What is a hatchback?
A hatchback is a car body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area. Hatchbacks are similar to station wagons, but the hatchback’s cargo area is more truncated and the rear opening is perpendicular to the ground while the station wagon’s cargo area continues further forward and has a rear door that is parallel to the ground.
The main defining characteristic of a hatchback is its integrated cargo space and passenger space. The rear cargo area of a hatchback is easily accessible from the passenger compartment because the rear seats fold down, allowing long items to extend from the cargo area into the back seats. This makes hatchbacks versatile for carrying both passengers and cargo.
Hatchbacks typically have a very abbreviated rear deck lid, compared to a sedan’s extended trunk lid. The hatchback’s stubby rear end allows the rear hatch door to open fully, providing a wide opening for loading cargo. Hatchbacks are usually in the small or medium car segments, although some crossover SUVs have hatchback rear ends.
Types of Hatchbacks
Hatchbacks come in different sizes and configurations. They typically have between two and five doors. There are several common types of hatchbacks.
Subcompact Hatchbacks are very small, fuel-efficient cars like the Toyota Yaris that are easy to park and maneuver in tight spaces.
Compact Hatchbacks are still quite small but offer a bit more passenger and cargo room than subcompacts, popular models are the Honda Fit and Mazda3 5-door.
Small Family Hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf provide space for families, with 4 doors and roomy rear seats and cargo area.
Hot Hatches are high-performance versions of hatchbacks, usually with sport-tuned suspensions and powerful turbocharged engines, such as the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI.
Luxury Hatchbacks from brands like Mercedes and BMW offer premium features and styling in a hatchback form, like the Mercedes CLA and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe.
Liftback Hatchbacks feature a more formal sedan-like roofline but with a hatch for cargo flexibility, such as the Kia Forte5 and Subaru Impreza.
Crossover Hatchbacks combine hatchback design with a raised suspension and SUV styling cues, examples are the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Kicks.
Wagons are long-roof hatchback models that prioritize cargo and passenger room, such as the Subaru Outback and Volkswagen Golf SportWagen.
How do you know if a car is a hatchback?
Hatchbacks are similar to station wagons, but are typically smaller and have less interior cargo room. The main identifiers of a hatchback are the upward-swinging rear liftgate, folding rear seats, open cargo area, and sporty two-box design.
Below are the identifying features that indicate a car is a hatchback model:
- Body style – Hatchbacks have a distinct two-box design with a shared passenger and cargo area. The roofline drops steeply toward the rear of the vehicle.
- Rear liftgate – Hatchbacks have an upward-swinging rear door that provides access to the cargo area. The door is hinged at the top and swings upward when opened.
- Cargo space – The cargo area of a hatchback is open to the passenger cabin, without a partition between the seats and storage space. Hatchbacks tend to have seating for 4-5 passengers and increased cargo versatility versus sedans.
- Rear window – Most hatchbacks have a rear window that lifts with the tailgate door. This allows for improved visibility and airflow when the cargo area is open.
- Fold-down rear seats – Hatchbacks typically have rear seats that fold down to accommodate larger items in the back. The flexible seating expands the usable cargo room.
- Shorter rear overhang – The rear overhang (distance from the rear axle to the tail end) is shorter on hatchbacks compared to sedans. This helps maximize interior space.
- Raised rear height – Since the hatchback’s rear seats and floor sit above the level of the trunk floor, the rear end rides higher than a typical sedan.
- Sporty appearance – Many modern hatchbacks have a sporty, youthful design with sloped rooflines and short rear ends. This gives them a peppy, agile look compared to trunk-style cars.
Common Hatchback Dimensions
The interior dimensions determine the passenger and cargo space. Hatchbacks maximize interior room in a small overall package, but there are still significant differences between models.
Front Headroom – The front headroom measurement is the vertical space between the front seat and the roof. Look for at least 38-40 inches or more of headroom for a comfortable fit.
