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Peugeot 306 hatchback, with the hatch lifted

Hatchback is a term designating an automobile design, containing a passenger cabin with an integrated cargo space, accessed from behind the vehicle by a single, top-hinged tailgate or large flip-up window. The vehicle commonly has two rows of seats, with the rear seat able to fold down to increase cargo space.



Citroën Traction Avant hatchback (1954); rear seat position is after final side window

Hatchback vehicles are functionally similar to station wagons (which are intended to carry large volumes), but distinguished by a (much) smaller load area. The typical hatchback roof rakes down steeply behind the C-Pillar, resulting in very little car length behind the rear wheels and thus no room for a side window over the load area. A good example of the difference can be seen in the 1999-2007 Ford Focus, which offers both a wagon (Focus ZTW/ZXW) and hatchback (Focus ZX3 and ZX5) models. The 2002-2007 Mazda 6 also came in five-door hatchback and wagon configurations.

Alternatively, cars with a longer rear end need a much more slanted rear window which is known as a liftback, in comparison to traditional hatchbacks where the tailgate is more vertical/upright. Liftbacks are sedan-size cars with a fastback profile and a hatchback-type tailgate. However, the term "liftback" did not gain such mainstream acceptance as "hatchback" or "sedan", for instance being almost never used in the United Kingdom where liftback cars are particularly popular. There, 5-door liftbacks are in general called hatchbacks, though 3-door liftbacks are often referred to as coupés by certain automakers, such as the Mercedes-Benz CLC-Class.

Typically, most compact cars offer a hatchback configuration, while midsize and larger cars have a wagon style. There are some exceptions, with compact wagons such as the BMW 3-Series (E36), Ford Focus ZTW, Toyota Corolla Fielder, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate. These four lineups have or had hatchback configurations as well, such as the 3-Series hatchback, Focus ZT3 and ZT5, Corolla Matrix (or simply Matrix), and CLC-Class (formerly the C-Class Sportcoupe).

The tailgate is also referred to as the hatch. Hatchbacks are often described as three-door (two entry doors and the hatch) or five-door (four entry doors and the hatch) cars. In Europe, city cars, superminis, and small family cars are usually hatchbacks.

Small cars often incorporate a hatch tailgate to make the best use of available space. Especially in smaller models, hatchbacks are often truncated, with the tailgate nearly vertical, to reduce the car's footprint. This is an important consideration in countries where small streets and traffic congestion are big factors (see for instance the Japanese Kei cars).

Hatchbacks frequently include fold-down rear seats, which enable a substantial portion of the interior space to be used as a cargo area. Usually, the rear seat can be folded partially (for instance 1/2, 1/3 or 2/3) or completely to expand the cargo space.

Hatchbacks typically have a parcel shelf: a rigid shelf covering the cargo space that is hinged behind the rear seats and lifts with the tailgate. An alternative is a flexible roll-up tonneau cover.

In many countries, where a hatchback and a conventional sedan are available for the same model, sedans are typically more popular. Generally speaking, this is not the case in Europe, where the hatchback is more popular and chances are the sedan is not marketed. Examples are France which has an old tradition of building hatchbacks and where sedan models are sometimes not even sold, like the Renault Laguna, or Great Britain where the 1997-2009 Toyota Avensis Hatchback outsold its StationWagon and Sedan models. Manufacturers have even been forced to offer a notchback version of cars that are sold only as hatchbacks elsewhere to comply with the preferences of clients, as with the Citroën C-Triomphe. Costwise, hatchbacks are priced differently than their sedan counterparts. For example, the Nissan Versa hatchback is cheaper than Versa sedan, while the Mazda3 Sport hatchback is more expensive than the Mazda3 sedan. High performance variants of hatchbacks are now common, known as "hot hatches"


Understandably, since the term is an approximation, the credit for the first hatchback is attributed to several manufacturers.

The Citroën Traction Avant Commerciale, introduced in 1938[1] was a capacious design that did not fit the description of a station wagon, because of the short space behind the rear wheels, with the rear seat in line with the D-Pillar. Initially the car had a two-piece tailgate. Production stopped during World War II, but when the Commerciale reappeared in 1954 it featured a one-piece top-hinged tailgate.

