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Typical pillar configurations of a sedan (three box), station wagon (two box) and hatchback (two box) from the same model range.

A Hatchback is a car body style incorporating a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a rear third or fifth door, typically a top-hinged liftgate—and features such as fold-down rear seats to enable flexibility within the shared passenger/cargo volume. As a two-box design, the body style typically includes an A, B & C-pillar, and may include a D pillar. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a hatchback as "having a sloping back with a hinged rear door that opens upward."[1]

Hatchbacks and liftbacks share commonalities and distinctions with station wagons. The body style appeared as early as the 1930s, but the first known use of the word 'hatchback' was in 1970.[2] This automobile design has experienced worldwide marketing.


1986 Toyota Camry hatchback

Hatchbacks may be described as three-door (two entry doors and the hatch) or five-door (four entry doors and the hatch) cars—and may range in size from city cars and superminis to small family cars, mid-size cars (e.g., the Toyota Camry hatchback (1982–1986). When a model range includes multiple configurations, as with the 2005–2007 Ford Focus which offered sedan (ZX4), wagon (ZXW) and three and five-door hatchback (ZX3 and ZX5) models, the models typically share a platform, drivetrain and bodywork forward of the A-pillar. Hatchbacks may have a removable rigid parcel shelf,[3] liftable with the tailgate, or flexible roll-up tonneau cover to cover the cargo space behind the rear seats.

Hatchback vs. station wagon

Diagram of a five-door hatchback (two-box) superimposed over the station wagon (two-box) from the same model range—in this case, both with a D-pillar.

Renault 4L, 1962

Both station wagons and hatchbacks typically feature a two-box design configuration, with one shared, flexible, interior volume for passengers and cargo[4][5]—and a rear door for cargo access.[6][7] Further distinctions are highly variable:

Pillars: Both configurations typically feature A, B & C pillars, station wagons more likely also feature a D pillar as well.

Cargo Volume: Station wagons prioritize passenger and cargo volume—with windows aside the cargo volume. Of the two body styles, a station wagon roof (viewed in profile) more likely extends to the very rearmost of the vehicle, enclosing a full-height cargo volume[5]—a hatchback roof (especially a liftback roof) might more likely rake down steeply behind the C-Pillar, prioritizing style[3] over interior volume, with shorter rear overhang and with smaller windows (or no windows) aside the cargo volume.

Cargo floor contour: Favoring cargo capacity, a station wagon may prioritize a fold-flat floor, where a hatchback would more likely allow a cargo floor with pronounced contour (e.g. the new Mini or the sixth generation Ford Fiesta).

Seating: Station wagons have two or three rows of seats (e.g., the Ford Taurus wagons) while hatchbacks have one[4] (e.g. the MGB GT) or two rows of seats.

Rear suspension: A station wagon may include reconfigured rear suspension for additional load capacity[3] and to minimize intrusion into the cargo volume, (e.g., worldwide versions of the first generation Ford Focus).

Rear Door: Hatchbacks typically feature a top-hinged liftgate for cargo access, with variations ranging from a two-part liftgate/tailgates (e.g., the 1958 A40 Countryman) to a complex tailgate that can function either as a full tailgate or as a trunk lid (e.g., the 2008 Škoda Superb's TwinDoor). Station wagons have also enjoyed numerous tailgate configurations.

Automotive journalist Dan Neil, in a 2002 New York Times report described verticality of the rear cargo door as the prime distinction between a hatchback and a station wagon: "Where you break the roofline, at what angle, defines the spirit of the vehicle," he said. "You could have a 90-degree break in the back and have a station wagon."[8]


A liftback is a broad marketing term for a hatchback, which incorporates a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a rear third or fifth door, typically a top-hinged liftgate—especially where the profile aspect of the rear cargo door is more horizontal than vertical, with a sharply raked or fastback profile.[4]

Early examples

Citroën Traction Avant c.1954

In 1938, Citroën introduced the Traction Avant Commerciale[9] initially with a two-piece tailgate and after 1954 with a one-piece top-hinged tailgate.

In 1946, DeSoto marketed the Suburban, a full-size sedan with a rear accessible door, and folding rear seats.[10]

In 1949, Holden of Australia introduced the Kaiser-Frazer Vagabond and Traveler hatchbacks. Although these were styled much like the typical 1940s sedan, they incorporated an innovative split rear tailgate, folding rear seats and no separate trunk.[11] [1] In 1953, Aston Martin markted the DB2 with a top-hinged rear tailgate, manufacturing 700 examples. Its successor, the 1958 DB Mark III also offered a folding rear seat. The 1954 AC Aceca and later Aceca-Bristol from AC Cars had a similar hatch tailgate, though just 320 were built. In 1958, the Pininfarina-designed Austin introduced the A40 Countryman, lacking windows aside the load space but with a horizontally-split (fold up and fold down) rather than top-hinged tailgate. The subsequent 1962 Italian-built Innocenti version, called the A40S Combinata, carried a single-unit tailgate.[12]

Global marketing


Peugeot 306 hatchback, with the hatch lifted

In 1961 Renault introduced the Renault 4 with a top-hinged tailgate incorporating the rear window, with only short side windows between C & D-pillars aside the load space and a steep angle from roof to rear bumper. During its production run the R4 was called a small station wagon, even after the term hatchback appeared around 1970. In 1964, Autobianchi marketed the Primula hatchback. In 1965, Renault marketed the Renault 16, a hatchback design with a folding rear seat.

