By on January 24, 2019

2018 volkswagen golf r - Image: Volkswagen

A bodystyle forever engaged in a tug-of-war between a stigma born of nerdy econoboxes and a scrappy enthusiast community, the lowly hatchback both attracts and repels. For the most part, hatches are versatile, affordable cars capable of swallowing generous amounts of people and cargo without asking too much of a premium. Choose right, and there’s no telling what fun you might have behind the wheel.

With a hatchback, you truly can have it all. Or at least some of everything.

Today’s question has its roots in a recent chatroom discussion sparked by this writer’s acquisition of a new Corolla hatch tester, in which the powerful minds roaming this place went to work answering “what’s the most practical hatchback, all things considered?”

Taking into account price, cargo volume, driving dynamics, and comfort — and maybe a few other metrics — a couple of candidates sprung up immediately. Golf. Impreza. It’s easy to see why; VW’s Golf line remains the driver’s hatch, self-assured and iconic, but still very attainable, while Subaru’s Impreza five-door boasts healthy levels of refinement and traction by the boatload.

One participant offered up the Kia Niro, but that just bogged down the discussion with the frustrating “where’s the dividing line between hatchbacks and crossovers?” question. Having blown past a poky Niro this past weekend, this writer couldn’t help noticing the front-drive Kia’s beltline was almost the same altitude as that of his Cruze. Put me in the hatchback camp, never mind what Kia says.

Perhaps oddly, no one mentioned Honda’s ugly duckling of a Civic.

As there’s still ample choice in the hatchback field, readers have no shortage of vehicles to juggle. Hyundai’s Elantra GT starts cheap and offers considerable interior volume and an available turbo engine. Honda’s aforementioned Civic hatch is, well, a Civic, which naturally begs consideration. Mazda’s 3 hatch offers up some fun with is available 2.5-liter/6M powertrain. Chevrolet’s groundbreaking Bolt is a long-range, all-electric star, if such things float your boat.

Put on your thinking caps, B&B, and help answer this question. What’s the most practical hatchback on sale today?

[Image: Volkswagen]

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65 Comments on “QOTD: Ready to Hatch a Winner?...”


  • avatar
    gtem

    “capable of swallowing generous amounts of people and cargo ”

    Should read “people OR cargo” for the most part. Lost length versus the sedan variant doesn’t come free. Even if the cu. ft. measurement from the manufacturer gives the edge to the hatchback over the sedan, try it in practice and see which one fits more suitcases.

    • 0 avatar
      forward_look

      My ’59 Dodge 6 window sedan fit more suitcases than my 2008 Caliber hatchback. So there you go.

    • 0 avatar
      RS

      Why don’t they make hatchbacks the same length as the sedan variations? They would sell more if they quit skimping on the utility aspects of a hatch – in both cars and SUV’s. It seems that the design departments won’t be happy until the last bit of utility is gone.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        My wife likes short cars. Because hatchbacks are shorter than sedans, that’s what she drives. People or cargo, but not both, isn’t an issue since there are only two of us.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        New Mazda 3 HB being exhibit “A.”

        Seriously, it looks like a current Camaro is the equivalent of a 1990 Civic compared to that thing!

        I exaggerate a little, BUT…!

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I thought when they made them the same length as the sedan they ceased to be a hatchback and became wagons.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Right on Art. Wagon = Sedan with roofline extended. HB = Sedan with back chopped shorter, with roofline extended a bit (less so these days). Now, stuff like the Fit and Soul, xB are a bit tougher in my mind, since they are engineered from the outset to have maximum utility, despite having short length, and generally don’t have direct sedan analogues (although Honda DID made a sedan out of the Fit, in that order).

      • 0 avatar
        Vega

        A hatchback with the length of a sedan is called a wagon. As an example the Golf Sportwagen and the Jetta are roughly the same length.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    The Buick Regal.

    A fastback hatch that looks like a sedan.

    In Europe though I would say rather than the Regal/Insignia, the Skoda Superb, which is like a fastback hatch Passat.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Honda Fit, base model, manual. Despite the issues caused by direct injection its still quite practical. Hopefully Honda will clean up the di and offer the 1.5turbo in the Fit.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Yep this gets my vote as well. I think the current Golf lost the ability to fold the front passenger seat flat, which turned it into a city cargo van.

      Personally with a crossover in the house I don’t care about hatch backs. Give us more fast backs please

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I think the current Fit regressed in cargo carrying utility by sacrificing a non-trivial amount of seat-up trunk space for added rear legroom. A fair compromise I suppose for people that would like to fit rear facing baby seats, but the Fit used to be the stand-out champ for cargo room, now it emulates the Versa Note.

