Definition of a Hatchback Car

by Chris Moore

A hatchback car is a vehicle that has a large door in the back that swings upward, While many other models also use this type of door, a hatchback car is traditionally looked at as a small coupe- to sedan-size car with a raise-open door in the back instead of a trunk, which usually gives it more storage space. It is commonly referred to as a three-door or five-door car, in reference to the hatchback adding an extra door to the number of side doors the car also has. Hatchback cars are mostly marketed as being versatile vehicles, allowing more storage capacity than a standard car, but better handling and gas mileage (and a lower cost) than vans or sport utility vehicles. This has led to hatchbacks becoming popular in Europe, although they have rarely caught on in the United States.


Hatchback cars that have been built over the years have included the Geo Metro, Chevy HHR, PT Cruiser and Dodge Caliber. It is muddled as to what the first hatchback car was, but credit has been given to the Citroën Traction Avant, Holden 48/215, Aston Martin DB2/4 and Austin A40. The Renault 4 is widely credited as popularizing the hatchback in Europe in 1961.


Many vehicles use the hatchback style of rear door, but are not technically hatchback cars. Mid-size minivans, sport utility vehicles and station wagons frequently have a rear door that swings upward, but are much larger vehicles. Other full-size SUVs, like the Cadillac Escalade and Chevy Trailblazer, use a hybrid combination of a hatchback on top and a tailgate that opens downward on the bottom. A similar setup would be used if a pickup truck had a camper on it.


Hatchback cars aren't among the most popular vehicles, especially in North America. Most drivers looking for a hatchback-style vehicle prefer the larger storage space of a van or SUV, while those looking for a small car often lean more toward a more traditional sedan. Hatchbacks were driven frequently in during the 1960s and '70s, but many believe this was due to rising gas prices, forcing a need for smaller cars. As the gas crisis declined, hatchbacks gained a negative reputation as being cheap vehicles for people too poor to afford real cars.


Hatchbacks began to pick up again in the Americas around the mid 2000s. Chrysler's PT Cruiser began to pick up steam, while the British-made Mini Cooper was exported overseas to the U.S. This led General Motors to create its own HHR model while building a hatchback version of the Chevy Malibu to go with its standard sedan design. Chrysler replaced the Neon with the Caliber as its main Dodge compact model.

Fun Fact

John DeLorean's DMC-12 used a similar hatchback-style to create the driver and passenger doors, called "gull-wing doors." This was one of the features that led to the DeLorean DMC-12 being a unique car and cult favorite, despite only around 9,000 units being made.

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