In defence of Shatchbacks

Antony Ingram is clearly growing quite attached to Chez PetrolBlog. Only last week he was waxing lyrical about his Fiat Panda 100HP, which he just happens to be selling. A week later and he’s back, but this time he’s not writing about talented Italian pocket rockets. Oh no. Mr Ingram is here to do the unthinkable – defend the Shatchback. He’s been threatening it for a while now and, much as it pains me to admit it, he does make some valid points. Heck, I even find some of the cars he mentions quite desirable. I think I need to go for a lie down, so I’ll hand you over to Mr Ingram.

I have a terrible, terrible confession to make.

I’m no murderer. Nor do I secretly like Justin Bieber. And I’ve not been cheating on anyone.

No, my confession is that – much as it pains me to say it – I quite like Shatchbacks.

There, I did it. It wasn’t easy, but I feel better now that it’s out in the open. I do now fear that I’ll only ever be worthy, in the PetrolBlog readers’ eyes, of mere Hobnob crumbs when everyone else is getting full biscuits, but I do feel, in time, you’ll all come to forgive me. Maybe even… understand.

It’s not an affliction with no justification, though.

No, it stems from a fondness of saloons in general. Much of the time, they look better than hatchbacks. I’m always brought to mind of a quote from a motoring journalist I quite admire, Anthony ffrench-Constant, who once wrote in Top Gear Magazine, “the reason so few hatchbacks look good, is because women have legs”.

What he meant, was that saloons are to hatchbacks like a pair of elegant legs are to a torso that stops at the derrière. The latter would look odd, and I’m a firm believer that saloons and coupés, with their longer, elegant rumps – a perfect pair of legs, if you will – are simply more desirable than hatchbacks.

Of course, Shatchbacks start life as hatchbacks and then have their legs grafted on afterwards. They’re the automotive equivalent of prosthetic limbs: darned handy if you need them, but not quite the same as the real deal.

Nevertheless, I can sense you’re starting to see my point, and some manufacturers really do make the best of their prosthetic limbs. Below, are four that I feel deserve credit (and one wildcard…), rather than ire, despite their Shatchback origins.

Renault Chamade 16V Phase II

Renault 19 16v

I’m being quite specific with this one, and I also have to declare an interest. Firstly, I feel the face-lifted, ‘Phase II’ Renault 19s were more attractive cars than the first generation, whether hatchback, saloon or convertible. Secondly, I’m declaring interest because we had both a 19 and a Chamade in the family in the early 1990s, and they were two of the best cars my dad ever owned – immaculately reliable, well-built and surprisingly sprightly, even with a humble 1.4-litre engine under the nose.

In all contemporary road tests I’ve read, the 19 16V was a handler, and I always thought it looked great. Well proportioned. Nicely detailed. This one deserved to be a saloon. And it deserves to be more common than the 24 left on UK roads. And it did make an appearance in the BTCC at the hands of Tim Harvey and Alain Menu… what more do you want?

Yep, with you on this one, Antony. This particular 19 was owned by Daniel Bevis. It’s a peach.

Ford Orion 1.6 Injection Ghia

Ford Orion 1.6 Injection Ghia

More interest-declaring: My dad had one of these too. I barely remember it, but having seen them since I’m immediately struck by the restrained detailing – pepperpot alloys, a subtle red stripe lining the car, a nice stance… this was an XR3i with a boot, essentially. It’s not like that’s a bad thing though, as it’s never had the ‘Margate’ image of the XR3i as a result.

Once again, it’s a vehicle on the brink of extinction: Howmanyleft reckons only 168 of the up-to-1990 models are left registered, but that even sounds a little high to me. I’ve not seen one on the roads in a long while.

I’ll give you this one. Along with the MK1 Jetta, this is a genuinely desirable Shatchback. I actually lusted over them in my college years – ed.

Volkswagen Bora

Volkswagen VW Bora

Does the Bora really count? I’d say so. Everyone knows it’s a Golf (you might say it’s “just like a Golf”…), only it has a boot and a slightly different nose. Both of which conspire to make it a much more attractive car than the Golf. Take that, hatchback.

There are many reasons why the Bora is not only the equal of its hatchback brother, but better. Classier looks. Cheaper insurance (seriously – run quotes on both. Engine for engine, the Bora will be cheaper). The fact that VW, in an effort to nick 3-Series buyers from BMW, tuned the suspension to make it a little more deft than the hatch. It’s a Shatchback you can be proud of owning.