      My folks have a base 5spd ’07 Fit bought new, and it’s been a perfect city runabout and hobby farm bee-hive hauler, can scramble up muddy secondary roads better than you would expect, and returns fantastic real world mpg. Where it comes up short is highway drives. Loud, but mostly uncomfortable due to the seat/pedal positioning. Especially without cruise, taller folks are left suspending their foot and flexing their leg muscles to maintain speed. We added a spring to the gas pedal to stiffen in slightly and added washers to the front seat bracket to try and increase thigh support, but it only does so much.

      Our ’90 Civic wagon was superior in most ways (ergonomics, visibility, steering and handling, build quality), but saddled with a throttle body injected motor tied to a 4spd auto, never as sprightly or efficient as the Fit.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The Fit’s great at swallowing people and stuff, but it sucks at highway work.

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      I looked at, but rejected, the 2013 Fit. Cargo capacity was superlative but the vehicle was too boxy and buzzy for long trips.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    The GTI, because you can fold down the back seat and fit the auxiliary engine from your sailboat on one day, and take it to a track day on another.

    I may have a different idea of practicality than most people.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    The Corolla is the best all around package, and even if it pains the readers of TTAC to admit it, even has the best style.

  • avatar
    brettc

    As a previous owner of a Golf and a Golf/Jetta wagon, I’d say Golf. I’m currently driving a C-Max (non-Energi), and while still good, the raised floor eats away a bit at cargo space. So the Golf gets my vote.

    Plus you can get it in normal, fast, or faster variants depending on how much you want to spend.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I would also vote for the Golf, I had a jetta wagon a Golf w a bigger cargo area and it drove well, was a good place to spend many hours behind the wheel, it was not a penalty box and was not made with plastic crayons and was very good on the highway, a fault of the honda fit from what I read. The sub might be better in a real snowy place but I would take the Golf and snow tires over it because it seem the interior is pretty dour. With a Golf you get a well rounded car whether you buy the base model and the top of the line, not sur gif that is the case for all hatches and as a bonus you can get it in a stick if you want to.

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    I don’t really know which hatch is the most practical, but wanted to chime in with the worry that one of the best looking might disappear. I attended the ECAC Hockey finals in Lake Placid in 2017. Chevrolet sponsors ads at the Olympic venue and there was a very good looking Cruze hatch in front of the arena. Though I have no personal use for a hatch I fell in love with the looks. I hope it is a good car – again I have no opinion here either – but great styling will always catch my eye and that was a surprisingly good looking car.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      MartyToo…except it’s an utter piece of excrement. I own one (a 2017). I’ve had major electronics repairs and the pistons already replaced. Granted, all under warranty, but it spent the first 6.5 weeks I owned it in the shop. I’m looking very much to getting rid of it when I get back home this spring.
      My vote for most useful would be the Honda Fit, though my heart says Mazda3 after a quite spirited test drive last November.

      • 0 avatar
        MartyToo

        I am disappointed but not surprised. :-(

        I owned a Pontiac Bonneville SSL which had so many bizarre repairs that it forced me to throw in the towel as far as GM is concerned. My wife and I have had NBH since then – Nothing But Hondas. I may buy an Acura or a Honda Passport when my V6 coupe is put out to pasture.

        GM used such cheap crap in the Bonneville that I was amazed during the first three years of ownership and made over $1000 by buying an extended warranty with a no deductible provision from Sam’s club (circa 2004). It was a love hate relationship with the car that finally ended when I paid about $1200 to fix a $100 lock up torque converter solenoid.

        RIP, Pontiac. The Lucy and Ricky Ricardo would be surprised at your demise.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          All of my Bonnevilles were awesome. Although they were also all built between ’88 and ’92.

          It seems like GM had something of a quality resurgence in the late 80s into the 90s (at least on their SUVs/Trucks/larger vehicles) and then things went down hill after MY2000.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Things went notably downhill for H bodies in 1997.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            What did they do in ’97? The factory didn’t change and AFAIK only superficial exterior things were updated.

            Now the Park Ave. got its big change in ’97, but the Bonneville and Lesabre didn’t get hit with those “upgrades” until 2000.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            My bad, I have the 2000 Lesabre in mind specifically, so yes I agree MY2000 things dropped off a cliff.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Anecdotes aren’t data, but my family took a 2000 Bonneville to 190K mostly trouble free miles. I don’t think we ever needed to replace anything bigger than a heater core.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I personally owned a ’97 PA and I liked it and it didn’t give me much trouble.

            However, I’ve seen enough “Never Again” stories from people related to those model years that I believe there was something going on.

            I’ll throw out a few accolades for the later cars though. You still got the 3800 (although GM even kneecapped that a bit compared to the earlier ones) and you definitely see more of them on the road today than you do LH sedans or nearly any early 2000s car not wearing a Toy/Lexus badge.

