By on February 7, 2013

The five-door hatchback, long a staple of world markets, is enjoying a resurgance in a big way. While hatchbacks were once regarded as symbols of poverty in the eyes of most Americans, the premium segment is the vanguard of the hatchback today, with everything from the Audi A7 to the Porsche Panamera sporting a “fifth door”.

The first leaked pictures of the BMW 3-Series GT drew more than a few comparisons to the very first Hyundai Elantra GT (shown above). Unlike the two-box GT on sale now, this one looked more like a pseudo-sedan and was part of a sporadic line of five-doors that tried their hand at the American marketplace and ultimately failed.

The most recent example that I can think of is the first-generation Mazda6. Despite being the driver’s choice since its debut, the Mazda6 has never really caught on with buyers – the hatch didn’t even make it past the first generation, despite soldiering on throughout the world into the second generation.

Unlike the good folks at Mazda, Honda decided to withhold the hatch from us. Europeans got the 5-door Accord, but like the Mazda, it never sold in huge numbers either – unlike hatchback versions of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall/Opel Vectra. These cars seem to get exported to the Carribbean in huge numbers – there’s even a song about it.

At the other end of the spectrum there’s the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, and its “hot” sibling, the Maxx SS. The Maxx could be held up as yet another example of a good faith attempt at bringing European product over to the US, with the execution going horribly wrong (see: Buick Regal). The Maxx was based on the Opel Signum, which was intended to re-invent the “executive car” segment in Europe with a two-box form factor, similar to other famous success stories like the Renault Vel Satis and Avantime. We all know how that worked out. Now run that through the cheesecloth of awfulness that was GM right before the bailout, and it’s hard to imagine how this car avoided being an Aztek-grade screwup.

Of course, there are other luminaries like the Plymouth Sundance, most Saabs and of course, the Geo Prizm. My all-time favorite five-door hatch is still the early 1990’s Mazda Lantis with Mazda’s 2.5L KL-ZE V6. The same power as the 2014 Mazda6 in a lighter package full of hatchback goodness? I’m sold. Too bad the rest of the American buying public isn’t.

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45 Comments on “Hatchback Throwback: A Five-Door Retrospective...”

  • avatar

    Best vehicle format in the world for a suburban grocery-getter when you also have a nice highway car in the garage.

    Started loving them with an old Stanza, now we have a Kia. Its quality is making me question my kneejerk loyalty to Dai Nippon.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Later reliability issues aside, my grandma’s 1980 four-door Citation hatchback was one of the family cars that I enjoyed the most. Utility was excellent.

    “I could’a been a contender…!”

  • avatar

    Now if they would just continue the design trend from sedan to hatchback to its logical conclusion and start producing honest station wagons again . . .

    The 4-door hatchback is no-mans land. I prefer a sedan or wagon any day.

    • 0 avatar

      Really? In the context of the hatchback design, especially one that almost looks like a sedan (Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia), I find sedans make no sense whatsoever.

      The only thing they accomplish is being able to do less with the footprint and a similar silhouette. With hatchbacks you still get the same cargo separation, not much gain in weight, as vastly superior access to load things.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it has to do with body rigidity and NVH. It is hard to build a five door hatchback where the hatch does not squeak on rough roads.

        The Ford Sierra of 1982 was a five door hatchback. The Team Taurus at Ford started out with a five door design (they were also inspired by the Ford Probe III of 1981); but in the end, settled for a sedan and wagon.

        I think the five door hatchback has the worst of both worlds: you don’t get the extra space of a station wagon; but you get the body flex and squeaky hatch of a station wagon. Better off going back to a sedan/station wagon offering; and coming to grips with the fact that the wagon will never attain the sales of a sedan; but sharing mostly common parts; that is less of an issue.

      • 0 avatar

        Remember also the gain in aerodynamics by having a sloping back…. Honestly most sedans have only a tiny trunk lid for this reason — they might as well just make it a hatch and improve its practicality…

  • avatar

    After renting a Vauxhall Insignia in England I came home and seriously considered a new Regal. Sadly, they didn’t have the hatch version of the Regal so instead I got something that I could load a box into.

  • avatar

    You gave props to the Mazda6 but its predicesor was what I really wanted in college. A 3rd gen (88-92) 626LX Turbo Hatchback with a 5spd. Lots of room for the helping the sorority sisters move (big points with the ladies). Hatch opening for eash install and removal of a ported sub-box (twin 12″ MTXs with a Rockford Fosgate amp… ) alternating between The Low End Theory, Midnight Marauders, Doggystyle, The Pharcyde, Check Your Head, etc… and a turbo so I could tear those 60R15 tires to shreds.

  • avatar

    The Honda Accord hatchback was not eye catcher, but it was one of best cars I owned in regards to reliability. After that I went back to Daimler and had to kick myself for the bad decision.

