While Canadian sedan sales reach new lows, with buyers shifting towards SUVs, the hatchback variant has remained a steady force in the market.
Automakers never reveal whether a sedan or hatchback version of a model is selling better, but it’s possible to determine the hatchbacks' popularity by looking at recent discontinuations of their sedan counterparts.
While the appeal of the traditional four-door sedan dwindles, there are many consumers, especially those in city centres, who don’t want or need an SUV. They prefer the all-in-one, happy medium of utility, spaciousness, fuel economy and ease of parking that the hatchback offers.
Surprisingly, over the past decade, hatchback sales have come in all shapes, sizes and costs. Typically the five-door body style has been associated with mainstream options, such as the Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic Hatchback and Mazda 3 Sport, but a renaissance has taken effect at the premium level, and it’s definitely not for value, with many pushing above and beyond the $50,000 mark.
“The hatchback format is just so practical,” explains Brian Murphy, vice-president of research and editorial at Canadian Black Book. “You’ll always have some consumers who really don’t want an SUV, and the combination of that European styling, along with sporty handling and refined touches, help keep the hatchback market steady.”
The current crop of luxury offerings mostly come from Germany and include: BMW i3, BMW 3-Series GT, BMW 6-Series GT, Porsche Panamera, Audi A5/S5, Audi A7/S7, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Buick Regal Sportback and, for consumers filled with aspiration, the Ferrari GTC4Lusso T.
Audi is one of the biggest players in the segment with a series of hatches labelled Sportback found throughout its lineup, available with the A5 or S5, and exclusively featured on the A7 and S7. In the near future, it will add to its hatchback roster with an electrified A3 e-tron. The A5 may not have as much cargo as a BMW 3-Series GT, but there’s no matching its striking physique, 12.3-inch instrument cluster known as the “virtual cockpit” and standard all-wheel drive.
The latest hatch to enter Canada is the entry-level Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It’s been chosen not only to round out the automaker’s vehicle lineup, but also to introduce modern infotainment and experiences through twin 10.25-inch high-resolution screens, with help from artificial intelligence.
“With the introduction of the A-Class hatch, we’re going to fill a void in the market for consumers who would prefer a modern, compact option,” explains Brian Fulton, president of Mercedes-Benz Canada. “It offers beautiful design, a luxurious and spacious interior, and, most exciting, it’s the vehicle in which we’re debuting a completely new and personalized, cutting-edge MBUX infotainment system.”
Moving away from German brands, Buick – the more value-laden choice of the group – is taking a big stance with its new Regal in support of hatchbacks. In an attempt to differentiate itself, it's attacking the Canadian market with only a Sportback configuration, dropping its sedan altogether and holding back its wagon, at least for now.
“The Regal Sportback provides a stylish solution for consumers looking for an alternative to an SUV that can handle the road with spirited performance,” adds Mark Alger, national marketing manager at Buick Canada.
David Sherrard, Mercedes Canada’s national product manager, also makes reference to handling excitement as a driving force that speaks to the luxury hatchback buyer.
“Many drivers enjoy the sporty handling of a hatchback. It’s particularly noticeable when cornering because hatchbacks are compact with a low centre of gravity. In the A-Class we’ve taken this a step further by reducing weight with a high proportion of aluminum in the suspension components.”
For those looking to stay within a budget, an alternative may be found in the recently redesigned Subaru Impreza that offers its symmetrical full-time AWD system. It’s Subaru’s way of standing out from the crowd through a combination of performance, reliability and all-road/all-weather safety.
“There has been a steady decline of sales for most subcompacts/compacts except those offering AWD as either an option or standard equipment, such as the Subaru Impreza,” adds Anton Pawczuk, director of product management and sales at Subaru Canada.
Tinkering with body styles isn’t revolutionary and typically comes at a time when the industry is in flux. Murphy at Canadian Black Book doesn’t expect the hatchback market to explode, considering SUVs provide a lot less risk to build for the automaker.
However, he does believe they can play a vital role in filling that void for buyers who wish to go against the SUV grain. And by automakers expanding their product portfolios to incorporate more hatches, it’s clear they do, too.