Mazda CX30 or Mazda3?
The Mazda CX30 SUV and the Mazda3 hatchback

Hatchback vs SUV? When choosing a new car, there is now so much choice when it comes to the body type. In this blog, we’re going to get down to the basics of what is a hatchback and what is an SUV, and look at why you might choose one over the other.

How popular are hatchbacks and SUVs?

For many years hatchbacks were a top choice for family cars. But in recent years SUVs have become more popular among new car buyers. Many traditional hatchback drivers have switched to SUVs.

While the drop in demand for saloons and hatchbacks has been reported worldwide, hatchbacks are still very relevant to the market. In Ireland, hatchbacks are still the most popular type of new car sold, accounting for 30% of the market so far in 2020. Manufacturers are still investing in developing and manufacturing them with exciting new hatchbacks coming to market every year that bring the game on even more in terms of design, technology and safety.

SUVs are a major growth trend year on year in Ireland and Europe. In 2020, they account for 22% of the new car market in Ireland. Manufacturers are responding by expanding their SUV ranges rapidly, filling all gaps with everything from compact to large SUVs, electric and hybrid SUVs, and more design-led niches like SUV coupés.

When you start researching your new car and exploring what’s available, you will find many SUVs spun off from popular hatchbacks. For example, the Renault Captur is based on the Clio and has become a very popular model for the French brand. The Volkswagen Tiguan is an SUV-derivative of the Golf and it has been reported that the Tiguan has become more popular than the iconic German hatchback.

The Volkswagen Tiguan is now more popular in Ireland than the iconic Golf hatchback!
The Volkswagen Tiguan is now more popular in Ireland than the iconic Golf hatchback!

What’s the difference between a hatchback and an SUV?

The key differences in hatchback vs SUV are height, styling, design and driving character.

Hatchbacks are designed to sit lower on the road than an SUV. They have a hatch style boot that opens into the car and the bootlid counts as a door (i.e ‘five doors’, ‘five door hatchback’). The rear window is in the bootlid. Unlike a saloon car, the passenger space and boot compartment are not separate. The rear seats can be folded down to increase the loading area.

SUV stands for ‘sports utility vehicle’ and these vehicles are characterised by chunky, rugged styling inspired by traditional off-roaders and 4x4s. An SUV is taller than a hatchback and the driver sits higher in the SUV as a result. This has proved to be very popular, especially among older customers and families.

Hatchbacks and SUVs are more related than you think. For a start, they both have a boot compartment that is not separate, instead opening into the car directly. In fact, technically the SUV is a type of hatchback in this regard. However SUV boots are typically more open and square. They open almost at arm level meaning you can slide things in an out more easily. Hatchbacks often have deeper boots. The hatch style boot is popular among customers for practicality. Design differs between models so do compare and contrast the cars on your shortlist. Check the height of the loading sill, how easy is it to load and unload the boot, and how much space is available.

SUVs have large square boots ideal for loading lots of gear
SUVs have large square boots ideal for loading lots of gear

Hatchback vs SUV: Pros and Cons

Every customer’s needs and preferences are different when it comes to hatchbacks and SUVs.

Some people prefer the simple styling of a hatchback while others like the more utilitarian look of an SUV. Many people fall in love with an SUV because they love the way they look. But a well-designed five door hatchback will have a sportier, squat presence. Hatchbacks also tend to feel sportier on the road. This is because the lower centre of gravity makes them more stable in corners. However hatchbacks can’t compete with SUVs for the much lauded higher driving position and more commanding view over the road.

SUVs typically carry a higher list price when compared to the hatchbacks they are based on. However, in many cases they offer more versatility and boot capacity and of course the image and desirability of an SUV. The higher roofline of an SUV often gives occupants more headroom, especially in the back, and gives the impression of a roomier and more spacious cabin.

Do check the running costs and fuel consumption of the models on your shortlist. A larger or heavier SUV may have higher running costs than the hatchback.

Anything else to think about?

Many of the SUVs on Irish roads are based on hatchbacks and are often referred to as ‘crossovers’. Popular crossovers like the Hyundai Kona and the Kia XCeed have a lot of the same qualities as hatchbacks. But they have the bonus of a higher driving position and SUV-inspired styling.

Hatchback vs SUV? The Renault Captur small SUV and the Renault Clio hatchback
Hatchback vs SUV? The Renault Captur small SUV and the Renault Clio hatchback

Hatchbacks and SUVs both come in a variety of sizes. Manufacturers are filling all niches. Typically we think of hatchbacks as small cars like the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta. Go up a dress size and you will find the perennial family hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Opel Astra. However, there are many large cars that also masquerade as hatchbacks. For example, the Skoda Superb and Peugeot 508 are actually hatchbacks though they look like very elegant saloons from afar! These large hatchbacks are stylish but also very practical.

SUVs are also available in a variety of sizes to meet customer demand: small SUVs, compact SUVs, large SUVs and even 7 seater SUVs.

In terms of powertrain, you will find both SUVs and hatchbacks offer lots of choice including petrol, diesel and emerging trends like electric and hybrid.

Our Favourites

When it comes to hatchback vs SUV, at Changing Lanes we’ve driven the best of both! We recently drove the new Mazda CX-30 based on the Mazda 3 and we really liked it. We think small hatchbacks like the Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta and Opel Corsa make a lot of sense because they are fun to drive and efficient. However a small SUV that really surprised us was the Volkswagen T-Cross. It is arguably a more interesting and fun car to drive than the Polo hatchback it’s based on.

In the larger segment, we still have a lot of time for cars like the Peugeot 508. The 508 breathed new life into the D-segment when it arrived in Ireland in 2019. It has an elegant, sporty design that an SUV just can’t compete with and looks good everywhere.

We understand the appeal of SUVs. You quickly adapt to the higher driving position. A crossover we really enjoyed recently was the Kia XCeed. You do pay a premium for it over a Ceed hatchback but it has just the right presence and design for the current market. Family SUVs like the Renault Kadjar and Citroen C5 Aircross offer good value with an affable driving character that makes them fun to drive every day.

On the more premium side of things, Mercedes-Benz has just brought a new GLA to Ireland that looks very promising. The brand’s SUVs like the soon to arrive GLB and the recently facelifted GLC offer character and practicality. The Audi Q3 surprised us last year for the quality and design that makes it highly desirable in the premium SUV segment.

The new Peugeot 508 is actually a hatchback designed to look like an elegant saloon!
The new Peugeot 508 is actually a hatchback designed to look like an elegant saloon!

Caroline Kidd