      • 0 avatar
        MartyToo

        I have somewhere a list of 13 or more bizarre problems that I had with my 2001 Bonneville. Some of this was beyond unbelievable. From memory:

        Both rear window power mechanisms needed to be replaced.
        The seat track under the passenger front seat was replaced by a friendly dealer tech with a truck track so that it would hold up (without a request on my part).
        A mount for one of the front struts was installed 180 degrees from correct (which caused a noise due to premature wear).
        The connection between the antenna box near the rear window and the antenna wire leading to the radio had to be replaced because it would not stay connected.
        There were 2 or 3 coolant leaks diagnosed – some of which had to do with the plastic plenums not sealing to the iron block.
        There was a leak under the passenger door during heavy rain that the dealers couldn’t properly diagnose and the I didn’t diagnose until after the car was no longer under warranty – due to a dimple in the metal not sealing against the rubber.
        I had knock due to a bad knock sensor that wasn’t diagnosed by the dealer but was noticed by the transmission shop when I had the torque converter solenoid replaced. (You can get to the knock sensor more easily when you drop the transmission. I had the same problem on a 1995 LeSabre that I bought from my cousin. The dealers, I think, refused to properly diagnose the knock sensor because it is so hard to replace.)
        The float sending unit in the gas tank that registers the amount of fuel went bad.
        The coils on about half of the cylinders were replaced due to “corrosion”.
        The turn signal stalk had to be repaired as it wasn’t turning off after turns.

        And I think I might be forgetting some of the BS that occurred. I have the full list in my file cabinet. ;-)

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Meh give me an actual wagon, or start extending the overall length of your hatches aft of the rear axle (say about 6 in.)

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I’d say the GTI, or even the Golf.

    But sales numbers certainly don’t agree with me.

    Perhaps VWs are lemons, or VW dealers are horrible… Also, I like them because they have real manual trans, something most Americans don’t care for.

    What’s interesting is the comment about how much better a ’90 Civic wagon was in many regards.

    I tend to agree. I find that in a lot of respects, 80/90s cars were more pleasant and more fun.

    They weren’t as safe in a collision, they weren’t as quick in a straight line, but in many regards, they were more pleasant and easier to live with.

  • avatar
    Nedmundo

    No doubt the GTI is the best mix of utility and driving excellence, but for me “practicality” includes reliability, so I’d go Civic. The Sport Hatch with 6MT offers tremendous value with decent performance.

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      Your perceived reliability. Most cars are so close these days that the gradients in ratings from average to good are very few additional repairs. I’ve been driving Golfs for 11 years now and only needed maintenance and one strut bearing. Reliability is more a crap shoot on your purchased vehicle rather than the entire line these days with some exceptions.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d nominate the Kia Soul.

  • avatar
    jatz

    Aside from a couple of pickups I haven’t bought anything without a hatch since ’94. Space, height and convenience over “handling” every time.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Best *practical* hatch huh?

    I’d have to say an Elantra GT non-turbo, brand new, for less than $20K.

    Looks good, decent to drive, doesn’t suck on the highway, available with a manual, affordable, Android auto, and 5 year 60K bumper to bumper and 10 year 100K power train warranty.

  • avatar
    KevinC

    Golf family for sure. I’ve been driving various flavors of GTI’s & R’s for 35 years, since the first Mk1 arrived here. The current R is the best all-around car on the road right now IMHO. Not spectacular at any one thing, but does virtually everything very well. 292 hp & AWD, right off the showroom floor, while looking like Grandma’s grocery getter to most eyes. Still love them after all these years.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      My brother has an R. Very few cars can do what it does: haul groceries, transport kids or adults, make a Costco run plus tear up a road course on track day. My brother pulls up with his, unloads all variety of tools plus a complete set of track tires. Guys with pickups stand around dumbfounded. The R does this all while not looking boy racer or screaming poser. With AWD you can drive it year round regardless of weather. If you could only have one car the Golf R could be it.

      And don’t laugh but my C7 ‘Vette makes a great Costco car as well. The hatch configuration holds WAY more then your average coupe. In comparison my wife’s Infiniti Q60’s trunk is a joke. C7 = 15 cu ft while Q60 = 8.7 cu ft, so its nearly double.

      I’ve always had a soft spot for hatches since driving a Civic 3 door S1500 during high school and college. With the seats down that little car could gobbled up items. Practically wise hatches rule!

      • 0 avatar
        vehic1

        JMII: +1

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I’d rather have a GTI and $10K in my pocket – oh wait, that’s what I have. I need AWD like I need an ex-wife, if it ever snows in SW FL we are in really serious climate change trouble indeed. The VAQ diff puts the power down just fine, and 220hp is more than enough for me.

