When you think of 'hatchback', what's the first thing that comes to mind? Practicality, utility, unique design; the virtues of the versatile and spacious hatchback body style are many. On today's new car market, Euro-inspired hatchbacks are making a strong comeback, with scores of buyers opting for that happy medium between a sedan and wagon that excels in packing away the whole family and tons of cargo while still maintaining tidy dimensions.
Hatchbacks today run the gamut from fuel-sipping, aerodynamic hybrids to sport-tuned pocket rockets. With dozens of models to select from, we're picked our 5 top choices for the 2013 model year, each offering real standout features in this competitive class.
The venerable Volkswagen Golf has been in continuous production since the 1970s, and could be considered the forefather to the modern hatchback. Whether your choice is the standard Golf, available with efficient gasoline and turbodiesel engine options, or the sporty 200-horsepower GTI, VW's offering leads the class in smiles per dollar. The Golf TDI diesel is a standout in this class for its fuel efficiency without sacrificing pickup and drivability. Although it's rated at an excellent 30 city/42 highway mpg by the EPA, owners have widely reported even better numbers. Both Golf and GTI are available in three-door and five-door body styles.
Sharing a platform with the luxurious Audi A3, VW's Golf and GTI really stand out once you have a look on the inside. Interior build quality is typical fine German craftsmanship, with soft-textured materials and excellent fit and finish. Long stretches on the highway go by with ease, thanks to comfortable seats and better sound isolation than top competitors. Apple fans should also note that the Golf, along with VW's other models, features some of the best iPhone/iPod integration around.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 27 city/37 highway
Mazda's fun-to-drive and refined Mazda3 is one car that seems to be made for the hatchback body style. Not only does the five-door cut a sleeker, more pleasing profile than the sedan variant, but you'll also find a well-designed and spacious cargo hold with 17 cubic feet of space with the rear seats in place. Mazda sales are growing of late thanks to a well-deserved reputation for driving excitement in every model they produce. The Mazda3 really shines when tearing up some country roads, its four-wheel independent suspension and disc brakes all around inspiring confidence at every turn.
Although Mazda offers three engine choices for 2013, the standout is the brand's new 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder, also found in the fresh new CX-5 crossover. This technological marvel of an engine brings linear, powerful response and 40 mpg on the highway, and comes mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. While it costs a bit more than the base motor, fuel savings alone justify the price premium, not to mention the extra standard equipment.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 25 city/35 highway
Of all the compact hatchbacks on the market, the value-packed Ford Focus makes the best alternative to a larger, more-expensive family sedan. The Focus was the #1 best-selling vehicle nameplate in the world last year, its capable handling, spacious rear seat and class-leading interior tech features among the chief virtues in a car that has no major downsides. A generously equipped Focus hatch will still cost you less than a barebones midsize sedan or wagon, and even among compact cars the Focus is priced attractively. Fuel efficiency is among the best in the segment at up to 28 city/40 highway mpg when opting for the aerodynamics-enhancing SFE package.
Ford's SYNC system, which is available on Focus in both touchscreen and traditional hardware-button variants, leads all infotainment systems from mainstream automakers in feature content that's actually useful, with development coming in partnership with Microsoft. And fans of high-powered “hot hatches” would do well to check out the new five-door Focus ST, available only with a manual transmission and packing 51 horsepower more than the VW GTI.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 26 city/37 highway
The Fit debuted in its current generation all the way back in 2008, and yet it still feels fresh, modern and stylish, and is our top all-around pick among inexpensive subcompact cars. Reliability and resale value have simply outclassed competitors, and while the Fit is not long on power, its chassis is nicely tuned, calling to mind 1990s-era Honda hatchbacks of old for easy-to-drive, responsive fun. The EPA rates the Fit at 28 city/35 highway mpg, which is a little below average for the class in 2013, but still much better than had you opted for a pricey crossover or wagon that may be more car than you actually need.
Any discussion of Honda's hatchback should focus on its outstanding utility. With 57 cubic feet of very usable cargo space, the Fit outclasses many small SUVs and crossovers. The rear 'Magic Seat' can both fold flat, and vertically from the cushion upward, allowing extra space for tall or bulky items. If you need just one car that will serve your personal needs for years to come, and you would like to keep pricing well under $20k, the Fit is a strong all-around choice.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 27 city/33 highway
53 city, 46 highway and 50 combined mpg, plus excellent projected reliability and resale value, all for under $20,000? The Toyota Prius c, the newest and smallest addition to the expanded Prius hybrid lineup, may well bring the lowest long-term total cost of ownership of any vehicle on the market. One thing is certain: no fuel-burning new car will save you more on gas. The patented Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system has been downsized for subcompact hybrid duty, now featuring a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor for 99 peak horsepower. While acceleration is predictably slow, handling response is more buttoned-down and fun than the standard Prius Liftback.
The Prius c shares a platform with the Toyota Yaris but sports a nicer, more-advanced interior to go along with its trick hybrid system. After some buyers complained that interior quality was just so-so, Toyota shuffled some things around for 2013, bringing added standard features and better materials to the less-costly trims. Thanks to the added heft of the hybrid system, cargo space is at a premium, though in true hatchback form there's still more room to go around than with the typical small sedan.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 53 city/46 highway