What's Wrong With This Picture: Americans Don't Buy Hatchbacks Edition

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
what s wrong with this picture americans don t buy hatchbacks edition

This was the sight that greeted me when I left work this afternoon: one of the least popular cars on the American market and the Camry-on-stilts that drives the most successful brand to debut in America since the Vietnam War. The Mazda2 is often used by automotive journalists as an example of The Car That Real People Don’t Buy despite the fact that it possesses the cardinal virtues of small size, light weight, and a responsive chassis.

The Lexus RX, on the other hand, is the most cynical effort in additional manufacturer profit since the Cadillac Cimmarron and is the upscale vehicle most often purchased by the people who don’t know a God-damned thing about cars.

It’s also obviously a hatchback. If the Venza is a mega-sized version of the “bread van” Civic generations of the mid and late Eighties, then the RX is the scaled-up five-door 1979 Civic of our era.

Once upon a time, cars like this were very popular, you know. So much so that the be-trunked versions of the Camry and Stanza seemed like odd curiosities when they started rotating around small-town auto show stages. The demise of the family hatchback seems preordained in retrospect but there was nothing inevitable about it. While it’s easy to blame CAFE for the awkward, unpleasant, and occasionally deadly transition from full-sized sedans to pickup-based SUVs, it’s much harder to figure out why the hatchback disappeared from family cars only to reappear on family cars that just happen to possess an additional two inches of entirely useless ground clearance.

Perhaps it was the fact that BMW and Mercedes-Benz never embraced hatchbacks, which marked the fifth door permanently as an accessory of the proletariat. The problem with that theory is that the Gran Touring BMWs are showroom poison, which suggests that Americans will only accept a hatchback if it comes with additional ground clearance.

Maybe what’s required is one really good regular hatchback to turn this thing around. My vote for such a device would be the Honda Crosstour. Make the new one better-looking. Don’t raise the suspension. Make the pricing attractive. See if people buy it. If it succeeded, Toyota would respond with the return of a hatchback Camry. At that point, Nissan would have no choice but to bring the Stanza back.

You know what would happen then, right? Anything the Japanese do, Ford will do two years later and GM will do seven years later. Close this browser right now, hop into the interstellar cold-storage chamber, come back in ten years. The world could be full of hatchbacks. You never know.

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  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Nov 09, 2014

    I used to fuss about the cynicism of carmakers with CUVs and the naivety of the buyers, but then I brought a '92 Accord. Before I get to that I do want to say that I like the few more honest CUV approaches like the Subaru Outback, they were CUVs that weren't ashamed to hide their car origins. But with the Accord I learned something, I learned whats wrong with a fair deal of cars now. They are TOO low! Too low and too hard to get in and out of! Yes the low-wide nonsense gives you better "dynamic" handling, I could tell the Accord wanted to be a BMW. But it also gets annoying hearing your front bumper scrape every speed bump, or having to bend over just to get in\out. Automakers should ditch the whole "coupe sedan" nonsense, there is a market for cars with people-friendly proportions. Look at how well early Scion Xbs have sold and retained their value, and how many more CUVs sell just for the better proportions. I think that we should leave the swoopy coupe garbage to coupes and sports cars, bring back proper sedans\wagons. We shouldn't have to deal with SUV pretensions to get halfway decent ground clearance and space. Look at the Kia Soul, it may be ugly and may have a goofy Hamster-fueled ad campaign, but its also proof that automakers can make reasonably proportioned cars that're also safe. These days I run a Volvo 245, I beg someone to find a modern CUV that can double as a truck when you fold the rear seats down.

    • See 6 previous
    • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Nov 10, 2014

      @Zykotec Indeed, with how "compact" my Accord was I didn't quite get why I had brought one over a Civic, beyond most 90's Civics having utterly gutless engines. As far as height goes it really varies on what the cars supposed to be imo, compacts should seat low, sports cars should seat low, but family sedans like the Accord need the extra space. At Zyko: You don't have to mod a Cuda to have a fun driver, though you do have to lift the hood more often.

  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Nov 09, 2014

    I think the biggest problem with the Mazda 2 is the brother-sister Ford Fiesta, if you want a small deformed-looking hatchback why would you buy the slower Mazda 2 over the Fiesta? The other problem is general perception with the Lexus GRX you feel like "you're on top", ahead of the game, its the difference between a Lexus ES 250 and a Toyota Tercel. When people buy cars they feel better putting their money on something thats easy to live with and that feels a bit more "upscale", if they were car buffs, they'd be driving around in modded Colony Park wagons, or something with a "chipped" turbo. Theres also the Mazda 3, why would you buy the 2 over a 3? For more dynamic handling? Fuel savings? If you seriously want a bottom dollar hatchback theres the Chevy Spark (which is admittedly much harder to look at).

    • See 5 previous
    • Lie2me Lie2me on Nov 10, 2014

      @Lie2me Red, white, blue, silver, gray and black, Mazda knows no other colors

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