Holden of Australia fitted what could be described as "hatch" tailgates[citation needed] onto bodies in the late 1940s, though not on their own Holden 48/215 model. Two other early contenders are the 1949 Kaiser-Frazer Vagabond and Traveler hatchbacks. Although these were styled much like the typical 1940s sedan, they incorporated an innovative split rear tailgate instead of a trunk and folding rear seats.[2] [1]

Austin A40 Countryman

The 1953 Aston Martin DB2/4 featured a top-hinged rear tailgate, of which 700 examples were made. Its successor, the 1958 DB Mark III, even offered a folding rear seat. The 1954 AC Aceca and later Aceca-Bristol from AC Cars had a similar hatch tailgate, though just 320 were built.

The Pininfarina-designed 1958 Austin A40 was the first car to introduce the lack of side windows over the load space. It had a tailgate that was split horizontally rather than in a single unit hinged at the top. However, the 1962 Italian-built Innocenti version, called the A40S Combinata, had a single-unit tailgate, so that car had all the features of the modern hatchback.[3]

Hatchbacks in Europe

Renault 4L, 1962

The 1961 Renault 4 played a key role in popularizing the hatchback in Europe. Its tailgate was a single door incorporating the rear window and hinged at the top, with only short side windows between C & D-pillars over the load space and a steep angle from roof to rear bumper. During its production run the R4 was called a small station wagon, even after the term hatchback appeared around 1970.

Renault 16 hatchback

The Renault 16, a more upmarket car that was voted European Car of the Year on its launch in the autumn of 1965, also had a hatchback / liftback design, and featured a folding rear seat. Another French hatchback arrived in 1967: the Simca 1100. Contrary to the two Renault models, the Simca used a transverse engine and gearbox layout, and discarded the side windows behind the C-pillar.

1966 MGB GT.

The first car launched by the then-new British Leyland (albeit a British Motor Corporation design) was the 1968 Austin Maxi, a five-speed, front-wheel drive hatchback. The first all-Italian hatchback was the Autobianchi Primula, which went into production during 1964. The first German hatchback was the Volkswagen Passat (Dasher in North America) of 1973, followed by the more popular Volkswagen Golf (Rabbit in North America), as well as the Audi 50, the first German supermini hatchback, in 1974.

Sports cars like the Jaguar E-Type, Toyota 2000GT, and Datsun 240Z were fitted with rear tailgates, but had only one row of seats. Thus, while they may be called 3-door cars, they are not generally considered hatchbacks.

In the 1970s, the Rover SD1, Renault 30, and Saab 900 attempted to introduce the hatchback style into the executive car market, with limited success. The market for executive class station wagons is also limited, possibly for similar reasons - combining practicality and exclusivity in one vehicle has proven difficult.

By the early 1980s, most small family cars produced in Europe were hatchbacks. The 1980s began with the launch of two more front-wheel drive hatchbacks: the Ford Escort and Lancia Delta. More similar cars followed over the decade, including the updated Opel Kadett, Vauxhall Astra, Renault 19, Fiat Tipo, and second generation Rover 200. Alfa Romeo's venture into this market, the Nissan-based Arna, was one of the few unsuccessful European small family hatchbacks of the 1980s.

The 1990s saw small family hatchbacks firmly pitch themselves as the most popular auto sector in Europe. The third generation Volkswagen Golf was launched in 1991 and elected European Car of the Year. Fiat replaced the successful Tipo with the distinctive Bravo (three-door) and Brava (five-door) in 1995. Ford replaced the long-running Escort with the dramatically styled Ford Focus in 1998. Hatchbacks quickly became regular winners of the European Car of the Year award.

Hatchbacks in North America

After the introduction of several fastbacks in the late 1960s, hatchbacks gradually became commonplace in North America in the early 1970s as some novel hatchback and liftback models from America's Big Three automakers started appearing in showrooms, soon followed by imports from Japan and Europe. Hatchbacks were popular for smaller vehicles in the U.S. and Canada during the fuel crises of the 1970s due to their practicality and convenience.

