The original crossover regains its street cred with consumers.
Before there were crossovers, there were hatchbacks. Now that crossovers have proved to be America’s preferred vehicle, its shorter predecessor is making a comeback.
A new generation of exciting five-doors follows a simple formula: Take an athletic commuter car, pack in a bigger cargo area, and toss in lots of stuff. And, it’s a segment that roundly offers a manual transmission for driving enthusiasts.
New models from Honda, Chevrolet, Subaru, Toyota and some old favorites help rejuvenate a segment that used to be for the young and penniless.
“Hatch buyers are better educated, make more money and are used to products with more oomph,” says Steve Majoros, marketing director for Chevrolet cars and crossovers. “They are also more urban than rural and are a bit older because of income. Hatchbacks add a dimension of personality and design — factors people are demanding in cars today.”
According to Majoros, hatchbacks represent about 10 percent of model sales. Exclusivity, bolstered by some automakers offering hatchbacks only in certain regions, created its own demand.
“For years, Civic owners and fans have seen the sporty Civic Hatchback in Europe as something of a forbidden fruit,” says Jessica Pawl, spokeswoman for Honda. “We’ve found the hatch buyer is looking for something a little more individualistic, aimed toward their active lifestyle.”
Millennials and Gen-Xers, raised on SUVs and crossovers, look to hatchbacks as efficient transportation that can slip through traffic during the daily commute, yet carry bicycles, surfboards or camping gear on weekends.
Hatchback compacts are typically shorter and slightly heavier than their sedan counterparts, and cost about $500 more.
The price and mpg listings that follow are based on more expensive automatic transmissions:
Sassy and stylish, the Cruze Hatchback comes with a 153-horsepower turbo-four engine; a more efficient diesel arrives next year. Get it with a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. Lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning and a rearview camera enhance safety.
Beneath aggressive Euro styling is a standard 180-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine connected to a continuously variable or six-speed manual transmission. Sport Touring editions add aluminum pedals, red-lit instruments and 540-watt audio. Crash mitigation systems enable a Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS. Enthusiasts wait for the 2018 R-Type with carbon fiber splitter, 20-inch wheels and rear wing.
Toyota Corolla iM
Surviving Scion’s demise, the iM becomes a Corolla, still available in only one trim level. It comes with vibrant colors, wedgy styling and grippy sport seats. Underneath is a 137-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine attached to a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission.
Hyundai Elantra GT
Redesigned for 2018, the hatch is loaded with premium features like heated leather seats, navigation, push-button starting and rearview camera. Its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine delivers 162 horsepower through a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The Sport variant has a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo four engine. A tight suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels add wow factor.
Refreshed for 2018, the Impreza flaunts a sculpted body, hawk’s-eye headlamps, and Sport model with 18-inch wheels. Torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive comes standard. Choose the 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a continuously variable automatic or five-speed manual transmission. Rear cameras come standard.
Stepping out with Mazda’s KODO design language, the tight-handling compact screams with a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder or 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine — both available with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. An updated interior features available Bose audio, standard rear camera and navigation. Heated seats and steering wheel kill the chill while smart city brake support and blind spot warning enhance safety.
Ford offers the Focus with several powertrains, from an all-electric that gets 100 miles on a charge, to a 1-liter turbo three-cylinder, to the sport model ST with a 252-horsepower, 2-liter turbo four with a sweet manual. Then there’s a European dream come stateside for 2017. The German-built RS races with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 350 horsepower routed to the all-wheel-drive system through a six-speed manual transmission.
The segment-defining two-box GTI delivers 220 horsepower from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Choose a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automatic. Shift up to the Golf R’s 292-horsepower engine and 4Motion all-wheel-drive for 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds. Golf is also available with a 170-horsepower turbo-four or as an “e-Golf” with 83 miles range.