2012 Hatchback Buying Guide

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Automotive Editor

Trent Loomis is an automotive journalist who has spent the past four years writing reviews, buying guides, and how to articles for some of the biggest websites in the world. Although he currently lives in Los Angeles, he also spent some time in Germany where he got to experience European craftsmanship and the thrill of driving on the autobahn.

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, Automotive Editor - November 21, 2014

Typically, hatchbacks appeal to budget-conscious drivers that value youthful styling and excellent fuel efficiency. In addition to their unique appearance, hatchbacks are noted for their nimble handling, and surprisingly enough, their interior flexibility.

Our editors at CarsDirect poured over all of the offerings and came up with this list of nine hatchbacks that are all under $25k. In your search for the perfect hatchback, you might come across some that are referred to as five-door models. In those instances, the rear hatch is considered to be the fifth door.

Hatchbacks Under $17,000

Hatchbacks in this price range qualify as subcompacts and typically have hybrid-like fuel efficiency. The redesigned Accent and totally new Sonic have breathed life and style into this introductory segment.

Honda Fit
Most versatility and interior space in its segment
Honda Fit

If you're looking for a sporty little hatchback with crossover-esque cargo room, the freshly redesigned Fit won't disappoint. Even though the 2012 Honda Fit is $175 over the $15k threshold, we couldn't resist placing it in this segment. The Fit's well-tuned suspension and fuel ratings of 28/35 mpg provide an excellent all-around driving experience. What really sets the Fit apart is its surprisingly spacious interior, with a fold flat rear seat that allows for 57.3 cubic feet of cargo space. The 60/40-split rear seat can also flip upright to accommodate tall cargo (a plant, etc.). Add Honda's legendary reliability and exceptional resale value and you have an all-around winner.

Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback
Best all-around subcompact with an emphasis on torque and safety
Chevy Sonic Hatchback

As the lone American entry on this list, the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback has a lot going on. Formally the Aveo, the five-door Sonic has a responsive 138-hp, turbocharged 1.4-liter engine with 148 pounds-feet of torque. Not only is that the most torque in the subcompact class, but it's the only turbocharged engine. An optional six-speed manual yields fuel economy of 29/40 mpg, which is on par with the Rio 5 and Accent. The Sonic is the first and only car in its class with 10 airbags, which is probably why it was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Hyundai Accent/Kia Rio 5 Hatchback
Best-in-class fuel economy
Hyundai Accent

Non-identical twins would be the best way to describe the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio 5 hatchbacks. Both share the same engine, and receive best-in-class fuel economy (30/40 mpg), and warranty (10-year/100,000-mile Powertrain). The Accent was redesigned for 2012, but differs from the Rio 5's bolder styling and has a lower base price. Both have a peppy 138-horsepower engine that is matched only by the Sonic hatchback.

Hatchbacks Under $20,000

This is where the hatchbacks start showing off eye-catching style and improvements in their overall quality.

Mini Cooper Hatchback
Excellent handling and limitless retro styling
Mini Cooper

Hatchback

It’s not the fastest hatchback in this group, but the 2012 Mini Cooper is the most unique, with endless personalized configurations to choose from. According to Mini, there are over 10 million possible ways to configure your Cooper, making it a true extension of your personality. The base Mini Cooper is the only trim that slots under the $20k price and has a capable 121-hp engine. It’s not the engine that steals the show – it’s the responsive handling. Front and rear anti-sway bars and a multi-link rear suspension helps during high-speed cornering. The little Brit receives excellent fuel economy ratings of 29/37 mpg, and is simply too much fun at just the right price.

