The side exterior of a blue Ford Fiesta

What is a hatchback car?

If you’re looking to buy a used car, you’ll hear the word hatchback very regularly. But what does it mean and why do you need to understand it? Here’s everything you need to know.

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By Cazoo editorial team

The car world is full of jargon but one that you’ll see more than most is ‘hatchback’. It’s a type of car and one that makes up a sizable proportion of the best-selling models in Britain. So what does ‘hatchback’ mean? Put very simply, a hatchback is a car with a particular type of boot lid. But obviously it’s not quite as straightforward as that...

What does hatchback mean?

The term dates back decades but today it’s generally used to refer to smaller cars with a boot lid that incorporates the rear window and is hinged at the top. Think of a Ford Focus, or a Volkswagen Golf and you’re probably envisioning what most people picture when they hear the word.

A saloon car has a boot lid that hinges underneath the rear window, but a hatchback has, in effect, a full-height extra door at the back. That’s why you’ll often see cars described as a three-door or a five-door, even though you’ll only ever get in and out via the two or four doors at the side.

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Isn’t an SUV a hatchback then?

If you want to get technical, there are many types of cars that have a hatchback boot lid that you’d be unlikely to refer to as such. All estate cars, for example, have a hatchback boot, but you or I would call it an estate. And yes, the same is true of an SUV. So let’s just say that while it’s used to describe a body type, ‘hatchback’ is also used to describe a category of car.

In truth, there are no hard-and-fast rules and there’s definitely a grey area where coupes are concerned. These are generally sporty cars with two side doors and a sloping rear. Some have a hatchback boot lid, others have a saloon-style boot. An example is the Volkswagen Scirocco, which looks like a hatchback but is generally referred to as a coupe.

Why are hatchbacks so popular?

A hatchback boot lid dramatically improves practicality by giving you a much larger boot opening. The shape of many hatchbacks also allows you more vertical boot space if you remove the parcel shelf (the detachable load cover that usually lifts up when you open the boot). Fold the rear seats down, and you’ve basically created a van, but with better visibility and a far smaller footprint.

The hatchback is a type of car that many people will associate with the smaller, more affordable end of the market, but these days hatchbacks come in a range of sizes and all sorts of prices.

Which cars are hatchbacks?

At the smallest end of the market are city car hatchbacks, like the Smart ForTwo, Volkswagen Up and Skoda Citigo. Then you have larger superminis, like the Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio or Vauxhall Corsa.

Go up another size and you’ll find cars such as the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra. But look at the Skoda Octavia. At first glance it looks like a saloon, without the compact rear end of a traditional hatchback. But the boot hinges at the roof, making it a definitive five-door hatchback. The same is true of the Vauxhall Insignia, Ford Mondeo and the huge Skoda Superb.

Move into the premium world and you’ll find more hatchbacks. More upmarket brands realised that its customers also wanted small cars as well as larger models, so Mercedes-Benz introduced the A-Class, BMW brought in the 1 Series and Audi launched the A1 and A3.

Then those same manufacturers realised that hatchbacks could work on its bigger cars too. There’s the Audi A5 Sportback and the BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo. Volkswagen’s flagship car, the Arteon, is also a hatchback.

What about hot hatches?

There’s long been a link between hatchbacks and affordable performance cars. Most manufacturers offer powerful, sporty versions of their everyday hatchbacks, with models including the Golf GTI, the Mercedes-AMG A35 and the Ford Focus ST.

What are the most expensive hatchbacks?

If you want a luxury hatchback, you should look at cars like the huge Audi A7 Sportback, the Porsche Panamera or the Tesla Model S, or even Ferrari’s GTC4Lusso. Saying you drive a hatchback doesn’t automatically mean your car is entry-level.

Are there any hatchback drawbacks?

Because a hatchback’s boot area isn’t enclosed like a saloon’s, hatchbacks sometimes have more road noise intruding into the cabin from the back and thieves can more easily access the boot (by breaking the back window).

Overall though, the hatchback design ticks an awful lot of boxes and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that doesn’t offer a variety of hatchbacks across its range.

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