1973 Chevrolet Vega Hatchback
1976 Chevrolet Chevette Hatchback
1999 Chevrolet Metro Hatchback
1978 Ford Mustang II Hatchback

General Motors

The Chevrolet Vega, introduced in September 1970, was the first hatchback model from General Motors. Over a million Vega hatchbacks were produced for the 1971–1977 model years accounting for about half of the Vega's total production.[4] The Pontiac Astre, was offered in hatchback models. Pontiac's version of the Vega was produced for the 1973–1977 model years. (Canada only 1973–74). The Chevrolet Monza was introduced as a 2+2 hatchback and was offered in several variations for the 1975–1980 model years. The Buick Skyhawk and Oldsmobile Starfire were produced exclusively as hatchback models, also for the 1975–1980 model years. The Pontiac Sunbird was offered in hatchback models for the 1977–1980 model years. The Vega based, GM H-Body Monza, Skyhawk, Starfire and Sunbird hatchbacks were replaced with the GM J-Body line for the 1982 model year.

A Chevrolet Nova hatchback was introduced for the 1973 model year, and was offered through 1979. The Chevrolet Chevette was introduced in 1975 as a two-door hatchback. A four-door hatchback on a longer wheelbase was introduced with the 1978 models. The Chevette was produced through the 1987 model year. The 1980s brought a new round of hatchback models. General Motors included a hatchback model as part of its J-car series (which included the Chevrolet Cavalier). Inj the 80's, Chevrolet offered captive import hatchbacks built by Suzuki and Izuzu. The NUMMI US-made Chevrolet Nova was also offered in a hatchback model in 1987 and 1988. Its replacement, the Geo Prizm, was also available in a hatchback model and the Chevrolet Corsica was briefly available in a hatchback version. The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird adopted hatch windows when the third generation editions came out in 1982.

GM successfully marketed a series of hatchbacks in North America as a joint venture with Suzuki, ultimately with production at CAMI Automotive in Canada. While at its peak, Canadian Swift/Metro/Firefly production reached more than 100,000 vehicles a year, the number fell to just 32,000 in 2000.[5]

Chevrolet offered the larger Malibu Maxx from 2004 to 2007, advertised as a "five-door extended sedan", designed to have the utility but not the stigma of station wagons. In 2008, GM introduced the 3-door and 5-door Belgian-assembled Saturn Astra. Chevrolet currently sells a hatchback version of its Korean-built Aveo.

Ford Motor Company

Ford offered a Pinto "Runabout" hatchback introduced its second model year-1972, in tandem with a the same body-style fastback sedan and later, a Mercury Bobcat hatchback twin. The Ford Mustang II, introduced for the 1974 model year, was available in a hatchback coupe and was produced through 1978. European-built captive imports for Lincoln-Mercury dealers, Mercury Capri II hatchbacks were sold in the US for the 1976-1977 model years, and imported for Ford dealers, the Ford Fiesta hatchback was added later in the decade. Ford offered an Americanized version of its third-generation Escort in the United States as a replacement for the Pinto at the start of the 1981 model year. The Ford Mustang and Mercury Capri "Fox" chassis models, introduced in 1979, and built through 1993 were offered in hatchback models. By contrast, Ford seems to be giving up on the market segment, with the Focus hatchback having been phased out even as a second-generation Focus is available as a hatchback in Europe.

Chrysler Corporation

The Chrysler Corporation was late in producing hatchbacks for the U.S., developing the Volkswagen-like Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon twins with its European operations and placing them on sale in North America in the 1978 model year. Two low-slung hatchback coupés, originally part of the Omni/Horizon lineup but later marketed as separate cars under the Dodge Charger and Plymouth Turismo names, debuted the following year. Eventually the Chrysler brand offered a LeBaron hatchback which resembled a Saab. Chrysler continued making its Omni/Horizon and Charger/Turismo models into the 1980s and added the Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance twins, which were styled to look like trunked sedans, for the 1987 model year. Most of the hatchbacks Chrysler offered at this time were sport coupés.

