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  • Drew Dowdell
    Drew Dowdell

    Debate: Hatchback or Wagon?

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    Drew Dowdell - January 26, 2012 - CheersandGears.com

    Yesterday on Facebook, Aaron Bragman a new friend I met at NAIAS, and I got into a friendly back and forth over whether the Audi A3 was a hatchback or a wagon. I insist that it was a wagon and Aaron insists it is a hatch. My original position is that the A3 is a wagon because of the third rear window. Aaron says no, it is an identical car to the Volkswagen GTI which couldn't be called anything but a hatch.

    Now before I go on, I'm going to preempt some of the old timers here. For the sake of this argument, we are going to use body style definitions that apply to cars post.. oh... 1980 or so. That means a sedan is a 4-door and a coupe is a 2-door regardless of the existence of b-pillars or not. For the sake of sanity, we are going to leave out anything that would be considered a cross-over..... yes, I'm looking at you BMW.

    gallery_51_134_8108.jpg

    2007 Volkswagen GTI - VW N.A.

    gallery_51_134_5192.jpg

    2008 Audi A3 - Audi N.A.

    Aaron further explains that the distinguishing factor is "...rear cargo room. It should be longer than it is tall. Which is not the case with the GTI or the A3."

    While I begin to agree, I don't think that is the entire answer.

    I started to doubt my "third window makes a wagon" criteria when I realized there were vehicles out there that were most definitely hatches yet still had a third window in the rear. The two examples that immediately come to mind are the Subaru Impreza and the Pontiac Vibe. That defeat in hand, I set out thinking how to define a hatchback opposed to a wagon.


    My next thought was about the slope of the rear of the car, thinking that a more gradual slope could be a hatch and a flat back would be a wagon. That idea immediately got torpedoed by the 1996 Roadmaster with its sloping rear glass and the Chevrolet Sonic hatch or the original GTI with their flat backs.

    I thought more about the Roadmaster as it was one of the last of the true big wagons from back in the day. What if it had been a hatch? What would a Roadmaster hatchback looked like? Had GM built a Roadmaster hatchback, they would have needed to cut the car off just behind the rear wheels! That would have made the Roadmaster hatch much shorter than the sedan; and there in was the answer.

    gallery_51_134_14018.jpg

    1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate

    So, the definitions I came up with are these:

    Wagon - a sedan that had the enclosed passenger area extended around the trunk of the vehicle losing no length in the process.

    Hatchback - A coupe or sedan that had its trunk, truncated, typically losing length.

    Going back to the A3, this definition holds true. We recently ran an article on the potential A3 sedan coming in the next generation. That sedan would end up being 6 inches longer than the A3 5-door that started this whole debate. The Impreza hatch? 173 inches compared to the 180 of the sedan. The Vibe? 171 inches compared to the 178 inches of the Corolla it was based on.

    While there may be some exceptions to the rule, I'm fairly confident that this rule will hold.

    So what do you think dear readers? Is my definition fairly sound?

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    In this time of mangled automotive terminology, your definition is as good as any.

    For me, it's as easy as taking a glance.

    The A3 is clearly a wagon, if an all but useless one.

    But then there are things like a Malibu max, what exactly would you call that?

    And we all know that the Dodge Magnum was a wagon, but Chrysler didn't call it one.

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    I suppose I'd consider it more a 5dr hatch than a wagon..the 3rd window doesn't mean much--many 5dr hatchbacks have had a 3rd side window--see the '80s US Escort, Rover 3500, Sterling, etc. Sometimes a 5dr hatch has a steeper rake to the C-pillar, sometimes not. What makes the 5dr Golf a hatchback and the wagon version (badged a Jetta in the US) a wagon? Or the 1st gen Focus--it was available as a 5dr hatch and a wagon...with the Golf/Jetta and the Focus, the wagon clearly has more rear bodywork than the 5dr..longer cargo area, longer roof.

    Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar

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    Come to think of it, "hatch" isn't much of a bodystyle classification to begin with - it's more like a feature of another bodystyle.

