Let’s get right down to brass tacks here: Are hatchbacks…cool again? As more and more first-rate manufacturers throw their hat into (or in some cases, back into) the hatchback ring, one would have to assume that the style is going through a bit of a renaissance. Sure, it is a fun, hip, and sporty style but let’s be honest here, that most certainly was NOT the case for quite some time.
Rapper Skee-Lo made some noise on the burgeoning ’90s hip hop scene with his 1995 crossover smash hit, “I Wish”. (You remember it. The one where he continually laments “I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller...”?) Skee’s work was scarcely seen near the charts ever again, but the reason we remember him is for his specific take on the automotive world that leads off the song’s second verse:
“I wish I had a brand new car, but so far I’ve got this hatchback. And everywhere I go, yo, I get laughed at…”
Tough criticism of a whole vehicular genre, for sure, but the man wasn’t kidding. Throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and into the early aughts, hatchbacks experienced quite the PR snub. Simply put, most people who gave a damn about what they drive wouldn’t be caught dead in one. Apart from a select few mainstays that were coveted by sport compact enthusiasts (like the Volkswagen Golf), nearly anyone driving a hatchback in those days was opting for the economical upsides of an ultra-efficient subcompact. (Remember those old-school Ford Festivas? They looked like the doddering old grandpa of today’s Smart Car.)
But times have changed. Not only is a hatchback a good fiscal decision, somewhere along the way it became cool again. Mazda was early to the party with the Mazda3 in 2004. And nowadays, the big boys in the states—Ford and Chevy—are selling Fiesta ST and hatchback editions of the Cruze like hotcakes. Even Honda, who bowed out of the segment in 2006, now churns out Civic hatchbacks, and even has a hatchback-version of their beloved Type-R.
And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg. The talent pool is deepening, new models and redesigns are coming out of the woodwork from all angles. Sales are booming back, and plenty of models have been treated to full redesigns this year. Here, we take a look at some exciting new things automakers have in store for the segment.
2019 Audi RS5 Sportback
There was a time when the term “luxury hatchback” would be dismissed as oxymoronic, or maybe just plain old moronic. Either way, those days are over. And with the Audi badge itself in the midst of a phenomenal comeback from a late 20th century design slump, it is an ideal company to re-embrace the hatchback vibe that’s snuck back into the automotive zeitgeist.
Audi has notoriously held some of its more daring models out of the US market. (The first-gen A3 and S3 hatchbacks come to mind.) But not only is the brand-new, top-of-the-line Audi RS5 Sportback available stateside, it is available here first. Before anywhere else on Earth, and that (somehow) includes its native Germany. How? We have no idea, but we definitely won’t be looking this gift-hatch in the mouth.
Aesthetically, the RS5 Sportback shares plenty of design cues with the also-new RS5 coupe, as well as a similarly German-refined interior, but it is far from a hatchback copy of its sibling. There is an extra set of doors, 2.4 inches more wheelbase and length, a 1.1-inch higher roofline, and a vertical rear power-liftgate. Both RS5 models share the same chassis and engine, a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6 making 444-hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Paired with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, this hatchback brings top-notch performance to a segment that once exclusively included far meeker vehicles. Show us a hatch from bygone days that can get from 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, or reach a top speed of 174 mph. (Go ahead, we’ll wait.)
You get what you pay for, and at a starting price of $75,195, it’s safe to say that hatchbacks have officially crashed the luxury party.
2019 Hyundai Veloster N
Hyundai’s N label makes its American debut with this fine-tuned take on the original Veloster, and the results (and affordability) speak for themselves.
The “N” stands for Namyang, the South Korean headquarters of Hyundai’s R&D. Or perhaps it stands for Nurburgring, inspired by the world-famous racetrack that countless legendary racers have cut their teeth on. Either way, this front-wheel drive 3-door is garnering such flattering comparisons as to the revered Honda Civic Type R, with comparable performance and a price that’s thousands cheaper.
Powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, (the same one offered in the mid-size Sonata), the Veloster N’s setup features new pistons to reduce the compression ratio, a less restrictive exhaust system, and a larger twin-scroll turbocharger. All these upgrades result in far better numbers than this engine has seen in any other application, making 250-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The optional performance package (which is likely the only option on the Veloster N, save for the color) not only includes sweet upgrades like larger brakes, an active exhaust, and Pirelli P Zero tires, but can get another 25 horses out of the equipment. A six-speed manual is currently the only transmission option, although reports suggest than an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic is just a couple years away.
But the best part? All this performance is incredibly affordable.