Front Legroom – Front legroom measures the space between the front of the seat and the dashboard. Adequate legroom for drivers is essential and should be in the range of 41-43 inches.
Rear Headroom – Rear headroom is critical if you plan to carry rear seat passengers. Measurements are usually 1-3 inches less than the front. Seek out at least 36 inches in the back.
Rear Legroom – Rear legroom varies more than the front. Benchmark hatchbacks offer around 33 inches while larger models boast up to 43 inches in the second row.
Cargo Volume – Cargo volume refers to the luggage space behind the rear seats. A modest hatchback offers around 15-18 cubic feet while more spacious versions can exceed 20+ cubic feet.
Some hatchbacks provide a split folding rear seat to accommodate both passengers and extra cargo as needed. The seats fold down to substantially increase the cargo volume when transporting larger items.
The exterior dimensions indicate the hatchback’s footprint on the road and in your parking space.
Overall Length – A small hatchback is typically in the range of 155 to 165 inches long. Larger models measure 170 inches and above.
Wheelbase – The wheelbase is the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels. Look for a wheelbase of at least 100 inches for stability.
Width – Exterior width without mirrors is an important consideration for navigating tight spaces. Benchmark hatchbacks are 65-70 inches wide on average.
Height – Overall height is measured from the pavement to the roof. Standard hatchback heights vary between approximately 57 to 63 inches tall.
Ground clearance signifies the space between the underside of the vehicle and the ground. It’s an often overlooked dimension that becomes critical if you drive on unpaved roads or need to traverse snow, ice, steep ramps, and curbs.
While some low-slung sporty hatchbacks might only offer 4-6 inches of clearance, a height of 7-8 inches is preferable for most conditions. Larger hatchback crossovers and SUVs achieve up to 8-10 inches of ground clearance.
Benefits of a hatchback
More Cargo Space
Hatchbacks have a rear door that lifts up to create a large, box-like cargo area. This allows you to easily fit larger and awkwardly shaped objects in your hatchback, like baby strollers, outdoor gear, and pet supplies. Most hatchbacks today offer between 25-60 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. This gives you the flexibility to use your hatchback for work and recreation.
Better Fuel Economy
In general, hatchbacks are more fuel-efficient than other cars like SUVs and trucks. Their smaller overall size reduces weight and drag, allowing their engines to work more efficiently. Most hatchbacks utilize 4-cylinder engines that strike a good balance between power and fuel economy.
Front-wheel drive is also common, which improves efficiency compared to all-wheel drive. While fuel economy varies by model, most hatchbacks today deliver 25+ mpg in city driving and over 30 mpg on the highway. Going with a hatchback is a smart way to save money at the gas pump.
Hatchbacks are one of the more affordable vehicle options compared to SUVs and trucks. Their simpler design and smaller size allow auto manufacturers to reduce build costs. As a result, hatchbacks range from economical subcompacts in the $15-25k range to sporty compact models around $25-35k.
With a lower purchase price and lower operating costs from fuel efficiency, a hatchback generally provides excellent value for your dollar. This makes them very appealing to budget-conscious shoppers.
Better Handling and Maneuverability
Thanks to their smaller footprint and lighter curb weight, hatchbacks are more nimble vehicles compared to larger sedans and SUVs. Their shorter wheelbase allows for quicker turning. You’ll find hatchbacks easier to park in tight spaces. The lower center of gravity also gives them better balance and handling around corners.
For those who enjoy a more engaging driving experience, a hatchback allows you to have fun without the expense of a true sports car. Most deliver nimble ride dynamics without sacrificing comfort.
Today there are more hatchback models to choose from than ever before. Nearly every major auto manufacturer offers at least one hatchback in their lineup. Popular affordable models include the Honda Fit, Toyota Prius, and Kia Soul. Moving up the price ladder there’s the Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3, and Hyundai Elantra GT. Even several luxury brands like Audi and BMW now offer premium hatchbacks. With everything from bare bones econoboxes to refined luxury cars available, you’re sure to find a hatchback that suits your needs and preferences.