For the record, I could have dropped several VW Shatchbacks in here, as they have a knack for turning humdrum hatches into sexy saloons. Apart from the fourth-gen Polo ‘Classic’. That thing was a mess.

Technically this isn’t a Shatchback, so I’m not giving you this one! Hey, it’s my party…etc, etc – ed.

Honda Civic ‘EF’ saloon

Honda Civic EF saloon

One of the things that normally spoils a Shatchback is poor proportions. It’s a reason that older Shatchbacks tend to look better than more modern interpretations, as the lower bonnet and rooflines of older cars mean that they never look too squat, like someone simply fired a boot from a cannon at the back of the hatch, compacting the whole car.

And as an older car, the Civic saloon didn’t suffer this fate. EF is the model designation, favoured by our American friends for easier identification. Over here it never really got any interesting engines, but it’s low, simple and uncluttered. Those boxy 1980s lines really help too, as the 1980s are quite popular here in PetrolBlog land.

I’m not sure I helped Antony’s case with the choice of image – ed.

BMW 3-Series Compact

BMW 3-series Compact

This one will throw you. You’ll note, it’s actually a proper hatchback. Well, sort of. In fact, this is the exact opposite of a Shatchback. A car that started life as a purpose-designed saloon, and became a hatchback. I’d like to call it a “shedan”, or maybe a “haloon”.

But the reason it’s here is because I sort of prefer it to the saloon. However little sense that makes.

Firstly, I’ve always liked the looks. You may not – not many people do. But it looks fairly sporty without even trying. Secondly, BMW built them properly, which they didn’t with many of the coupes, cabrios and saloons. I know this, as when I was car shopping a few years back, I tested several Compacts and looked at several saloons. Without fail, the saloons were all shoddy, rusty piles of crap, where the compacts were pristine, despite in many cases actually being older.

And they’re cheaper. And handle well, in a slightly old-school way (the back suspension is E30-derived). And the interior is pleasingly retro. So this is one haloon that’s really worth buying over its longer bretheren.

Ha! Not a Shatchback, but a desirable and cheap track day tool – ed.

So there you have it: four Shatchbacks and a haloon that you shouldn’t feel guilty about liking. I don’t. Much.

Now, about Justin Bieber…

Two out of five for me, Antony. I’ll add the Renault 19 Chamade 16v and Ford-Orion-One-Point-Six-Injection-Ghia to the (small) list of ‘Good Shatchbacks’ – ed.

All images courtesy of Antony, except for Civic (Wikipedia) and Renault (Daniel Bevis – SuckSqueezeBangBlow)

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. February 8, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    Heh, I should really have dropped the Polo Derby in there, instead of the Bora… and I still maintain the Civic is a good’un! Though admittedly, most of the ones in the UK look more like the wikipedia image than the examples you find in America. And they’re usually in gold, which does them even fewer favours…

    As for the Compact, I believe it to be the true opposite of the shatchback. I’m racking my brains trying to think whether any other saloons have been turned into hatchbacks?

    • February 8, 2012

      Yes, I admit to being a little underhand with my Civic tactics! 😉

      Hey, I gave you the Orion and the Chamade, didn’t I? 😉

      • February 8, 2012
        Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

        The Renault and Ford aren’t worthy of the derision implied by the shatchback tag, certainly! I wanted to add in the Megane Classic too as I’ve always liked those (I quite like that generation of Megane in general), but it didn’t really have a defining model like the Chamade 16v – I seem to remember the most interesting variant was an RT Sport, which had a 2.0-litre 8-valve engine. Not that sporty, but looked good in black with some alloys.

  2. February 8, 2012
    Rut the Nut

    Still not a fan of shatchbacks, even the ones you mentioned. But a worthy article to try and defend the type. Regarding the BMW Compact, clearly not a shatchback as you say, so maybe a haloon.

    Not been a fan of those either, but really appreciate the fact it is a small rwd car. I do however rather like the Compact being rallied by Dave May in the BMW RWD Challenge – the paintjob and purposeful wheels really make a difference to the looks and diminish the lack of balance in the car not having a proper arse-end.