DaimlerChrysler replaced the Dodge Neon sedan with the Dodge Caliber, a five-door hatchback designed to look like a miniature SUV, in 2006.

American Motors

American Motors (AMC) joined the hatchback market at the start of the decade with America's first sub-compact, the AMC Gremlin that was styled in the Kammback fashion. AMC introduced a hatchback version to its larger Hornet models in 1973. The Hornet was restyled and renamed the Concord (a Concord hatchback was made for 1978 and 1979 only) while smaller Gremlin was restyled and renamed the AMC Spirit in 1979. However, the far more characteristic AMC Pacer debuted in 1975. It was the first modern "cab-forward" vehicle design that focused on interior space with short and rounded overhangs. The Pacer's aerodynamic and jelly bean shaped hatchback stood out among the square, formal, box-type designs that were prevalent all the way through the early 1980s. AMC, by then partially owned by Renault, added the Encore to its larger Alliance models in 1983. The Encore came in two and four-door hatchback models and it was based on the European Renault 11. These models were phased out after Chrysler bought out AMC in 1987.

Luxury marques

Luxury marques began experimenting with hatchbacks in North America, with mixed success. VW's New Beetle, which went on sale in the U.S. in 1998, featured a rear window hatch that contrasted with the original Beetle's trunk, which was located in the front, while the engine was mounted in the rear. The New MINI range was successful with enthusiasts for similar reasons as the New Beetle, as both vehicles are known for their performance and retro styling, but both were no longer priced as economy cars for the masses. BMW's 3-series hatchback had a short run from 1995-99, being criticized as looking like a full-sized 3-series with the rear chopped off.[6] The liftback version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Sportcoupé, was sold in North America from 2002 to 2005, being a more stylist off-shoot from the C-Class sedan than the BMW hatchback was of the regular 3-series. While the Sportcoupé base model enabled the automaker to reach a lower price point than existing models sold in North America, some suggested that the hatchback configuration (as liftback is almost never used in North America) and the "inexpensive Mercedes" moniker would undermine the marque which was traditionally was composed of expensive cars. It also lacked standard leather seats and a CD player, amenities typically expected of German luxury imports (especially a Mercedes).[7] Indeed, due to a lack of success, the Sportcoupé removed from North American markets in 2005, being succeeded by the Mercedes-Benz B-Class in Canada. Around that time, the Audi A3 debuted.

the 1990's - Declining popularity

While hatchbacks have enjoyed some periods of popularity, particularly for smaller vehicles during the oil crises of the 1970s, the majority of North American customers (especially in the US) have preferred trunks to hatches. Conventional wisdom is that they have always found the styling of trunked cars more elegant and dignified than that of hatchbacks and station wagons, the latter of which lost much popularity over the 1970s and 1990s. Although the high fuel costs of the time had popularized hatchbacks, it also created a lasting stigma, as many Americans only bought hatchbacks because they had to. Furthermore, the poor quality and basic nature of many hatchbacks gave them a reputation for cheapness - driving a hatchback was a proclamation that the owner was too poor to buy a regular car.

So, as hatchbacks grew in popularity in Europe in the 1990s, they declined in popularity in North America in that same period. Detroit manufacturers mostly switched to offering small cars only with trunks and not hatchbacks; customers who wanted versatility began turning to minivans and later sport utility vehicles. By the early 2000s, the New York Times commented that hatchbacks were the automotive equivalent of sitcoms starring former "Seinfeld" cast members; "no one wants to be associated with them." Volkswagen continued to offer the Golf (marketed with that name in North America from 1985 to 2006), but by the end of the 1990s the major Japanese manufacturers appeared to have given up on hatchbacks in the North American market just as General Motors and Chrysler did.

