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Iconic and trend-setting, the best hatchbacks of all time offer more than other cars in the same class. They carve their own paths and excel in multiple areas, helping to define the very standards of what a hatchback can and should do. These are the cars that consistently pop up in ‘best of’ and ‘top 10s’ lists. They are the hatchbacks that others strive to beat or emulate.
Hatchbacks are one of the most popular car types on the market and it’s easy to see why. Their compact dimensions are well-suited to modern lifestyles and city driving. Plus, they are often easier to drive compared to other vehicles like SUVs, coupes, and saloons. Typically, hatchbacks are also:
When it comes to choosing the best hatchbacks of all time, there is an impressive roster of cars available, which invariably means some truly excellent hatchbacks don’t make the list. To make sure there is a good variation, however, we’ve avoided choosing specific generations or model, instead covering the breadth of a car’s lifespan. Please, read on to see what we’ve chosen as our top 10 best hatchbacks of all time.
Introduced in 1974 and now in its eighth generation, the Volkswagen Golf is not only a long running hatchback but also a best-selling one, with over 35 million units sold. A large portion of those are UK sales, with the Golf an ever-popular model on British roads. Unsurprisingly, it is Europe’s most successful car and, perhaps also unsurprisingly, our top pick as the best hatchback of all time. But what makes it so great? From the first generation on, the Golf blends iconic styling with a high-quality interior, so it looks and feels the part. Add to that mix its strong build quality and confident badge appeal and you’d have a winning formula for any car. But this isn’t just any car. It’s a Golf, so it’s also paired with an excellent driving experience with high levels of refinement and a quiet cabin. Quite simply, it excels in every aspect that you could want from a hatchback.
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You might think our high praise of the VW Golf would leave it without competition, but it’s testament to the strength of the hatchback market that it has a number of serious rivals, although none come as close to dethroning it as the Ford Focus. In truth, if we could have a joint first place we’d put these cars side by side, that’s how great they are. Introduced in 1998, the Focus has consistently been a best seller in the segment, earning numerous awards and universal praise from the outset. In its first six years of production, it was the best-selling car in Britain every year, selling over four million units. Today, it remains a mainstay at the top of the charts in sales and ‘best of’ lists alike. The Focus has always been great value for money and one of the best hatchback cars to drive, proving a very popular choice as a driver’s car and as a family vehicle thanks to its excellent practicality. It’s also very stylish, which always adds to the appeal.
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In third place, we’d like to include the original Mini and all the exciting variations, despite the fact there are lots of differences between models and the brand was taken over by BMW in 1994 and pushed in a new direction. So for Mini enthusiasts, we agree with you, insert your favourite variant here. Indeed, few cars are as iconic as the Mini. It’s a unique vehicle, one that has been very interesting to follow over the years, with BMW transforming the brand into a premium hatchback with luxury appeal. It still enjoys the iconic diminutive styling, although it’s now at its biggest to better suit modern lifestyles. Most importantly, it still has a low centre of gravity, spritely handling, and playful agility, with a go-kart like punchiness and spring in its step. It’s a lot of fun to drive, so much so that it would’ve earned itself a spot on this list for that factor alone.
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Arriving on the scene in 1966, the Toyota Corolla is one of the longest running vehicles in automotive history, with an astonishing twelve generations to its name. Altogether, it is the world’s best-selling name plate, which is a mighty accolade to carry. Simply put, the Corolla is a phenomenon and a world-wide one at that. Each generation has built upon the success of the last, pushing new technologies, new standards, new body shapes and styling, frequently innovating and leading the segment. For a brief period from 2006, the nameplate left British shores replaced with the Auris, but it made a grand return in 2018. The latest models enjoy attractive styling, a good range of powertrains (including two hybrid variants), a roomy cabin, and an enjoyable driving experience, proving the Corolla name still represents a brilliant family car to this day.
