A hatchback is a car body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area. Hatchbacks may feature fold-down second row seating, where the interior can be flexibly reconfigured to prioritize passenger vs. cargo volume. Hatchbacks may feature two- or three-box design.
While early examples of the body configuration can be traced to the 1930s, the Merriam-Webster dictionary dates the term itself to 1970. The hatchback body style has been marketed worldwide on cars ranging in size from superminis to small family cars, as well as executive cars and some sports cars.
Hatchbacks may be described as three-door (two entry doors and the hatch) or five-door (four entry doors and the hatch) cars. A model range may include multiple configurations, as with the 2001–2007 Ford Focus which offered sedan (ZX4), wagon (ZXW), and three or five-door hatchback (ZX3 and ZX5) models. The models typically share a platform, drivetrain and bodywork forward of the A-pillar. Hatchbacks may have a removable rigid parcel shelf, liftable with the tailgate, or flexible roll-up tonneau cover to cover the cargo space behind the rear seats.
Hatchback vs. station wagon
Both station wagons and hatchbacks typically feature a two-box design configuration, with one shared, flexible, interior volume for passengers and cargo—and a rear door for cargo access. Further distinctions are highly variable:
Cargo Volume: Station wagons prioritize passenger and cargo volume—with windows aside the cargo volume. Of the two body styles, a station wagon's roof (viewed in profile) more likely extends to the very rearmost of the vehicle, enclosing a full-height cargo volume—a hatchback roof (especially a liftback roof) might more likely rake down steeply behind the C-Pillar, prioritizing style over interior volume, with shorter rear overhang and with smaller windows (or no windows) aside the cargo volume.
Cargo floor contour: Favoring cargo capacity, a station wagon may prioritize a fold-flat floor, where a hatchback would more likely allow a cargo floor with pronounced contour (e.g. the new Mini or the sixth generation Ford Fiesta).
Rear suspension: A station wagon may include reconfigured rear suspension for additional load capacity and to minimize intrusion into the cargo volume, (e.g., worldwide versions of the first generation Ford Focus).
Rear Door: Hatchbacks typically feature a top-hinged liftgate for cargo access, with variations from a single liftgate to a complex tailgate that can function either as a full tailgate or as a trunk lid (e.g., the 2008 Škoda Superb's TwinDoor). Station wagons also have numerous tailgate configurations. Typically, a hatchback's hatch or liftgate does not extend down to the bumper, as on wagons. Another appearance variation that seems to blur the lines between a commonly defined hatchback versus a station wagon is called a kammback, which generally features a sloping roof towards the end of the vehicle, with an almost vertical rear section to the bumper.
Automotive journalist Dan Neil, in a 2002 New York Times report described verticality of the rear cargo door as the prime distinction between a hatchback and a station wagon: "Where you break the roofline, at what angle, defines the spirit of the vehicle," he said. "You could have a 90-degree break in the back and have a station wagon."
A liftback is a broad marketing term for a hatchback, which incorporates a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a rear third or fifth door, typically a top-hinged tailgate—especially where the profile aspect of the rear cargo door is more horizontal than vertical, with a sharply raked or fastback profile. In comparison with the hatchback the back opening area is more sloped and longer and is lifted up to open, offering more luggage space. Very similar is the "fastback". Liftback is not used as a term in the UK — fastback or hatchback are used instead.
In 1938, Citroën introduced the Citroën Traction Avant in a "Commerciale" version with a tailgate, initially with a two-piece tailgate, of which the upper piece hinged upwards, cutting well into the roof, and after 1954 with a one-piece top-hinged hatchback.
In 1946, DeSoto marketed the Suburban as a station wagon, but was an extended sedan with a trunk lid that was hinged below the rear window. The model was promoted as offering station wagon utility with the passenger and luggage compartments in one large section with an 8-foot (2,438 mm) reasonably flat floor and equipped with folding rear seats to provide flexibity similar to hatchbacks.
