing to their entire customer base. If only an AR lower were updated to be ambidextrous. 🙁

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