Hatchback renaissance: are they seen as utility vehicles now?


2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

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The U.S. may be in the midst of a somewhat unlikely hatchback renaissance.

Three- and five-door body styles have never been as popular in the U.S. as in other markets, with U.S. buyers often opting for four-door sedans while dismissing hatches as "econoboxes" or "econocars."

During the past year, passenger car sales have also slumped as consumers flock to crossovers and SUVs, driven by low gas prices and better fuel economy in all vehicle segments.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Honda Civic hatchback unveiled in Geneva

But Honda expects its Civic hatchback to account for 15 percent of U.S. Civic sales, or about 50,000 units annually, it says.

The Civic hatchback returned to the U.S. for the 2017 model year, using the same platform as the redesigned Civic sedan and coupe previously introduced as 2016 models.

Honda expects steady growth for the Civic and compact cars in general, Rob Keough—senior product planner for the car—said in a recent interview with Wards Auto.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatch

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The Japanese automaker said compact hatchbacks racked up 175,000 sales in the U.S. in 2015, and that sales are projected to grow steadily through 2022.

That growth will be fueled by newcomers to the market, "lifestyle and consumer demands," and changes in taste that are seeing consumers grow more attracted to the styling of some hatchbacks, according to Honda.

In the case of the Civic hatchback, Honda may also get a publicity boost from the Type-R performance model, a version not previously available in the U.S. that has been coveted by enthusiasts as a piece of automotive "forbidden fruit."

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Besides the Civic hatchback, the current crop of compact hatchbacks available in the U.S. includes the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Forte5, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf.

The Civic and Cruze are both new this model year, and the iM hatchback from Toyota's defunct Scion "youth brand" has been relaunched as the Toyota Corolla iM.

A redesigned Hyundai Elantra GT is expected next year; a version for the European market (where the model is sold as the i30) was unveiled in September at the 2016 Paris Motor Show.

2017 Subaru Crosstrek

2017 Subaru Crosstrek

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Hyundai is also in the process of rolling out its Ioniq hatchback, which will be offered with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric powertrains.

While traditional compact hatchbacks are experiencing a resurgence, automakers are also blurring the lines between hatchbacks and popular crossover utility vehicles.

Some vehicles marketed as crossover utilities, in fact, better fit the look and functionality of conventional five-door hatchbacks than of traditional SUV-based utilities that more resemble classic wagons.

MORE: Another tiny SUV? No AWD for 2018 Toyota C-HR subcompact crossover

Subaru raised the ride height of its Impreza and altered the styling to create the Crosstrek, repeating a formula used successfully almost 20 years previously on the larger Outback.

The Mercedes-Benz GLA, with the ride height of a crossover and optional all-wheel drive, may be marketed as a utility vehicle, but it remains a classic hatchback in shape.

Taking the concept into somewhat farcical territory, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Toyota C-HR are both considered crossovers by their makers because of their tall roofs and high seating positions, although neither model offers all-wheel drive.

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