Volkswagen Golf
Most power and best quality under $20k
Volkswagen Golf

Arguably the best hatchback in this segment, the VW Golf has a lineage that cannot be surpassed in this class. If you’re looking for power and performance, the Golf is the car to beat, with 170 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque. Fuel efficiency suffers at 23/33 mpg, but the German-made Golf handles like a champion and feels sturdier than the others. Unlike the Cooper and the Veloster, the Golf is available as a four-door hatchback, making life easier on back seat passengers. There are three models under $20k, including a two-door Golf that adds Bluetooth connectivity, a front center armrest and heated front seats. Overall, the Golf is a higher quality product with top-notch materials superb attention to detail.

Hyundai Veloster
Very exciting, spacious and totally original
Hyundai Veloster

The Veloster has best-in-class total interior volume in the compact sporty segment and is cheaper than the Mini Cooper. What immediately sets the Veloster apart from the competition is its longer coupe-like driver’s door, two passenger doors and a glass rear hatch. Needless to say, that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and kudos to Hyundai for pulling it off. It’s like Hyundai built the Veloster without ever knowing what a traditional hatchback looked like. Like most Hyundais, the Veloster provides tons of added value, with dual centered chrome-tipped exhaust pipes, a seven-inch LCD touchscreen, and a reassuring 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. If the Veloster wasn’t efficient enough with 28/40 mpg, the interactive Eco-Coach helps you drive more efficiently by linking you with other drivers to see who can eek-out more mpg.

Hatchbacks Under $25,000

The hatchbacks in this class all have more than 200 horsepower and feature enhanced overall performance. The reputation of these manufacturers will appeal to drivers who value sturdy construction and quirky hatchback styling.

Volkswagen GTI
Best combination of handling and comfort
Volkswagen GTI

The thoughtfully made 2012 VW GTI is the perfect blend of comfort and performance. The GTI handles better than anything else in its class, mainly because it eliminates torque-steer. Torque-steer is when power is sent through the front wheels and affects the initial direction during acceleration. Everyday practicality is the name of the game, with high-quality cabin materials and a spacious interior that allows you to easily fold down the rear seats and pack groceries from your trip to Costco. A 200-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 207 pounds-feet of torque isn’t the most powerful engine in this class, but is totally capable, especially for under $25k.

Mazda MAZDASPEED3
Best combination of handling and comfort
Mazda MAZDASPEED3

If you’re looking to get off the line in a flash, then 2012 Mazdaspeed 3 is the hatchback for you. Saying that the Mazdaspeed 3 features a little ‘Zoom Zoom’ would be an understatement. It features more power, more torque and a well-balanced chassis that teeters on the line of practicality and all-out handling performance. Let’s be more precise: a 263-horsepower turbocharged engine generates 280 pounds-feet of torque, which propels the Mazdaspeed 3 from zero to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. As you can tell, the Mazdaspeed 3 hatchback is perfect for winding roads and quick maneuverability. Fuel economy (18/25 mpg) isn’t as great as the other hatchbacks in this segment, but the power more than makes up for it.

Volvo C30 Hatchback
For the grown-up that is still young at heart
Volvo C30 Hatchback

Breaking the mold of traditional Volvo’s, the C30 hatchback has an uncharacteristic element of personality and charm. It’s one of the few Volvos you could call flashy, with its large, unique rear hatch window, and its trademark vertical taillights. The Volvo C30 exudes European flair and a sophisticated quirkiness -- traits not usually associated with a Volvo. A 227-horsepwoer engine cranks-out 236 pounds-feet of torque for a respectable 6.4-second zero to 60 mph time. Fuel estimates are excellent at 21/30 mpg, allowing for economical everyday driving. And just like Meryl Streep will always be nominated for an Oscar, the Volvo C30 will always earn safety awards. The C30 was named a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, with the highest marks of “Good” in all areas of testing.

, Automotive Editor

Trent Loomis is an automotive journalist who has spent the past four years writing reviews, buying guides, and how to articles for some of the biggest websites in the world. Although he currently lives in Los Angeles, he also spent some time in Germany where he got to experience European craftsmanship and the thrill of driving on the autobahn.

Follow On: Google+ | Website

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