In 1949, Kaiser-Frazer introduced the Vagabond and Traveler hatchbacks. Although these were styled much like the typical 1940s sedan, they incorporated an innovative split rear tailgate, folding rear seats, and no separate trunk. The design was fully a sedan nor station wagon, but the folding rear seat provided for a large, 8-foot (2.4 m) long interior cargo area. These Kaiser-Frazer models have been described as "America’s First Hatchback."
In 1953, Aston Martin marketed the DB2 with a top-hinged rear tailgate, manufacturing 700 examples. Its successor, the 1958 DB Mark III also offered a folding rear seat. The 1954 AC Aceca and later Aceca-Bristol from AC Cars had a similar hatch tailgate, though only 320 were built.
The British Motor Corporation launched a 'Countryman' version of the Austin A40 Farina compact car in 1959, which incorporated a horizontal-split two-piece tailgate and a more vertical rear panel in comparison to the standard saloon version. This was close to the enduring concept of the hatchback: A small car with a large rear door apeture providing a versatile combination of rear passenger space and easy loading for cargo, although with a two-piece rear door it was not quite a true hatch.
In 1961, Renault introduced the Renault 4, a small car with a top-hinged tailgate incorporating the rear window, and only short side windows between C & D-pillars aside the luggage space and a steep angle from roof to rear bumper. Although during its production run the R4 was called a small station wagon -even after the term hatchback appeared around 1970 - with over eight million cars built, this was the first mass-produced hatchback. Despite the success of subsequent smaller hatchback models including the Renault 5, the R4 continued in production in Europe until 1986 and through 1992 in Argentina.
In 1965, Renault marketed the Renault 16, a mid-market hatchback design with a folding rear seat. It was designed to compete across Europe with traditional family saloons including Britain's Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Victor and Morris Oxford. However, Renault continued to produce saloon alternatives to the R16, which remained in production until 1979.
Also in 1965, the MGB-GT was launched with a hatchback designed by Pininfarina, the first volume-production sports car so equipped. In 1966 Peugeot offered a shortened three-door coupe version of their 204, essentially a hatchback. In 1967, the Simca 1100 used a transverse engine and gearbox layout, and incorporated a hatchback without side windows at the C-pillar. In the same year, there appeared more conventional Citroën Dyane.
In 1969, British Leyland launched Austin Maxi, a five-speed, transverse front-wheel drive hatchback. This was similar in size to the Renault 16, although saloons remained the most popular choice of bodystyle in this sector across Europe for more than a decade afterwards.
The Fiat 127 was launched as a hatchback in 1971, as was the Renault 5 a year later, with these models popularising the hatchback bodystyle on Europe's smaller cars. In Yugoslavia, in 1971 there started production of Zastava 101.
In 1973, Volkswagen marketed the Passat/Dasher hatchback (similar in size and concept to the Renault 16 and Austin Maxi), followed by the Golf/Rabbit designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, as well as the Audi 50/Volkswagen Polo in 1974. The Golf became a classic compact hatchback and its newer generations have remained in production until now.
Sports cars like the Jaguar E-Type with its side-hinged opening, Toyota 2000GT, and Datsun 240Z carried rear tailgates, with one row of seats, and Ford relaunched the Capri with a hatchback in 1974. In the 1970s, the Rover SD1, Renault 30, and Saab 900 introduced the hatchback style into the executive car market.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of superminins and compact cars had been updated or replaced with hatchback variations, such as the 1978 Fiat Ritmo/Strada and FSO Polonez, the 1979 Citroën GSA, Lancia Delta and Opel Kadett (Vauxhall Astra in Britain) and the 1980 Ford Escort and Austin Metro.
The 1983 Fiat Uno designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, its tall, square body utilising a Kamm tail achieved a low drag coefficient of 0.34 won much praise for airy interior space and fuel economy. It incorporated many packaging lessons learnt from Giugiaro's 1978 Lancia Megagamma concept car (the first modern people carrier / MPV / mini-van) but miniaturised. Its tall car / high seating packaging is imitated by every small car today. It reversed the trend for lower and lower built cars. It showed that not just low sleek cars could be aerodynamic, but small, roomy, boxy well packaged cars could be too. In 1984 it was voted European Car of the Year.