The Toyota Tercel and Echo were available in the U.S. in notchback form only. The Honda Civic hatchback, despite having been the most popular configuration of the line in the 1980s, was eventually relegated to a no-frills model by the 1996-2000 generation, having none of the amenities from the sedan or the coupé. With the exception of the hatchback version of the performance-oriented Civic Si which was imported from the UK from 2002 to 2005 and had a different styling from North American Civic sedans and coupes, no Civic hatchback has been sold since the 2001 model year. Ford and Volkswagen held on to selling basic hatchbacks in North America, as Ford's Focus debuted in 2000 with a hatchback model and Volkswagen's fourth-generation Golf included the base three-door model that the previous car had largely lacked. Suzuki continued to sell the subcompact Swift hatchback.

The 2000's - Small Resurgence

By the middle of the 2000s, a small hatchback resurgence took place in the United States and Canada. While most hatchbacks were still advertised as affordable, automakers toned down the emphasis on cheapness, touting practicality and versatility, efficiency, and performance. While no-frill base models were still offered, hatchbacks had available amenities (air conditioning and power windows) and safety features (curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes) found in larger vehicles. They also began using radical styling (and often a new model name) to set the hatcback apart from the sedan platform that it is based upon. In 2003, a Toyota/GM joint venture 5-door hatchback derived two models based on the Toyota Corolla -- the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe.

The three Japanese automakers all offered hatchback models by 2006 in the subcompact segment; Toyota had the Yaris (succeeding the 2003 Toyota Echo) and the Scion xA (replaced in 2008 by the Scion xD), Nissan launched the Versa, and Honda debuted the Fit which was already sold in Europe and Japan since 2001. Volkswagen, after an interminable delay, placed the fifth-generation Golf on sale in North America in June 2006 with the Rabbit name once again, accompanied by a high-profile ad campaign designed to make the car seem as cool as the MINI has been.

The Korean manufacturers were also offering compact and subcompact hatchbacks, such as the Hyundai Elantra GT, Hyundai Accent, Kia Spectra5, and the Kia Rio Cinco/Rio5. Also on offer in the U.S. were the 1998-2002 Daewoo Lanos hatchback and the 1999 Daewoo Nubira hatchback. The GM Daewoo-sourced Daewoo Kalos (Chevrolet Aveo, Pontiac Wave, et al.),Suzuki Reno (2004-present) and Chevrolet Optra5 (2005-2007) were also available in the U.S. and Canada, respectively.

In 2007, Suzuki released the SX4 hatchback in North America.

Hatchbacks in the USSR

M-21412 Aleko hatchback

First Soviet hatchback was rear-wheel drive IZH-2125 Kombi, started to be produced in 1973. In 1980s new front-wheel drive cars - Lada Samara, ZAZ Tavria and Aleko - were introduced with hatchback bodies.

Hatchbacks in developing countries

Hatchbacks have proved to be less popular in developing countries in South America, Africa, and some parts of Asia than in Europe, and as a result, manufacturers have had to develop sedan versions of their small cars. In Brazil, for example, the Fiat Premio was developed from the Fiat Uno in the 1980s, with Ford and GM subsequently offering sedan versions of the Opel Corsa and Ford Fiesta in the 1990s. (The first generation Opel Corsa was sold in Europe as a sedan as well as a hatchback, but proved unpopular, and was not replaced in 1993). These models were also sold in South Africa and China. However, hatchbacks are popular in India with about 80% of all passenger vehicles sold in the country.[citation needed]

Similar body styles

SUVs, station wagons and minivans often have the top-hinged tailgate that is one of the features of the hatchback car. However, the term hatchback is typically used in reference to small or compact cars, with a smaller trunk than other vehicles.

Some car manufacturers have marked their hatchback vehicle as Mini MPV or Compact MPV.

Many sports and mid-sized cars are also designed using a variation of hatchback design, sometimes called a liftback. Here, the tailgate is angled down over the rear seats, and smoothly integrated into the tail of the car, resembling a fastback or sedan overall. This often improves aerodynamic performance, resulting in a reduced drag coefficient. Examples of these cars are the Opel Vectra, the Ford Mondeo and the Renault Laguna.

Saab often used the term combi coupé (or 'Waggonback' in the U.S.) for their take on the concept. Even some typical-looking sedans (saloons) have hatch tailgates, such as the Mazda6, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra and the Saab 9000.


Other similar body styles

See also


External links


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