    See for a pic ot two of his car 🙂

    • February 8, 2012
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      Yeah, I think I might have even seen that Compact being rallied a few times. It’s on my list of “ooh, that’s quite cool” rally cars along with the chap rallying a Porsche Boxster, one guy with an MX5, and another with a rotary-engined Escort Mk2…

      RWD rally cars for the win…

      Now I’m trying to think whether anyone has ever rallied any shatchbacks.

      • February 8, 2012

        Ha! Rallying Shatchbacks – now there’s an idea for a blog.

        Have I ever mentioned my intention to create a Shatchback track-day car? The PetrolBlog Shatchback Track Hack! 😉

  3. February 8, 2012
    Air Cooled Underware

    Count me in as one who DOES like the BMW 3 styling. Neat, smart, refined!

  4. February 8, 2012

    Some nice choices – The Orion has always been a firm favourite of mine, although the dislike set in when they renamed it ‘Escort’. I feel I have on or two more to add:

    Firstly, I have a lust for the MG ZS and the Rover 45 saloons, especially with the V6 engine. Although an archaic design now (and my youth!), there is an attraction gained from the full leather of the high-spec Rover, to the ‘Straights’ wheels of the MG. Oh, and it also featured in BTCC. Instant coolness!

    I have in the past mentioned about the Volvo 340, so I won’t here. However, its replacement the 460, seems to be fast disappearing. The lack of RWD and its somewhat crudeness against the S40 count against the 460. However, it again looks attractive to my eyes.

    A tad bland, but also a nice drive, is the modern Mazda3 saloon. As, I would imagine is the Volkswagen Vento, with VR6 power!

    (Right, that’s enough from me!)

    • February 11, 2012
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      Completely forgot about the 45/ZS. Was going to include that one, too. Looks better as a shatchback than it does as the 5-door, I reckon. Particularly in ZS form.

  5. February 8, 2012
    Dr RectalExam (@DrRectalExam)

    Another good read, Mr Ingram. Totally agree with the first three, especially as I own one of them. Honda shatbacks have never appealed to me, unless you count the Concerto, which I imagine was more of a Rover effort.

  6. February 8, 2012

    Of the Shatchbacks that looks good are the Rover 45/MG ZS and Mazda3.

  7. February 10, 2012
    Peter Counsell

    My brother had an Orion 1.6i Ghia, followed by a Jetta GTI 16v. Made all sorts of sense in terms of being quick yet discreet and keeping the boot contents secure. Sounds rather exciting but he never had anything other than files or golf clubs in there.

    • February 10, 2012

      Like both of them. Your brother must have been a lucky sales rep 🙂

  8. February 12, 2012
    Phil H

    Hey don’t forget the Vauxhall Nova shatchback and some guy at work has a Focus one…bleughhh!

    • February 12, 2012

      So, are you putting the Nova in the ‘good Shatchback’ category?! That and the Focus have been mentioned previously!

      • February 15, 2012
        Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

        Retro Cars mag has featured a couple of nice, 2-door Nova shatchbacks. They do look good if modified nicely, but the four-door ones can look a bit odd. Also, they lose the hatch’s defining feature, the slashes above the wheelarches. I’d love to see a Nova shatchback with the hatchback’s wings.

  9. March 9, 2012

    Love the Orion Ghia, and like the twist with the BMW. I thought they were rubbish when they were introduced, but they have grown on me now, got to love a cheap RWD hot hatch! Similar to your Civic, the range-topping Rover 400(R8) models looked good, would like a 420GSi now, with the afterthought grille! Also as Joseph mentioned above, the Volvo 360 should make the good shatchback list, have read of people putting 240/740 turbo engines in these, what a sleeper you could make!

  10. March 9, 2012
    aaron short

    another defence for shatchbacks;
    The bmw 1 series.
    frightening as a hatch but somehow good looking in saloon form.

  11. March 19, 2012

    Great article. Can I ask where did you get the figure of 24 from with the Renault 19? It seems very low!

  12. March 18, 2015

    I give up. I’ve followed this site for several months now and have looked all over it for the definition of “shacktback.” At one point I thought they were the same as sedans/saloons but this seems to imply there is a difference between the two. I’m not smart enough to work this out on my own as far as I can tell so can anyone explain?

    • March 24, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Hello and welcome to PB!

      OK, a Shatchback is an automotive afterthought. Essentially a poor, defenceless hatchback that has had a box grafted on to its rear-end. Crucially, only A, B or C-segment cars are worthy of Shatchback status.

      Does this help?!


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