Antony Ingram is 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)