Opinion: Long Live The Hatchback

The Opel Astra is European Car Of The Year 2016 - a boon for the humble hatchback!

opel astra european car of the year 2016
The new Opel Astra – European Car Of The Year 2016

The awarding of the European Car Of The Year 2016 title to the Opel Astra is a triumph for the humble hatchback. The mass market hatchback needed a bit of a boost and some good publicity after years of commentary on its fall from grace, lack of relevance as the SUV/crossover boom continues and doomsday predictions of its demise.

In the final stages of the European Car Of The Year 2016 judging process, the Opel Astra saw off stiff competition from the Audi A4, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XE, Mazda MX-5, Skoda Superb and Volvo XC90 to win the title. The 58 member jury of automotive journalists from 22 European countries awarded the Astra a total of 309 points versus 294 for the Volvo XC90 and 202 for the Mazda MX-5, with the judges praising the Astra for being good value for money.

A midsize hatchback that is efficient, drives well, and comes with technology and connectivity that would rival larger, more expensive cars? You bet it’s a good value for money proposition!

Yet as we move on from another international motor show with the slew of supercars and SUVs we’ve come to expect, you would be forgiven for thinking the idea of an economy hatchback in 2016 in the ilk of the Golf, Focus, Astra, 308 et al. was an outdated model form: yet the Opel Astra and its rivals feature 5 times in the top 20 bestselling cars in Europe in January 2016. The car market is recovering across Europe, and the Volkswagen Golf, a fine specimen of mass market hatchback, is Europe’s best-selling car according to data released by Jato Dynamics.  Yes the Volkswagen Golf, not an SUV. The hatchback is most certainly still relevant.

But consumer preferences are different to what they once were. For sure the SUV is tempting traditional hatchback buyers and in some cases winning them over. In 2015, SUVs did outsell the individual supermini and compact segments in Europe. SUV sales grew by 24% to 3.2 million units, with market share increased from 19.8% in 2014 to 22.5% in 2015.

The subcompacts (or superminis) fell into second position with 22% share, and the compacts segment took third with 20.6% share of the total new car sales market. Midsize SUVs like the Volvo XC60 saw the biggest growth year-on-year of +42% in Europe, followed by small crossovers like the Renault Captur with growth of +38%. In Ireland in January 2016, Hyundai’s new compact SUV, the Tucson, took the number one spot as Ireland’s bestselling car from the Volkswagen Golf, with Irish sales contributing to 20% of the Tucson’s total European sales.

It’s not a fluke that SUVs and crossovers are gaining popularity and tempting people out of their hatchbacks. They hold a more imposing presence on the road and the elevated seating gives occupants that feeling of extra safety and protection compared to a hatchback. They can be more practical, with easier access while still offering similar comfort and efficiency to a traditional hatchback. The rise of the small, compact SUV keeps these newcomers in the price range of your average hatchback buyer too.

You can see why the humble hatchback might need a boost. The Astra’s European Car Of The Year 2016 win proves that the hatchback can still be cutting edge, desirable, current and truly stellar – long live the hatchback!

Caroline Kidd

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