In 1965, the MGB-GT was launched with a hatchback designed by Pininfarina, the first volume-production sports car so equipped. In 1967, the Simca 1100 used a transverse engine and gearbox layout, and incorporated a hatchback without side windows at the C-pillar. In 1969, British Leyland launched Austin Maxi, a five-speed, transverse front-wheel drive hatchback.

In 1973, Volkswagen marketed the Passat/Dasher hatchback, followed by the Golf/Rabbit as well as the Audi 50 in 1974. Sports cars like the Jaguar E-Type with its side-hinged opening, Toyota 2000GT, and Datsun 240Z carried rear tailgates, with one row of seats. In the 1970s, the Rover SD1, Renault 30, and Saab 900 introduced the hatchback style into the executive car market. The 1980s Ford launched two front-wheel drive hatchbacks: the Ford Escort, Lancia Delta, and VW Golf and Scirocco. More similar cars followed over the decade, including the updated Opel Kadett, Vauxhall Astra, Renault 19, Fiat Tipo, and second generation Rover 200. Alfa Romeo marketed the Nissan-based Arna. The third generation Volkswagen Golf was launched in 1991 and selected European Car of the Year. Fiat replaced the successful Tipo with the distinctive Bravo (three-door) and Brava (five-door) in 1995. Ford replaced the long-running Escort with the Ford Focus in 1998, featuring a model range with sedan, station wagon, and three and five door hatchbacks.

North America

American Motors

1977 AMC Gremlin

American Motors Corporation (AMC) marketed the subcompact Gremlin from 1970, in a single hatchbackKammback body design.[13] The Gremlin used the AMC Hornetautomobile platform, but its abrupt hatchback rear end cut the car's overall length from 179 to 161 inches (4,500 to 4,100 mm). American Motors added a semi-fastback hatchback version to its larger compact-sized Hornet line for the 1973 model year.[14]

Introduced by AMC in 1975, "like recent European variations of the theme, the Pacer had a rear door or hatchback, which further increased its utility".[15] For 1977, AMC added a longer Pacer model with a wagon-type configuration describing its large rear "hatch" as one of the car's three doors, all having different sizes.[16] The Hornet's hatchback body design was continued in the redesigned "luxury" Concord line for 1978[17] and 1979, in a "sporty model designed for performance-oriented buyers".[18] The AMC Spirit replaced the Gremlin starting with the 1979 models and was available in two designs, both featuring rear doors: a hatchback "sedan" and a semi-fastback "liftback" version.[19]

Built in AMC's Kenosha, Wisconsin factories, the 1984–1987 Encore was a two and four-door hatchback based on the European Renault 11.[20]

Chrysler Corporation

Plymouth Horizon

Chrysler Corporation introduced the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon hatchbacks in 1978.[21] These were followed by the Dodge Charger/Plymouth Turismo. They released the liftback Dodge Daytona/Chrysler Laser in 1984, and then the Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance—as well as the LeBaron GTS and Dodge Lancer hatchbacks. Captive import subcompact models included the Dodge Colt and the almost identical Plymouth Champ.

DaimlerChrysler replaced the Dodge Neon sedan with the Dodge Caliber, and later its rebadged variants the Jeep Compass and Patriot.

Ford Motor Company

1978 Ford Mustang II Hatchback

Ford Motor Company introduced a Pinto hatchback, named "Runabout" in its second season for the 1972 model year, and Mercury later introducd the Bobcat, a rebadged Pinto hatchback variant with a vertical-styled grill and an all-glass liftgate. The German-built Mercury Capri II hatchbacks were imported to U.S. Lincoln-Mercury dealers for the 1976–1977 model years, and the Ford Fiesta hatchback was imported for U.S. Ford dealers later in the decade. Ford offered a hatchback version of its third-generation Escort. The third generation Mustang and Mercury Capri introduced in 1979 were offered in hatchback models. Between 1988 and 1993 Ford marketed the imported Festiva subcompact hatchback that was later restyled and renamed the Aspire for the 1994 through 1997 model years.

