The Meteoric Rise of the Hatchback: the Perfect Modern Vehicle?

With all the talk about SUVs in the media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Chelsea Tractors have all but taken over car sales in the UK. But a far less ostentatious vehicle still stands atop the sales charts: the humble Hatchback.

The Vauxhall Astra was the best-selling new car in the UK in April 2021. Following at number 3 was the venerable Ford Fiesta, with the great VW Golf rounding out the top spots at number 4.

But why is the Hatchback such a success? And how did it get here?

Let’s take a step back in time.

The History Of An Icon.

THe first real mention of the phrase “Hatchback” came somewhere in the 1970s, though cars with top-hinged rear doors go far further back than that.

The first true, mass produced hatchback was the Citroen 11CV, which came out in 1938. Before this, cars generally had traditional boots with small openings. But demand from tradespeople and families who needed to haul larger loads drove a search for a more practical solution.

THe Citroen – as with many contemporary designs of the time – didn’t look much like the hatch we see today. Instead it had a two-piece hind door, one bit of which snapped down and the other up, leaving a shelf to sit on. This was perfect transporting long items or sitting on for picnics – it’s easy to see why it became so popular.

After World War Two, the design of the 11CV changed, with a single piece hinged at the top replacing the split-fold original. The rest, as they say, is history.

Modern hatchbacks really started to capture public attention in the mid-60s, with cars like Renaults 4 and 16, the former of which was still on sale well into the 1990s.

With cars increasingly being driven by the front wheels and less appetite for engines to be housed at the back, boots became ever larger and more practical, making the large opening of a hatch essential for moving belongings in and out. As more people came to appreciate the extra space this offered, Hatchbacks started to take over.

By the time that the Mini was released, dozens of hatchbacks were on sale across Europe. When Volkswagen released the Golf, the popularity of the hatchback was secured.

King of The Hill.

But what is it about a hatchback that UK buyers love so much?

Unlike countries where roads are long, wide and straight, much of the UK’s tarmac twists and turns – either through tight city streets or curvy B roads. Ours is an old country and the roads our cars drive on generally follow the paths set out hundreds of years back by pony traps and carts.

So, while SUVs are gaining in popularity, they’re not ideal for our roads. British customers value cars that can fit through tight spots and into small car parking spaces. We like cars that can weave in and out of traffic.

As such, small cars fit our tastes and our needs, and they always have.

In the post-war era, cars were very much a convenience and a necessity. We hadn’t built up any real culture around them, as they had in America: a car was there to get you from A to B.

Most families only had one car when hatchbacks arrived on the scene in a big way, so that one car had to do everything. A hatchback, with its small size, bigger boot and convenient hatch opening, gave UK buyers a chance to do just that.

Once that convenience took hold, it never really went away.

This remains true today.

If you want a convenient, zippy car with the ability to navigate the UKs tiny roads and congested streets, a Hatchback fits the bill.

Will the dominance of the hatchback continue into the future? So far, with electric hatchbacks like the e-208, the Corsa-e and the VW ID.3 selling like hotcakes, the future of the humble Hatchback seems secure.

Until next time, stay safe on the road.

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