The design of a hatchback makes entering and exiting the rear seats much easier. Unlike a traditional trunk, a hatchback’s cargo door allows you to get very close to the rear bench. This is especially convenient when installing child seats or when passengers have limited mobility. The wider opening and lack of a trunk lip also simplifies loading cargo. Whether transporting passengers or gear, a hatchback reduces the effort needed compared to a typical sedan.
While hatchbacks used to be pretty boring aesthetically, modern models have come a long way in terms of styling. Contemporary hatchback models bear little resemblance to the boxy econoboxes of decades past. Today’s hatchbacks have sporty slopes, dynamic lines, and come in eye-catching colors and trims. Larger wheel options and minimal overhangs add to the modern, youthful look. For those that want practicality without sacrificing style, hatchbacks deliver in ways older models never could.
Better Resale Value
The combination of lower initial cost and increased utility means that hatchbacks typically retain their value very well. Hatchbacks see less of a drop off between purchase price and resale value after a few years of ownership. Thehatchback segment also remains very popular, keeping demand high among used car shoppers. If you plan on selling your hatchback down the road, you can expect a better return compared to other vehicle types. The savings apply both when buying used and selling later on.
More Customization Options
Another benefit of hatchbacks is that they’re easier to customize to your liking. Their simpler body structures can accommodate all kinds of aftermarket upgrades. Adding a roof rack for increased cargo capacity is straightforward with a hatchback.
You’ll also have an easier time finding exterior accessories that match your hatchback’s lines compared to more complex sedans. If you want to make your hatchback feel more unique with upgrades and mods, it’s a more viable option than other cars.
Disadvantages of a hatchback
Poorer Ride Quality
In general, hatchbacks tend to have stiffer suspension systems than other cars. This results in a ride that is less smooth and more bumpy than a sedan or SUV. Over bumpy roads or uneven terrain, passengers in a hatchback are more likely to feel jostled around.
The stiffer suspension is needed on hatchbacks in order to account for the extra weight and shift in balance from the rear hatch area. However, this can take away from ride comfort, especially on longer trips. Drivers who place a priority on having a smooth and quiet ride may find the driving experience in most hatchbacks to be disappointing.
The shape and design of a hatchback also contributes to higher wind noise at highway speeds compared to other vehicles. The sloped hatch door and rear window area are less aerodynamic than a traditional sedan trunk. This can lead to noticeable whistling, buffeting, and turbulence inside the cabin.
The large rear hatch opening also contributes to lower pressure inside the cabin, allowing more exterior noise to enter. Even hatchbacks equipped with acoustic laminated windshields and window glazing tend to suffer from louder wind noise than comparable sedans. Driving for long periods at highway speeds can become tiresome with the constant wind rush.
Cramped Rear Seats
To accommodate the distinct hatchback shape, passenger space in the rear seats is compromised. Headroom, legroom, and foot space in the back is noticeably reduced compared to sedan counterparts.
Adults may find it uncomfortable sitting in the rear seats for more than short trips. The feeling of being cramped or confined can be aggravated on models with small rear windows that lack visibility. For buyers who regularly need to accommodate adult passengers in the back, the tight quarters could be a frustrating disadvantage.
Poor High-Speed Handling
The center of gravity on a hatchback is higher than a traditional car due to the weight and mass of the rear liftgate area. This results in some handling tradeoffs at higher speeds. In evasive maneuvers or high-speed turns, hatchbacks are more prone to body roll and loss of control.
The light rear body overhang behind the rear axle also reduces stability at highway speeds. As a result, hatchbacks generally lack the planted, steady feel of sedans at speeds 60+ mph. Drivers may need to account for the difference in handling dynamics when driving a hatchback at interstate speeds.
Less Trunk Privacy
The tailgate and rear cargo opening on a hatchback naturally provides less privacy and security for items stored in the trunk. With a traditional trunk, items remain hidden and out of sight. But with a hatchback, the cargo area is exposed whenever you open the rear liftgate.
