Today, a Ford press release crossed my desk with an interesting tidbit about the sales figures for its new Ford Fiesta. It turns out that the majority of buyers have chosen the five-door hatchback body style over the more conventional four-door model. Apparently, someone at Ford thought this was newsworthy, but for me, it was sort of a no-brainer: the five-door was always the better car in my eyes. But that got me to thinking, "What is it with Americans and hatchbacks?"
We're big fans of hatchbacks here at CNET Car Tech, particularly those of the hot variety. Given the choice between the four- and five-door variants of, say, the Subaru WRX or the Mazda3, we'd almost unanimously gravitate toward the model that packs more back. Hatchbacks (and wagons, but that's the subject of another rant) retain everything that's great about a sedan or coupe--decent handling, reasonable fuel economy, ease of parking--but with more space and silhouettes that are often sportier than their three-box brethren, particularly over the last few model years. Often, the additional space and utility rivals (and in some cases, exceeds) that of an SUV/CUV. Don't believe me? Try loading up a Honda Fit and a BMX X6 and you'll see which one has more usable interior space--spoiler: it's not the big Beemer. Still need convincing? Try putting a bicycle onto the roof rack of the 74.9-inch tall Nissan Xterra, then try loading that same bike onto the 58.1-inch Impreza WRX's; you'll need a ladder for one of those rides and it ain't the Subie.
OK, even I can admit that those might not be the best matchups (I'm sure more than one of you would have just chucked the bike into the back of the Xterra) and I don't want this article to devolve into an SUV bashing, but they do illustrate the case for the hatchback's utility.
However, it's also common knowledge that American buyers have been trending away from hatches. Ford cites Wardsauto.com's observation that for the 2009 model year, only 8.3 percent of new cars sold were hatchback. Of course, automakers took note of this trend years ago and have been slowly reducing their small odd-doored offerings in North America for some time. Mercedes-Benz stopped offering the three-door C-Class Sportcoupe way back in 2005, even though it lives on in other parts of the world as the CLC-Class. We got a taste of what a hot-hatch version of BMW's 1-Series is like when we tested the 123d last year, but the Bavarians won't sell us that car or the 135i hatchback, which we truly crave.
Of course, there are the holdouts. Volkswagen will never stop selling the wildly popular Golf and GTI, and its Jetta SportWagen was all but impossible to keep on dealer lots last year, mostly because of its impressive TDI power train. Audi is still very much in the hatchback game with its A3/S3 models. Subaru's Impreza variants are probably the hottest hatches a North American teen can lust after, followed closely by the Mazdaspeed3--the standard Mazda3 is a rather nice ride as well. As we mentioned before, Honda's Fit has proven itself to be an impressive bit of packaging that more than makes up for the absence of a Civic hatch in the wake of the EP chassis Civic Si's cancellation in 2005. The rest of the North American hatchback market is filled with entry-level also-rans: the Nissan Versa, the Hyundai Accent, the Scion XD, and company. Then there's CNET's own Chevy Aveo five-door, which is...well...yellow, and we'll just leave it at that.
Which brings us back to Ford and its tale of two Fiestas. Ford claims that more than 60 percent of new Fiesta buyers have gone for the five-door hatchback and it thinks that this is a good harbinger for its upcoming redesigned Ford Focus' five-door variant, which will debut in production form at this year's Paris Motor Show. We'll take it a step further and say that we hope that the Fiesta hatchback's success is good news for the entire hatchback market, including the new Mazda Mazda2 and upcoming Chevrolet Aveo and Cruze hatches.
This is the part where we turn the question to you, our vocal readership. Is the hatch coming back in a major way with the Fiesta five-door or is its relative success just a fluke? Sound off in the comments.