General Motors launched its new "J Car" range in 1981, produced under various marques across the world, to compete in the larger family car sector. The Continental version was sold as the Opel Ascona, while the British version was the Vauxhall Cavalier. A saloon version was produced alongside the hatchback, a bodystyle not seen previously on any Opel or Vauxhall of this size. A year later, Ford called time on production of the conventional Cortina saloon after 20 years and five incarnations to switch to a hatchback bodystyle for the Sierra.
In early 1983, Austin Rover moved into the medium sized hatchback market popularised by the Volkswagen Golf with its new Austin/MG Maestro. A saloon version, the Montego, was launched a year later to compete with the likes of the Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier.
Traditional saloons and estates also remained popular throughout the 1980s, and some manufacturers sold their hatchback-based saloons under different names. Renault had launched the R9 saloon in 1981; this spawned a hatchback, the R11, in 1983. Ford had marketed the MK3 Escort as a hatchback and estate from 1980, but the saloon version launched in 1983 was badged as the Orion. Since 1980, Volkswagen had produced a Golf-based saloon called the Jetta. The MK2 Vauxhall Astra launched in 1984 was soon followed by a saloon version called the Belmont. When Ford updated its Sierra in early 1987, a saloon version was made available for the first time and marketed as the Sierra Sapphire.
The hatchback offered practicality for consumers in Europe. From the 1960s it was adopted as a standard feature on most European cars, with saloons declining in popularity apart from at the top of the market where a saloon is seen as a sign of status. The Ford Granada Mk3 /Ford Scorpio executive car, that was launched in 1985 only as a hatchback, was joined by a saloon in 1990 and an estate in 1992. When the final Scorpio was launched in 1995, it was sold as only a saloon or estate. General Motors never produced a hatchback version of any of its top of the range Vauxhall or Opel models, while Rover had discontinued the hatchback bodystyle in this sector by 1999, while Renault continued the bodystyle as late as 2009 with the VelSatis.
BMW eventually added a hatchback to its range in 1994 with the 3-series hatchback, and Mercedes-Benz in 1997 with the A-Class and the Sportcoupé in 2000. Audi returned to the hatchback market with the Audi A2 in 1999.
American Motors Corporation (AMC) marketed the subcompact Gremlin from 1970, in a single hatchback Kammback body design. The Gremlin used the AMC Hornet automobile platform, but its abrupt hatchback rear end cut the car's overall length from 179 to 161 inches (4,500 to 4,100 mm). American Motors added a semi-fastback hatchback version to its larger compact-sized Hornet line for the 1973 model year. The design and fold-down rear seat more than doubled cargo space and the Hornet was claimed to be the "first compact hatchback" manufactured by U.S. automaker. Additional utility from the car's hatchback, space, and long load floor was that it could be turned into a "mini-camper" with the optional factory "Hornet Hutch" tent accessory.
Introduced by AMC in 1975, "like recent European variations of the theme, the Pacer had a rear door or hatchback, which further increased its utility". For 1977, AMC added a longer Pacer model with a wagon-type configuration describing its large rear "hatch" as one of the car's three doors, all having different sizes. The Hornet's hatchback body design was continued in the redesigned "luxury" Concord line for 1978 and 1979, in a "sporty model designed for performance-oriented buyers". The AMC Spirit replaced the Gremlin starting with the 1979 models and was available in two designs, both featuring rear doors: a hatchback "sedan" and a semi-fastback "liftback" version.
Chrysler Corporation introduced the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon hatchbacks in 1978. These were followed by the Dodge Charger/Plymouth Turismo. They released the liftback Dodge Daytona/Chrysler Laser in 1984, and then the Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance—as well as the LeBaron GTS and Dodge Lancer hatchbacks. Captive import subcompact models included the Dodge Colt and the almost identical Plymouth Champ.