General Motors

1973 Chevrolet Vega Hatchback

The Chevrolet Vega, introduced in September 1970, was the first hatchback model from General Motors. Over a million Vega hatchbacks were produced for the 1971–1977 model years accounting for about half of the Vega's total production.[22] GM introduced rebadged Vega hatchback variants, the 1973–1977 Pontiac Astre and the 1978 Chevrolet Monza S.

The Vega-derived Chevrolet Monza 2+2, Buick Skyhawk, and Oldsmobile Starfireintroduced for the 1975 model year, were produced exclusively as hatchbacks with the Pontiac Sunbird hatchback introduced for the 1977 model year. All were produced through 1980.

A Chevrolet Nova hatchback was introduced for the 1973 model year, and was offered through 1979. The Chevrolet Chevette was introduced in 1975 as a two-door hatchback. A four-door hatchback on a longer wheelbase was introduced with the 1978 models. In early 1979 theChevrolet Citation was introduced as a 1980 model offered in 2 and 4-door hatchbacks continuing through the 1987 model year. In the 1981, General Motors included a hatchback model as part of its J-car series that included the Chevrolet Cavalier. Chevrolet offered captive import hatchbacks built by Suzuki and Izuzu. The NUMMI U.S.-made Chevrolet Nova was also offered in a hatchback model in 1987 and 1988. Its replacement, the Geo Prizm, was also available in a hatchback model and the domestic designed Chevrolet Corsica was briefly available in a hatchback version.

The third generation Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird produced for the 1982–1992 model years, featured a curved glass hatchback liftgate. GM marketed a series of hatchbacks in North America as a joint venture with Suzuki, the Swift/Metro/Firefly.[23] Chevrolet offered a longer wheelbase, hatchback vesion of the Malibu, the Malibu Maxx from 2004 to 2007. In 2008, GM introduced the 3-door and 5-door Belgian-assembled Saturn Astra. Chevrolet added a hatchback version of its Korean-built Aveo in 2009.[24]

The Chevrolet Corvette was first offered with an opening rear glass hatch for the 1982 Collector Edition model.[25] It was adopted on all Corvette Coupes beginning in 1984, with the fourth generation models.


In addition to specific models of captive imports mentioned above, a number of import brands have been available in the hatchback body style as a primary model, from the Fiat Strada.[26] to the Volkswagen Golf.

BMW's 3-series hatchback was offered from 1995–99.[27] The liftback version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Sportcoupé, was sold in North America from 2002 to 2005, lacking many amenities of German luxury imports (especially a Mercedes).[28] Audi subsequently marketd the Audi A3 In North America. The New MINI range incorporated a hatchback design.


Lada Samara 2109

The first Soviet hatchback was the rear-wheel drive IZH-2125 Kombi, which entered production in 1973. This was followed in the 1980s by the front-wheel drive Lada Samara, ZAZ Tavria and Moskvich Aleko.

Developing countries

Hatchbacks have proved to be less popular in developing countries in South America, Africa, and some parts of Asia than in Europe, and as a result, manufacturers have had to develop sedan versions of their small cars.[citation needed] In Brazil, for example, the Fiat Premio was developed from the Fiat Uno in the 1980s, with Ford and GM subsequently offering sedan versions of the Opel Corsa and Ford Fiesta in the 1990s. (The first generation Opel Corsa was sold in Europe as a sedan as well as a hatchback, but proved unpopular, and the three-box sedan was not replaced in 1993). These models were also sold in South Africa and China.