This could make it easier for valuables to be stolen if you need to park the hatchback in public areas. Or it could allow prying eyes to see what you have inside your car. For those who like the discrete, lockable security of a sedan trunk, the visibility of a hatchback cargo hold is seen as an undesirable downgrade.
No Spare Tire
To maximize already limited cargo room, most hatchbacks eliminate the spare tire and tire changing tools from the rear storage area. Instead, they rely on a temporary inflator kit to re-inflate a punctured tire. Or they may come equipped with run-flat tires to allow you to drive a short distance on a flattened tire.
While the inflator kits and run-flat tires offer an alternative, they do not leave you as well prepared for a flat tire emergency as a spare tire does. Being stranded without a spare can lead to a time-consuming and costly rescue. For some buyers, not having the assurance of a spare tire is reason enough to avoid a hatchback.
While hatchbacks have grown in popularity, the selection is still quite limited, especially in the U.S. market. There are dozens and dozens more sedan options across all sizes, price ranges, and features compared to hatchbacks. So buyers may need to compromise more to find the hatchback that aligns with their wants and needs.
What are hatchbacks good for?
Common Uses Some of the most common uses for a hatchback include:
- Daily commuting and errands
- Traveling or road trips
- Outdoor adventures and recreation
- Hauling sports equipment
- Moving apartments or dorm rooms
- Delivery vehicle or company car
- Transportation for seniors
- Family vehicle and kid hauler
- Shopping and Costco/IKEA runs
Who are hatchbacks for?
Young, Urban Drivers
Hatchbacks are often seen zipping around busy city streets, and with good cause. Their small footprint makes parking and navigating tight spaces simple. Yet they still offer ample cargo room for groceries, furniture, or other urban hauls. Hatchbacks’ fuel efficiency also helps save money on gas when driving in stop-and-go traffic.
Their stylish designs appeal to young drivers who want something sporty and modern. Brands like Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Subaru offer affordable hatchback models perfect for young urbanites. Hatchbacks like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf, and Subaru Impreza have long been popular choices.
Hatchbacks provide an intriguing middle-ground between sedans and SUVs for small, active families. They offer more cargo space than a typical sedan, yet their footprint remains compact. The fold-down rear seats allow families to fit strollers, sports gear, and other bulky items when needed.
The higher ride height of certain hatchback models, like the Subaru Crosstrek or Volkswagen Alltrack, also suits families who enjoy weekend adventures. Yet hatchbacks’ lighter weight and smaller profiles increase fuel efficiency around town versus larger SUVs. For small families needing flexibility without a large vehicle, hatchbacks like the Mazda 3, Hyundai Elantra GT, and Kia Soul deliver.
With many Americans facing longer commutes, hatchbacks make time spent driving more pleasant. Models with four doors and rear seats are exceptionally practical for commuters who carpool or shuttle kids occasionally. The cargo area swallows work bags, laptops, gym gear, and more.
Hatchbacks’ gas mileage and nimble handling also make commuting less expensive and stressful, especially in heavy traffic. The Ford Focus, Chevrolet Sonic, and Toyota Prius C are hatchbacks with excellent fuel economy ratings, catering to commuters’ needs.
Active Urban Dwellers
From bike messengers to small contractors, hatchbacks assist active city-dwellers. The rear cargo area provides versatile space for hauling everything from catering supplies to carpentry tools. Many hatchback models offer raised roof heights and square cargo areas to fit bulkier items.
Carrying recreational gear is no problem either, with enough room for bicycles, snowboards, camping equipment, and more. The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, Mini Clubman, and Mercedes Benz B-Class are more premium hatchbacks catering to urbanites with active lifestyles.
For empty nesters and retirees looking to downsize from larger sedans or SUVs, hatchbacks offer comparable cargo space in a smaller package. The expanded cargo room versus sedans, along with hatchbacks’ fuel efficiency, make them practical and economical.