Ford Motor Company introduced the Pinto and Bobcat in 1972. The German-built Mercury Capri II hatchbacks were imported to U.S. Lincoln-Mercury dealers for the 1976–1977 model years, and the Ford Fiesta hatchback was imported for U.S. Ford dealers later in the decade. Ford offered a hatchback version of its third-generation Escort. The third generation Mustang and Mercury Capri introduced in 1979 were offered in hatchback models. Between 1988 and 1993 Ford marketed the imported Festiva subcompact hatchback that was later restyled and renamed the Aspire for the 1994 through 1997 model years.
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. GM introduced rebadged Vega hatchback variants, the 1973–1977 Pontiac Astre and the 1978 Chevrolet Monza S.
The Vega-derived Chevrolet Monza 2+2, Buick Skyhawk, and Oldsmobile Starfire introduced for the 1975 model year, were produced exclusively as hatchbacks with the Pontiac Sunbird hatchback introduced for the 1977 model year. All were produced through 1980.
A Chevrolet Nova hatchback was introduced for the 1973 model year, and was offered through 1979, another hatchback Nova was reintroduced in the 80's based on the Toyota Sprinter. The Chevrolet Chevette was introduced in 1975 as a two-door hatchback, engineered in cooperation with Isuzu. A four-door hatchback on a longer wheelbase was introduced with the 1978 models. In early 1979 the Chevrolet Citation was introduced as a 1980 model offered in 2 and 4-door hatchbacks continuing through the 1987 model year. In the 1981, General Motors included a hatchback model as part of its "J-body" platform that included the Chevrolet Cavalier. Chevrolet offered captive import hatchbacks built by Suzuki and Izuzu. The NUMMI U.S.-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 domestic designed Chevrolet Corsica was briefly available in a hatchback version.
The third generation Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird produced for the 1982–1992 model years, featured a curved glass hatchback liftgate. GM marketed a series of hatchbacks in North America as a joint venture with Suzuki, the Swift/Metro/Firefly. Chevrolet offered a longer wheelbase, hatchback vesion of the Malibu, the Malibu Maxx from 2004 to 2007. In 2008, GM introduced the 3-door and 5-door Belgian-assembled Saturn Astra. Chevrolet added a hatchback version of its Korean-built Aveo in 2009.
The Chevrolet Corvette was first offered with an opening rear glass hatch for the 1982 Collector Edition model. It was adopted on all Corvette Coupes beginning in 1984, with the fourth generation models.
One of the first hatchbacks offered was the 1970 Nissan Fairlady Z, 1972 Honda Civic, the Nissan Sunny, and the Nissan Cherry, with the Civic and Cherry offering front wheel drive powertrains. In addition to specific models of captive imports mentioned above, a number of Japanese brands have been available in the hatchback body style as a primary model: Nissan Pulsar, Toyota Allex, Toyota Prius, Honda CR-X, and the Honda Insight. Almost all Japanese "city cars", called "kei jidosha" use a hatchback bodystyle for cargo carrying ability in a regulated vehicle size, such as the Mitsubishi Minica, Honda Life, Suzuki Fronte, Subaru Vivio, and Daihatsu Mira. Other large-sized hatchback body style vehicles include Lexus CT, Nissan Murano, and the Nissan Skyline Crossover. The Nissan Fairlady Z is often classified as hatchbacks because of its styling, including the Z33 and the Z34. Other sports cars with hatchback (liftback) body style in Japan are Toyota Celica and Nissan 180SX.
The first Soviet hatchback was the rear-wheel drive IZh 2125 Kombi, which entered production in 1973. This was followed only in the 1980s by the front-wheel drive Lada Samara in 1984, the Moskvitch 2141/Aleko in 1986 and ZAZ Tavria in 1987.
Hatchbacks are popular in India. The Maruti 800 sold over 2.5 million units since its launch in 1983. Since 2004, Maruti 800 has been overtaken by Maruti Alto as the car with highest annual sales. In March 2009, Tata Motors launched the Nano hatchback, the least expensive road car in the world.
Hatchbacks have proved to be less popular 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 the three-box sedan was not replaced in 1993). These models were also sold in South Africa and China.
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