Coming in even lower than most estimates, the Hyundai Veloster N, new for 2019, starts off at $27,785. And the Sport Package upgrade is a big time improvement for a mere $2,100 extra. If you’re looking at performance hatchbacks AND would like to keep some money in your savings account, you can’t afford not to buy this car.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
Fresh off its debut at the New York Auto Show, the Toyota Corolla Hatchback brings with it more promise than any Corolla in recent memory. In fact, Motor Trend has already declared the new model a 2019 Car Of The Year contender. A direct descendant of the defunct Scion iM lineage, the new model is longer, wider and lower to the ground than its forefathers. An while the style du jour is to raise a hatchback’s suspension, add some big ol’ wheels and tires and call the new Franken-ride a crossover, Toyota keeps the Corolla Hatchback in touch with its roots. It is a hatchback in the purest sense.
The power source is a 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder. Not the most powerful in its class, to be sure, but there’s still plenty of oomph, making 168-hp. A 31 horse improvement over the Corolla iM and on par with the timeless Volkswagen Golf (170-hp). Toyota remains one of the few holdouts to the full turbo-takeover of lesser cylinder engines, and this model is no exception. So if natural aspiration is your bag, then the Corolla Hatchback is definitely worth your time. As a plus, both manual and automatic transmissions are offered.
Sure, the backseat is cramped, it gets to 60-mph in just under nine seconds, and all-wheel drive is still a pipe dream. Nobody’s perfect, and compromise is a part of life, especially if you’re keeping a close eye on your pocketbook. But the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback starts off at $20,910 and that’s a number (from a trusted badge like Toyota nonetheless) that is deserving of everyone’s attention.
2019 Ford Fiesta ST
There is something to be said for going out with a bang.
The Ford Fiesta won’t be around the US next year. It’s true. Ford is ending production next May, planning to focus nearly all of its attention on trucks and SUVs. So one would expect that the subcompact Fiesta, never quite the face of the brand, to just sort of shrink away quietly, never to be heard from again.
Nope. Have you ever seen a true New Orleans funeral, where mourners sing joyfully and parade in the streets, clapping and dancing with (and sometimes, on) the casket? It’s like that. Not only is the Fiesta not going gentle into that good night, as poet Dylan Thomas once described, but Ford is releasing an ST-Line trim level for the first time ever. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
But how about the full-on Ford Fiesta ST? While many see its demise as equally inevitable, production will continue on for at least another year. So while the Fiesta ST still lives and breathes, what better time than now to make the most of what it (still) has to offer?
It’s a refreshing little blast of simplicity and zip, this Fiesta ST. A manual-only spitfire, it’s powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and makes a pretty impressive 197-hp. And it’s 0-60 time of 6.9 seconds is nothing to sneeze at, either.
While not the fastest or best-equipped model ever to roll off a Detroit assembly line, it compensates with exceptional handling. And the beyond reasonable bottom line ($22,215, and still under $30,000 with every available upgrade) is an affordable bit of fun that practically anybody can get in on.
2019(?) Mazda3 Hatchback
While all the details aren’t crystal clear just yet, fans already can’t wait for the new Mazda3 Hatchback. Built on an all-new platform along with its Mazda3 Sedan sibling, the aggressive-yet-sophisticated design and hints at high-tech goodies yet-to-come already have buyers awaiting official final announcements with bated breath.
Here’s what we do know: Mazda’s cutting-edge Skyactiv-X, a compression-ignition 2.5-liter inline-four cylinder gas engine, plans to steal the show at some point in 2019. This compression-ignition engine is a massively dense science lesson in and of itself. Suffice it to say that compression ignition is wildly efficient, and it is probably the future of gasoline power. Until the Skyactiv-X arrives, a regular 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine will be offered for those who simply cannot wait another year to get into the new 3.
The new power source can be mated with either a manual or automatic six-speed transmission. Specific power figures for the Skyactiv-X aren’t available yet, but are expected to fall in line with those of Mazda’s current 2.5-liter. All-wheel drive will be available for the first time on the 3, and could potentially even be ready for those with manual gearboxes.
Models with the regular 2.5-liter engine will be available in early 2019, while Skyactiv-X models should arrive by the end of the year. Pricing has yet to be announced, but with an all-new platform full of upgrades, you can expect it to go up. Last year’s version started of at roughly $20,000. However, that was for the 2.0-liter base engine, which is no longer offered. But even if the jump is semi-substantial, the improvements made for 2019 sound like they’ll be well worth the extra cash.
Passing Trend or Lasting Style?
So, are hatchbacks here to stay? Who knows? Automotive trends certainly come and go (Still lusting after some spinning rims? We didn’t think so.) But one thing is for certain, hatchbacks are here right now. And while we haven’t heard how Skee-Lo is doing in quite some time, we’ll bet if he’s scooped up a new hatchback in the last few years, he’s surely not getting laughed at anymore.