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The hatchback of the 80s and 90s, the Ford Escort was consistently a best seller in the UK during that period. Released in 1968 as the Ford Escort Mk1, the car went on to enjoy multiple variations, with the second generation arriving in 1975, right up to the fifth and final generation of the 90s. The Mk3 marked the beginning of the hatchback body style and a new era for the car, which managed to hold its own against the VW Golf. Additionally, Ford regularly released sporty variants like the popular XR3 and XR3i, models synonymous with the style of the 80s. By the time of the Mk5, the Escort remained in demand, but its best years were certainly behind it. Then along came the iconic Ford Escort RS Cosworth, an instant legend and a fantastic high-performance, rally-bred hatchback. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to revive the fortunes of the nameplate, with later iterations lacking in appeal and the car discontinued in 2000. However, the mighty Ford Focus was the vehicle to replace the Escort, no doubt learning from its successes and failures, to become the all-round great that it is.
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Conceived by legendary engineer Ferdinand Porsche (founder of Porsche) and commissioned by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, the Beetle stared out as the Volkswagen meaning the “people’s car.” It is the vehicle that started it all for the VW brand. Fast forward over 80 years and the Beetle has enjoyed a long and prosperous history. Arriving in 1997, VW renewed the car with a new take on the design, followed by a second and third generation, with the latter being the last as the iconic Beetle is now discontinued (although in the motoring world there’s always potential for it to be revived at a later date). Nonetheless, the popular car, spanning over seven decades, enjoys truly unique and iconic styling that perfectly captures the spirit of modern retro design. It is an economical and dependable hatchback with an incredible amount of character and appeal, despite being not as practical or as good to drive as some rivals, including the VW Golf. Its characterful exterior, however, has a way of charming its way into people’s hearts.
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First released in 1972 as a very small compact car, the Honda Civic has grown over the years into the stylish hatchback of today, making it one of the longest running cars in automotive history, spanning an impressive ten generations. In many ways, the Civic still stays true to its roots, with the first model designed as an affordable, low-cost vehicle to bring motoring to the masses. The latest Civic cars continue to represent excellent value for money, enjoying a solid reputation for reliability and strong residual values. Plus, they offer great fuel economy, low running costs, and still manage to be punchy performers. All models get a lot of standard equipment and enjoy an excellent driving experience, with standout handling at the top of the segment. And then there’s the Honda Civic Type R – an amazing hot hatch, expertly balanced with precise control and incredible high-performance power.
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Once the punchline of every bad motoring joke, Skoda went from being a brand with a very poor reputation to the outstanding, reliable marque that it is today, and the Skoda Octavia was arguably the defining moment for the company’s dramatic rise to success. For aiding in a company’s complete reversal of fortunes, we think the Octavia earns its place on this list, for that alone. Released in the UK in 1998 and now in its third generation, it is also a great car in its own right, and excellent value for money. It might not be as fun to drive as others on this list, but it projects a strong and confident image and is incredibly practical too. In addition, it is a class leader when it comes to cabin space and headroom, which is why it’s still a popular choice with taxi drivers and families alike.
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The Renault 16 is the world’s first mass-produced hatchback, released in 1965. It is the car that popularised the now established body type, cementing its name in history and its place on this list. It is one of the most important cars of the 60s and the parent of modern family hatchbacks – it’s that important in the world of motoring. Innovative and pioneering, the Renault 16 noticeably stood out from the crowd as a different type of family auto, offering versatility and modularity previously unheard of in the automotive market. It was billed as a car for every aspect of life, garnering high praise from all corners of the auto industry for its outstanding engineering. The car enjoyed a good lifespan, ceasing production in 1980, but leaving its mark for the younger generations to come.
And when it comes to the best hatchbacks of all time, no list would be complete without a nod to the very first hatchback produced, the 1930s Citroen 11CV Commerciale. Without this car, perhaps the world of motoring would look different today and this list would have a different top 10 or a completely different name altogether – who knows? What we do know, however, is that the 11CV Commerciale is undeniably stunning to look at, with classic styling of a bygone era. Perhaps surprising for modern readers, the car was marketed at tradesmen, grocers, and butchers thanks to its useful boot, but of course, during this era motoring wasn’t yet available for the masses. The first Traction Avant 11CV was launched in 1935, whilst the Commerciale model in 1939 was the one to introduce a fifth door fitted at the rear for the boot – a simple design decision, with lasting effects. Prior to the Second World War, the tailgate was split into two halves, with the lower section folding down to a form a handy platform. After the war, a top-hinged (one-piece) tailgate was added once the car resumed production… And, as they say, the rest is history.
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