        But the whole Golf family are the best hatches period. Pick your power and length, they are all great.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I would never pick the Honda Fit for this accolade, because it’s incapable of fitting a driver any taller than 5′ 11. I sat in one at the auto show last year, and was shocked at how little travel the seat had- I thought there was something wrong with the vehicle on display. And at 6′ 2, I’m hardly a giant. It blows my mind that Honda could sell a vehicle in this country with so little front legroom. I’ve never experienced such little legroom in any car I’ve ever driven.

    • 0 avatar
      slap

      I’m 6′, and have no problem “fitting” into the Fit.

      A man 6′-2″ in the US is in the 95 percentile for height.
      A man 6′-0″ in the US is in the 85 percentile.
      A man 5′-9.3″ in the US is in the 50 percentile.

      A woman 6′-0″ in the US is in the 99.8 percentile.

      So the vast majority of the people in the US can “fit” into the Fit.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    Sears outlet, near closing time, end of a massive sale. Salesperson had seen me drive up in my Rabbit and offers me a great price on an upscale dishwasher. Then, with a fat saleman’s smile, tells me the delivery charge.

    He looked so puzzled when the dishwasher easily disappeared into the rear of my VW Rabbit.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    What is a hatchback – in my mind – is similar to the NFL’s response to what is a catch. Is Stinger and Regal liftback design enough of a difference to a hatch where the similar practicality of a liftback to hatchback should be a line in the sand or a different take on the same theme?

    The Regal and Stinger are the XL sized versions of a Golf, with something like a CX5 being an XXL. I would think pricing isn’t too far apart in these examples either.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    My Fiesta ST was in the 16’s after all the incentives. It’s great but it is a little small for “most practical” honors. I suppose the base Golf or the Kia Soul would be my winner since we didn’t say “hot hatch”

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    My wife and I own a Ford Focus hatchback, which is her daily driver, and an Infiniti G37S coupe which is my automotive retirement toy. I like hatchbacks because they are both practical and entertaining to drive. I also value performance, quiet comfort and good handling. My ideal, which would replace both the Focus and the G37S, would be a four door, AWD hatchback with about 300 hp and an upscale interior. VW’s Golf R satisfies those criteria. Unfortunately, the independent, foreign car mechanic we have patronized for the past forty years tells me that VW quality has deteriorated in the last few years. The implication is that a Golf R, especially with the DSG transmission, is a vehicle to dump at the end of the warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Your guy would be completely wrong. (He’d be completely right if he were talking about Honda…)

      I’m a long time Japanese guy, Civic S 1500 back in the day and various other Honda Civic Si and some Toyota products along the way. After Honda screwed me over big time (long story), a year ago I wandered into the VW store. 3 weeks later I wandered out with a GTI (Autobahn/DSG), my first VW. I figured, how much worse could it be than what Honda is now putting out? And how much worse can VW be to do business with than American Honda?

      This thing is rock solid. My research over the last year AFTER I bought it tells me that I lucked out. They seem to have ironed out so much by the time Mk7 was a few years old. And I ran it for 20K miles last year including one of the worst winters we’d had in a long time, with the freeways torn up and me seeming to hit every pothole dead on–and this thing takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

      10K oil changes (twice now validated with analysis) and pulls like a freight train on demand. High end interior.

      Yeah, I can see the guy who says the current R is the perfect package–because my Autobahn is perfect.

      Your old dude doesn’t know anything about VW and doesn’t want to in his old age. He knows what he knows, and is happy doing what he does. VW isn’t in his wheelhouse, so he’s telling you to shy away. That would be a shame for you.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        VW must have learned how to make cars since October of 2018 then. It’s a shame they’re about to get out of the IC car business, having finally figured it out. Honda made good cars, but they were destroyed by Obama’s race to oblivion CAFE. It used to be that the good manufacturers would prove their designs and then introduce them to the market. CAFE shooting up every year means that they have to use a send it and try to fix it model instead. It would be truly remarkable if the worst volume automaker finally started making good cars in the environment that swamped Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Your mechanic is an idiot, and given the overwhelming majority of MKVIIs are still under warranty, why would he know the first thing about them? Rock solid cars, by any standard. I have no love for the DSG, I think it is an expensive answer to a question that should not have been asked in the first place, but the fix there is easy – get the manual.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    This is a reach (especially for practicality), but how about the late, lamented Ford/Merkur Scorpio? A relatively large rear-wheel-drive hatchback, with a nice interior and rear-wheel-drive, decent performance (for its day), rear-wheel-drive, understated (to a fault) styling, rear-wheel-drive, available as a manual and with all-wheel-drive (in Europe, if I’m not mistaken) and did I mention it was rear-wheel-drive?

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Golf. Obviously.

    64 comments and no mention of the Impreza. Yikes.

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