  • avatar

    After owning 2 hatchbacks spanning the last 5 years I can’t imagine life without one.

    My 3 door GTI has proven worthy for Ikea trips. I just recently transported a TV stand, coffee table, 2 chairs, and too many storage/organization pieces to count.

    You can’t really do that with most sedans of comparable size.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, after a lifetime of sedans, my 5-door GTI has shown me the light. Truth be told, I can’t imagine life without doors3-5 right now. Never purchasing a sedan again.

  • avatar

    The Rover SD1 is the oldest one I remember. I had a Matchbox one as a kid.

    Here’s a picture link:

    The Chevrolet Citation had a similar body type.

    • 0 avatar

      SD1 … still looking great.

      Even 6 years earlier than the SD1 from 1976:
      Citroen GS (1970)

      Citroen CX (1974)

      VW Passat B1 (1975).

      Similar to the Audi 100 C2 Avant.

      Or the Vauxhall Cavalier / Opel Ascona.

      One of the very very earliest:
      Borgward Hansa (1952),_ret%29.jpg&filetimestamp=20071011205632

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks. Impressive list. I’m always happy that Borgward kept Lloyd alive long enough for it to morph into Suzuki Auto, but I’m cross with Suzuki for messing it up in N.A..

    • 0 avatar

      Dunno why, but when I was a kid I thought the Rover (sold as the 3500 in Canada) was an awesome car. And the current Audi A7 is a testament to the timelessness of its design. I have a 5-door A3 ATM, and am completely sold on this body type.

  • avatar

    The only hatch/lift-back I owned was a 1976 Gremlin.

    I believe that on small-to-medium-sized cars, a hatch makes perfect sense, as it adds to the utility and usefulness of a vehicle.

    On larger vehicles like a Crosstour, not so much, IMHO – that’s what CUV/SUVs are for – they do a much better job and are far more practical.

    Consider this: Can you picture a 5-door Impala? No, I can’t either!


    • 0 avatar

      “Can you picture a 5-door Impala?” Actually, yes. Pretty damn nice even though GM didn’t do it factory.

  • avatar


    Oh, Saab ~sob~ Oh, Saab ~sob~ ~sniff~.

  • avatar

    Brazil is the land of the hatchback. Most cars on the road are 5 door subcompact hatches. Add that to their 3 door brethen and they are almost 50% of new car sales. In this country the sedan is enjoying a revival and is growing fast. I could also thrown in things like Renault Duster or Ford EcoSport which are nothing more than 5 door hatches on stilts.

    Now, some of the cars pictured or mentioned are not really hatches are they? Some would qualify as what I know as a fastback or notchback. Things like a Brazilian or Euro Ford Escort (or Ford Mandeo?). Midway between sedan and hatch. I actually like those things. Wish they would make a comeback.

  • avatar

    My sister had the Maxx, and it was a great car. The wheelbase was longer than the standard Malibu. There was a gigantic sunroof and tons of rear legroom. The hatch had plenty of room too. I remember the dashboard was low and the controls were in the right places.

    The LTZ came with leather and pretty nice interior trimmings. They have all the safety gear and none of the bloat.

    When I was looking for a winter beater I shopped these, and I’ll shop them again. Especially the SS.

  • avatar

    What’s not often mentioned about hatches is the versatility that huge opening allows, not only versus sedans, but wagons as well.

    I had a Saab 9-3 (the GM2800-based one, not the penultimate Epsilon) and because the load space was so large I could easily put in and remove some pretty massive objects (a futon and mattress, some trees, lumber, moving boxes, a loveseat). A wagon might have more space in terms of raw volume, but the smaller opening doesn’t let you load as easily, nor can you carry as awkwardly-shaped stuff. Did I mention I carried those trees mostly upright?

    There’s a memorable photo of someone who’s parked a riding lawnmower in the trunk of an OG900.

    • 0 avatar

      My Saab 9000 was able to swallow a Broyhill wingback chair (feet first) that didn’t fit in my mother’s Subaru wagon. Loved that car. So when it was dead, I ended up with another Saab. And another, and another…

  • avatar

    What’s funny about that Opel Signum is that it is nearly indistinguishable from its smaller sibling, the Astra–which was on the smaller Delta platform and which showed up briefly in the States as a Saturn…

  • avatar

    My 04 Mazda 6 hatch was phenominally versatile. I loved that from the side it had the exact same lines as the sedan, so it didn’t suffer from the stylistic gremlins hitting the 3 series GT. Lift gate on sedan lines is the way to do a hatchback, in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar


      If you doubt the wisdom of this approach, car like the Crosstour, BMW GT series should convince anyone that there are FAR worse things than a hatch that looks like a sedan.