See also


  1. "Definition: Hatchback". American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved on 11 May 2011.
  2. "Definition: Hatchback". Merriam-Webster (2011). Retrieved on 11 May 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hillier, Victor (2004). Hillier's Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Technology: Volume 1, 5th edition. Nelson Thornes, 11. ISBN 9780748780822. Retrieved on 2010-12-31. “The estate body, also known as station wagons in some countries, has the roofline extended to the rear of the body to enlarge its internal capacity. Folding the rear seats down gives a large floor area for the carriage of luggage or goods. Stronger suspension springs are fitted at the rear to support the extra load. Hatchback: The hatchback is generally based on a saloon body but with the boot or trunk area blended into the centre section of the body. The hatchback is therefore halfway between a saloon and estate car. This type of body is very popular due to its versatility and style. Although some hatchbacks are in fact saloon bodies with the boot or trunk effectively removed (usually the smaller cars), many hatchbacks retain the full length of the saloon but the roofline extends down to the rear of the vehicle. As with the saloon bodies, a hatchback can have two or four passenger doors, however there is a tendency to refer to hatchbacks as three or five doors because the rear compartment lid (or tailgate) is also referred to as a door on the hatchback bodies. As with the estate, the rear seats fold down to give a flat floor for the transportation of luggage or other objects. When the tailgate is closed, the luggage compartment is usually covered with a parcel shelf.” 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jaza, Reza N. (2008). Vehicle dynamics: theory and applications. Springer-Verlag, 30–31. ISBN 9780387742434. Retrieved on 2010-12-31. “Hatchback: Hatchback cars are identified by a rear door including the back window, that opens to access a storage area that is not separated from the rest of the passenger compartment. A hatchback may have two or four doors and two or four seats. They are also called three-door or five door cars. A hatchback car is called a liftback when the opening area is very sloped and is lifted up to open. Station Wagon: A station wagon or wagon is a car with a full height body all the way to the rear; the load carrying space created is accessed via a rear door or doors.” 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Erjavec, Jack (2005). Automotive Technology: a Systems Approach Volume 2. Thomposon Delmar Learning, 55. ISBN 9781401848316. Retrieved on 11 May 2011. “Liftback or Hatchback: The distinguishing feature of this vehicle is its luggage compartment, which is an extension of the passenger compartment. Access to the luggage compartment is gained through an upward opening hatch-type door. A car of this design can be a three or five door model, the third or fifth door is the rear hatch. Station Wagon: A station wagon is characterized by its roof which extends straight back, allowing a spacious interior luggage compartment in the rear. The rear door, which can be opened numerous ways depending on the model, provides access to the luggage compartment. Station wagons come in two and four-door models and have space for up to nine passengers.” 
  6. "Car Design Glossary – Part 2: One-Box (Monospace or Monovolume)". Car Design News. Retrieved on 11 May 2011. “A three or five-door hatchback (no separate trunk compartment) is a 'two-box' car.”
  7. Mueller, Mike (2003). American Cars of the '50s. MBI Publishing. ISBN 9780760317129. 
  8. Neil, Dan (2002-04-28). "The Hatchback Is Back (but Nobody Uses the H-Word)". Retrieved on 2010-12-31. 
  9. Citroen Car Club (2005-01-15). "Supporting all Citroën owners and enthusiasts, in the UK and worldwide". Citroen Car Club. Retrieved on 2009-04-25.
  10. Olsen, Byron (2000). Station Wagons. MBI Publishing, 31. ISBN 9780760306321. Retrieved on 2010-12-31. 
  11. Vance, Bill (2001-03-27). "Motoring Memories: Motoring Memories: Kaiser Traveler – the first hatchback". CanadianDriver. Retrieved on 2010-12-31.
  12. "Austin Rover Online". Retrieved on 2009-04-25.
  13. Hinckley, James (2005). The Big Book of Car Culture: The Armchair Guide to Automotive Americana. MotorBooks/MBI, 120–121. ISBN 9780760319659. Retrieved on 22 April 2011. 
  14. Lamm, Michae (October 1972), "AMC: Hornet hatchback leads the lineup", Popular Mechanics 138(4): 118–202, Retrieved on . 
  15. Wilson, Paul Carroll (1976). Chrome dreams: automobile styling since 1893. Chilton Book, 303. ISBN 978080196352. Retrieved on 22 April 2011. 
  16. "AMC Pacer Wagon ad", Popular Science 209(5): 1–2. November 1976, Retrieved on . 
  17. Ceppos, Rich (October 1977), "AMC for '78 – a V-8 for the Pacer, and now there's Concord", Popular Science 211(4): 98, Retrieved on . 
  18. "American Motors", Michigan manufacturer and financial record: 40. 1977, Retrieved on . 
  19. Witzenburg, Gary (October 1978), "Driving the '79 American Motors models", Popular Mechanics 150(4): 114, 115, 164, 166, 168, Retrieved on . 
  20. Ross, Daniel Charles; Hill, Ray (October 1983), "AMC's Double Thrust: all new Jeep and Renault Encore", Popular Mechanics 160(4): 106, 107, 158, 159, Retrieved on . 
  21. Lund, Robert (January 1978), "Driving the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon", Popular Mechanics 149(1): 64–65, 136, Retrieved on . 
  23. "Canada: CAMI ends Suzuki Swift production". (5 June 2001). Retrieved on 22 April 2011.
  24. Blackett, Thom. "2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 Preview Chevy's imported import fighter grows a hatchback". myride com. Retrieved on 9 August 2010.
  25. Prince, Richard (2004). Corvette C3 Buyer's Guide 1968–1982. BMI Publishing, 134. ISBN 9780760316559. Retrieved on 3 January 2011. 
  26. Lamm, Michael (May 1979), "Driving the Fiat Strada", Popular Mechanics 151(5): 56, Retrieved on . 
  27. Wilson, Greg (2002-01-10). "Test Drive: 2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Sport Coupe". CanadianDriver. Retrieved on 2010-12-31.
  28. Frank, Michael. "Mercedes Benz C230 Sports Coupe". Retrieved on 2010-12-31.

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