The hatchback may just be the most practical type of car out there. They aren't so big that it makes driving and parking in cities a hassle, and the rear hatch and folding seats give some hatchbacks as much cargo space as smaller SUVs. Hatchbacks can also be stylish and have excellent resale value. They also can be fun to drive, with many automakers offering "hot" performance versions of their normal hatchbacks.
Here are our four favorite hatches for 2016:
1. Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback
Like every car Mazda offers, the Mazda3 hatch is a blast to drive. Offered with either a 155 or 184 horsepower engine and a choice of a manual or automatic transmission, the Mazda3 is spry on curvy roads and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Best of all, the Mazda3 achieves 29 mpg around town, and on the highway manages to reach a lofty 40 mpg. To put that into perspective, the Toyota Prius manages only eight more mpg on the highway while delivering a driving experience that borders on sleep inducing. Not to mention, have you looked at a Mazda3? Is there another car in its price range that is as pleasing to the eye inside and out? The uncluttered dashboard, infotainment system and instruments feel positively teutonic compared with other Japanese hatchbacks, and the long hood evokes the same aesthetic as a classic Jaguar E-Type.
The main drawback to the Mazda3 is road noise, as sound deadening has been skimped on to save weight. We are more than OK with this sacrifice though, because it allows for the delightful driving dynamics and excellent fuel economy.
2. Honda Fit
The Honda Fit is not flashy or powerful, but if you need a car that is small but can fit a baffling amount of stuff, the Fit is your huckleberry. With the seats down in the back, the subcompact Fit provides 53 cubic feet of room, which is as much as a Volkswagen Golf. Honda manages to do this with what they rightly call a rear "Magic Seat" that folds completely flat. The Fit is affordable, too, with prices starting at $15,890, and fully loaded trims topping out at $22,000. The cheap cost doesn't mean it's a bore to drive, as the chassis enjoys being flung around corners, but don't expect to win any drag races. The Fit comes equipped standard with a rear backup camera, Bluetooth, the allready-noted Magic Seat and a mode that will coach you to drive more efficiently. Spend more and you can get satellite and HD radio, a blindspot camera, navigation and a 7-inch touchscreen.
Like most subcompacts, the Fit is noisy at speed, and the engine drones at an unpleasant note on the highway. On the other hand, that cargo space is incredible and makes the Fit one of the best hatchbacks you can buy.
3. Volkswagen GTI
The Volkswagen GTI does everything the standard Golf can do, but faster. The GTI is the original "hot hatch" and it continues to be one of the best all-around cars you can buy for less than $30,000. The GTI has the most space of any compact hatchback, it's comfortable, it's fuel efficient, and the 210 horsepower turbo four is quick enough to be fun, but not enough to get you in trouble before you realize it. The interior is refined, but there are quirky touches like a golf-ball shaped shifter and plaid seats in the base trim; higher trims can feel downright luxurious. The 2016 GTI also comes standard with VW's new and much-improved MIB II infotainment system that features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and a rearview camera. Higher trim levels and optional packages provide features such as adjustable suspension, performance brakes, a differential that seems to defy physics, adaptive headlights, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and a panoramic sunroof. The GTI's DSG dual clutch transmission is the benchmark for the business, changing gears quicker than you can blink.
The primary downside to the GTI is that it can get pricy when you start looking at higher trim levels and add in option packages, and other hot hatches offer more power. That being said, no other hatchback offers performance, comfort, practicality and a high degree of overall experience like the GTI can. The original hot hatch is still on top.
4. Ford Focus
The Ford Focus is a great-looking car with a great interior, and a great choice of engines at a great price. The interior uses a lot of quality materials, and the European-developed chassis makes the Focus a great handling car as well. The Focus also offers Ford's new SYNC 3 infotainment system, a vast improvement over previous iterations of the operating system that's been made much more user-friendly. Other options include hands-free parallel parking, voice-activated commands, driver assistance aids like lane assist, and a rearview camera. The Focus notably offers a wide spectrum of engines (and a motor) across the various trims. The standard engine is a 160 horsepower four cylinder, but a tiny and efficient 123 horsepower 1.0 L turbo three cylinder is available as an option. The Focus ST hot-hatch gets a 2.0 L turbo four that cranks out 252 horsepower, and the brand-new Focus RS gets a 2.3 L turbo four that sends a whopping 350 horsepower to all four wheels. There's even a Focus Electric that offers 74 miles of range, which is about par with other pure electrics, save for the Chevy Bolt and Teslas.
Unfortunately, the primary drawback of the Focus is a big one. The Ford Powershift dual clutch automatic transmission is atrociously unrefined and can be frustrating to drive at lower speed or when you're stuck in traffic. There's an easy way way to get around this problem though: Get the one with three pedals. Driving a stick is easier to live with than you think, and it's not hard to learn.