  • avatar

    Why do stories about hatchbacks always neglect to mention the most popular hatchacks ever sold in the US… the Fox body Mustang and the 3rd and 4th gen F-bodies?

    Sure they had less useable truck space than some convertables, but they were honest hatchbacks, wildly poplular, and killer performance bargains of their day.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    The last hatchback I owned was a 2000 Chevy Camaro. The hatch was huge and provided great access to the trunk which was rather small relative to the size of the car.

  • avatar

    Way to gloss over the SAABs. Boo

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Hyundai also offered a liftback on the LC (early 2000s) Accent. US dealers only got the 3-door, but the 5-door version was sold in Canada.

  • avatar

    Only hatch we owned was a ’86 Ford Escort. Wasn’t a great car but the hatchback was VERY usefull. I miss the utility.

  • avatar

    I had a Pinto, a Firebird, a couple of Mercury Capris (Fox bodies), a Dodge Lancer and a Malibu Maxx hatchbacks, all of which I miss. The Lancer and the Maxx kept me from having to buy minivans, which didn’t bother my wife too much, either.

    To this day, I still miss the Lancer, as it was the Turbo model with the handling package and a 5 speed. It turned out to be a great driving car and incredibly utilitarian. The Malibu Maxx was right behind it, but way quiter and more refined than the Sten gun build quality and the high strung nature of the Lancer turbo.

    Echoing Zackman’s sentiments, I think that mid sized (and smaller) cars should all be offered with hatches. If I could only get my fellow man to BUY them…

    • 0 avatar

      Funny; I also had the Pinto (71, 76, and 80 Bobcat), and an 85 LeBaron GTS.

      My GTS was the 2.2 non-turbo, also 5-speed stick. It was a wonderful car with great utility, as you mention. The non-turbo 2.2 was nice to drive; mine went 206k miles.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure where you got your information from on the 5dr Honda Accord – I actually owned a 1999 Honda Accord (V registration, in green, like the one in the picture!) and it sold very well in the UK market. It wasn’t sold here because the Accords were different between NA, JDM and Europe. However, the hatch out-sold the sedan over 4:1 in the UK market and they commanded a $1000 premium on the used market. Mine was a sedan, because I needed a car that day and couldn’t travel, a hatch would have been more useful. Car before my Accord? 1998 Honda Civic 5 door. I’m a hatch lower.

  • avatar

    You forgot to mention the Chevy Corsica hatchback…

  • avatar

    I prefer a sedan, wagon or SUV. With a hatchback, I have to make the choice of trunk space (seats down) or rear set passengers (seats up). With a Sedan, wagon or SUV, that is a non-issue.

  • avatar

    I drive a 2010 Volkswagen Golf now and my last two cars were: 2005 Hyundai Elantra GLS hatchback (GT minus leather and spoiler) and before that a much beloved 2003 Mazda Protege 5. I will never have a trunk on a car again.

  • avatar

    My wife had an ’02 Elantra GT when I met her. It wasn’t much fun to drive, but it was extremely practical and hauled a lot for its size. It’s frustrating that so many on our side of the pond won’t give hatchbacks or wagons a look. I guess I’m biased as a former Golf/GTI and current 5 series Touring owner, but I’d love to see more offered. Seems like there were a ton of hatches offered back in 80s and early 90s. Then the SUV craze happened and everything went to hell…

  • avatar

    My first car was a Honda CRX and I loved that car!!! Quick, light and extremely versatile with its hatch. One of my current cars is the Mazda6 hatch, not loved as much as the CRX, but still love that hatch versatility.

    In looking at replacing the Mazda6 is is amazing to me that there is virtually nothing offered in the market between the hot hatches and full size sedans like the A7, at least nothing that has not been beaten to death by the ugly stick.

    The success of the Panamera/A7 shows that the US market is receptive to hatches at higher price ranges as long as they are not ugly. Poorly designed hatches need not apply.

  • avatar

    I had a ’99 Saab Viggen (the turbo’d king of torque-steer, in the awesome purplish-blue color). That was a 2 door hatch, and with the rear seats folded down I could fit a medium-sized piece of furniture in back AND beat most anything on the road from 40-70mph (which is what really matters, acceleration-wise). And I think it was one of the best looking cars. Ever.

  • avatar

    I think this decade there may be an growth in hatches. My friends all went from sport utes to hatches and they plan on never going back. Same amount of room, twice the fuel economy.

  • avatar

    Had a couple of the original Honda Civics – a ’77 and a ’78, a turbo Plymouth Colt (that was a fun little commuter!) and an ’89 Acura Integra. Too bad so few are being made now – would love a hatch on my Accord… Good visibility and real-life practicality go a long way! Carmakers should forget about trying to outguess the market and just make really good cars. Lots of demographic segments would buy a good hatchback sedan if it wasn’t cheapened and decontented to death (a la GM and Honda, recently).

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