Easy access to the cargo area is also beneficial for seniors. Certain models, like the Kia Niro and Toyota Prius V, offer more crossover-like designs that raise ride height, easing entry and exit. Safety technologies like blind spot monitoring and rearview cameras also appeal to older drivers.
Beyond practicality, hatchbacks can also deliver an enjoyable driving experience. Models like the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Fiesta ST, and Hyundai Veloster have performance upgrades and sportier designs. Drivers seeking excitement from their commute or weekend drive appreciate hatchbacks’ nimble handling and turbocharged acceleration.
Enthusiasts enjoy customizing and modifying hatchbacks to fit their personalities too. Aftermarket parts are abundant for popular models like the Honda Civic. New technologies also aid performance – hybrid powertrains in the Kia Niro and Toyota Prius allow drivers to have responsiveness and efficiency.
Businesses and Fleets
Hatchbacks work both for individual business owners and large commercial fleets. Their mix of cargo space, fuel economy, and compact size make hatchbacks versatile workhorses. Technicians can fit tools and parts inside for house calls, while delivery drivers have capacity for packages and supplies.
Fleet managers appreciate how customizable hatchbacks can be to suit unique needs. Aftermarket shelving and racks expand cargo options, while graphics help advertise brands. Rideshare services like Zipcar use hatchback models like the Toyota Prius and Honda Fit to serve customers efficiently.
What price range do most hatchbacks fall into?
Entry-Level Hatchbacks Under $20,000
On the lower end of the pricing spectrum, there are a number of good hatchback choices in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. The least expensive is the Nissan Versa hatchback, which starts around $16,000. Other affordable options include:
- Hyundai Accent – $16,745 starting MSRP
- Kia Rio – $17,045 starting MSRP
- Toyota Yaris – $17,750 starting MSRP
- Honda Fit – $17,860 starting MSRP
- Ford Fiesta – $18,670 starting MSRP
While these models may be smaller and offer fewer features than pricier hatchbacks, they provide excellent fuel economy ratings in the 30-40 mpg range combined. They are great options for budget-focused buyers.
Mainstream Hatchback Models $18,000 – $25,000
The heart of the hatchback market sits in the $18,000 to $25,000 price bracket. Top sellers like the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Golf, and Hyundai Elantra GT are priced in this range. Most versions of these models have starting MSRPs between $20,000 and $24,000.
Buyers can get features like heated seats, advanced safety systems, alloy wheels, and premium audio in well-equipped versions of these popular hatchbacks. Performance is peppy too, with many featuring over 150 horsepower. Fuel economy remains a hatchback strength, with ratings in the 28-35 mpg combined range.
Premium Hatchback Models $25,000+
At the higher end of the pricing spectrum, there are luxury and performance-focused hatchback models starting over $25,000. Top options include:
- Volkswagen GTI – $29,545 starting MSRP
- Mini Cooper – $27,900 starting MSRP
- Volvo V60 – $39,450 starting MSRP
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class – $33,950 starting MSRP
These premium hatchbacks offer sleek styling, upscale interiors, strong turbocharged engines, and sophisticated technology. Shoppers pay more, but get amenities like leather seats, digital dashboards, and advanced safety systems. The sport-tuned versions have over 200 horsepower for brisk acceleration.
How safe are hatchbacks compared to other vehicle types in crash testing?
Independent organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct rigorous crash tests on new vehicles each year.
They evaluate crashworthiness – how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash – and assign ratings. Across the board, today’s hatchbacks achieve high marks in these assessments.
In IIHS testing, most contemporary hatchbacks earn top ‘Good’ ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. The Kia Forte5, Hyundai Elantra GT, Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic all achieve an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, indicating excellent crashworthiness. The Toyota Corolla hatchback and Volkswagen Golf also earn Top Safety Pick when equipped with specific headlights.
