What is a hatchback?

Practical, economical and cheap: they are Britain's most popular car, but what is a hatchback?

BuyaCar team
Jan 24, 2017

Hatchbacks are the backbone of British motoring and if you've got a budget, then there's a hatchback to suit.

You can buy a dinky brand new Kia Picanto hatchback for under £10,000. The Ford Fiesta is a hatchback, as is the VW Golf, the BMW 5 Series GT and the Audi A5 Sportback. Even the £230,000 Ferrari GTC4 Lusso is a hatchback. There's quite a choice.

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The thing that makes a hatchback is its boot. Unlike that of a saloon, it doesn't stick out of the back of the car; it's part of the car's interior. And instead of a small bootlid, when you lift a hatchback's boot, you are opening up the back of the car.

This creates a huge space in which to load luggage. It's also easy to expand the loading area by stacking items up to the roof (which restricts the view out of the back) or by folding the back seats. Because the car's shape is more compact than a saloon's, a hatchback is usually easier to park and manoeuvre too.


Folding rear seats in a hatchback allow you to easily increase the luggage area. The boot's big opening makes for easier loading.


In modern cars, this practicality doesn't come with many drawbacks. Hatchbacks can be a bit noisier than saloon cars because only the bootlid separates passengers from the outside (saloon cars have an enclosed boot that helps improve soundproofing). But you'd barely notice the difference on the best.

A few hatchbacks do make a compromise and offer reduced legroom to make more space for the boot - or cut back on boot space to make more room for passengers. But most modern hatchbacks are relatively spacious for luggage and people. Some have sliding rear seats - usually available as an option - which can be adjusted to increase legroom or boot space.


How many doors does a hatchback have?

The boot on a hatchback counts as an extra door because, if you really wanted, you could climb in, jump over the back of the rear seats, and you'd be inside. That's why you have 3- and 5-door cars.

What is a 3-door car?

These cars have two front doors on either side and a hatchback boot. These are most commonly small vehicles: city cars or superminis. They will usually have rear seats, which can be accessed by folding the front seats forward.

What is a 5-door car?

A 5-door car has two front and two back doors on either side, plus a hatchback boot. There are five-door versions of most hatchbacks, and their big advantage is that they are easy to get into for rear passengers. The extra doors at the back doors do make cars look boxier than three-door versions, though.


The 3-door Mini Hatchback in the background looks more compact and sleeker than the boxier 5-door Mini Hatchback in the foreground


Are SUVs and estate cars hatchbacks?

Hatchback boots are fitted to a variety of cars, including people carriers, estate cars, SUVs and crossovers. Technically, these are types of hatchback.

However, cars that are described as hatchbacks are generally traditional vehicles that are low to the ground and fairly compact. They tend to be seen as good-value-for money and cheap to run. That's why companies that make big, luxurious hatchbacks, give them different names (such as Audi's Sportback cars and BMW's Gran Turismo models).


Reasons to buy a hatchback

✔ Boot opening and folding seats make them practical and versatile
✔ Generally good value and cheap to run
✔ Easier to park than a saloon car


What's wrong with hatchbacks

✘ They can be cramped.
✘ Slightly noisier than saloon cars
✘ Lower driving position than SUVs and crossovers


What to look for in a hatchback

Getting a hatchback is a good start if you're looking for a practical and economical car. These are the features to look for to maximise its usefulness.

  • A split-fold rear seat, so you can increase luggage space and have space for a passenger in the back.
  • Rear seats that fold completely flat. Some just rest at an angle, robbing space.
  • A low or non-existent lip in the boot opening, so you can easily slide long or bulky items over the bumper and into the boot.
  • Back seats that can slide forward and backwards to create extra legroom or boot space.
  • A long wheelbase (the distance between the wheels) that maximises interior and boot space.

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