In federal NHTSA testing, hatchback safety ratings are also impressive. The Kia Forte5, Mazda3 5-door, Honda Civic hatchback, Subaru Crosstrek and Volkswagen Golf all achieve an overall 5-star rating, the highest possible. These top marks for crashworthiness indicate that hatchbacks provide comparable protection to drivers and passengers as SUVs and sedans.
Hatchback Safety Features
While hatchbacks are smaller and more affordable than most other vehicle types, they offer many of the same safety features found in larger sedans and SUVs:
- Airbags – Most modern hatchbacks are equipped with front driver and passenger airbags, side airbags, and side curtain airbags. Some include knee airbags for front occupants.
- Advanced braking systems – Anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, and brake assist come standard on most new hatchback models.
- Stability/traction control – Helps drivers maintain control in adverse conditions or slippery roads.
- Rearview cameras – Standard equipment to aid in safely backing up.
- Strong steel safety cages – Designed to absorb impact energy and protect occupants in a crash.
How Hatchbacks Compare to Other Vehicles
Results from crash testing indicate hatchbacks perform similarly to vehicles with a traditional trunk.
For example, the Honda Civic sedan earns the same high ratings as its hatchback counterpart. Recent versions of both body styles get ‘Good’ results across the board in IIHS testing and 5 stars from NHTSA. This demonstrates the inherent safety of the Civic’s underlying structure and engineering, with the hatchback body type not compromising those gains.
The story remains the same comparing hatchbacks to small SUVs. The Hyundai Kona and Hyundai Tucson are mechanically related small SUV and hatchback models, respectively. The Kona and Tucson earn essentially identical crash test results, both achieving high IIHS and NHTSA scores. Despite having a taller SUV body, the Kona does not offer a safety advantage over the lower-slung Tucson.
Larger vehicle size and weight used to be synonymous with increased occupant protection. But improvements in hatchback structural design and advanced safety technologies have leveled the playing field. Modern hatchbacks offer impressive safety, regardless of their diminutive size compared to SUVs and trucks.
Do hatchbacks come in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options?
hen it comes to drive systems, hatchbacks come in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options. Understanding the difference between these two drive systems can help buyers pick the right one for their needs.
Front-Wheel Drive Hatchbacks
Front-wheel drive (FWD) hatchbacks have their engine mounted transverse in the front with the drive wheels being the front wheels. The powertrain delivers power only to the front axle. This allows more interior room as there is no central driveshaft running to the rear axle.
FWD hatchbacks tend to be more fuel efficient compared to AWD as power is going only to two wheels instead of all four. This reduces drivetrain power losses. FWD is also usually cheaper to manufacture than AWD.
FWD provides good traction and handling in dry and wet conditions. The weight of the engine and transmission over the front wheels helps increase grip. This makes FWD hatchbacks generally safe and easy to drive in regular conditions for most drivers.
Here are some examples of FWD hatchbacks:
- Toyota Corolla Hatchback
- Honda Civic Hatchback
- Hyundai i30 Hatchback
- Kia Rio Hatchback
- Ford Focus Hatchback
All-Wheel Drive Hatchbacks
All-wheel drive (AWD) hatchbacks have the ability to send power to both front and rear axles. This allows torque to be distributed across all four wheels. AWD systems vary between manufacturers but typically employ computer controlled multi-plate clutches that can channel torque fore and aft based on conditions.
AWD improves traction and stability in low grip situations like rain, snow, dirt roads, and gravel. The four wheel torque delivery increases available grip at all four corners. This enhances handling and control when accelerating and cornering in slippery conditions.
AWD does come with some downsides. It is generally more expensive than FWD as it requires additional drivetrain components. Fuel economy tends to be slightly lower as well due to increased weight and drivetrain power losses. Maintenance costs can also be higher for the AWD system’s additional parts like CV axles, differentials, clutches, etc.
Here are some examples of AWD hatchbacks:
- Subaru Impreza Hatchback
- Volkswagen Golf R Hatchback
- Audi S3 Sportback
- Volvo V40 Hatchback
- Mazda 3 Hatchback