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    I've always gone by your latter definition, Drew, of a wagon being about the same length as a sedan of the same model and a hatchback being significantly shorter. At least for compacts. With European mid-size cars, the hatchback styles typically are the same length as sedan styles but have a sedan-like or fastback profile, so they remain very different from the wagons.

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    All of these are hatchbacks:

    Subaru Justy

    Suburban

    Nova SS

    Plymouth Duster

    International Scout Traveller

    Yugo

    3rd and 4th gen F-bodies

    Vega coupe and wagon

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    Honestly, I don't think there is a way to define it - automakers will call them whatever they think will sell better. I would venture to say there are 2 things that make something definitively a wagon though: cargo section longer than it is tall, or a 3rd row seat. Of course, either of those can come into question with "crossovers", but that comparison was thrown out in the first post.

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    if there was ever a poster child for such a discussion, the A3 is most definitely.

    i would say the A3 is like 52% hatch.

    if you look at a Focus or Astra wagon, there is so much more length behind the rear wheels than regular hatches. The A3 doesn't have too much overhang like the Focus or Astra, or Jetta wagon for that matter.

    What I think is even as entertaining for discussion are those sedans that are blending into hatches...some the BMW and Audis, or cars like the Mazda6 and Opel Insignia hatches......

    Malibu Maxx suffered in the market I feel because there was some confusion on the wagon vs. hatch bit....... the rear rake was not fast enough for a hatch and the rear did not hang over enough with an upright enough rear to be a wagon. If chevy had kept the short wheelbase on the Maxx and sloped the back glass more, we may have had a hatchback.....or citation, part duex..... or maybe even a five door cutlass salon....

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    Magnum to me was one of the most interesting evolutions of wagon design by the way, and that rear hatch and cargo area to me was one of the most useful and clever designs ever. Too bad the Magnum was a Chrysler....lol.....

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    Malibu Maxx suffered in the market I feel because there was some confusion on the wagon vs. hatch bit....... the rear rake was not fast enough for a hatch and the rear did not hang over enough with an upright enough rear to be a wagon. If chevy had kept the short wheelbase on the Maxx and sloped the back glass more, we may have had a hatchback.....or citation, part duex..... or maybe even a five door cutlass salon....

    IMHO it suffered in the market because people didn't see themselves in the market for a midsize hatch/wagon. Most people in the market for versatility at that price were shopping CR-Vs and Equinoxes.

    Also, it wasn't very versatile at all. The cargo space is shallower than the sedan mostly because you can't get taller items in due to the raking of the rear roofline. Also, pushing the wheels to the corners made the cargo area significantly more narrow and less usable. I mean it's got the biggest back seat of any car its size and I think my parents recognized it wasn't the most versatile car, but bought it based on how roomy it was.

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    I think the Malibu Maxx suffered in the market because of the ugly face (a trait of the sedan as well) but as long as you didn't look at the front, the rest of the car was kind of bulldog attractive. The interior.... well, that was another story.

    The Magnum was most certainly a wagon no matter what Dodge wants to call it. The 300C wagon was called an Estate in Europe. You don't get much more wagon than that without using the actual word.

    Interestingly, both the Commonwealth of PA and Progressive Insurance list our CR-V as a "Honda CR-V Wagon" on the respective identification cards.

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    I took crossovers out of the debate because of the pollution of the name by Honda and BMW lately.

    But here is another one to ponder:

    Ford Flex - Wagon

    Scion xB - Hatchback

    yet they have a very similar shape.

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    Interestingly, both the Commonwealth of PA and Progressive Insurance list our CR-V as a "Honda CR-V Wagon" on the respective identification cards.

    IIRC, in both the Colorado and Arizona registrations and on my State Farm insurance info my Grand Cherokee's bodystyle is listed as 'sta wag' or 'SW'. A typical 5dr CUV or SUV is basically a high riding tall wagon...

    Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar

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    Maybe the genesis of this confusion can be traced to the 70s when some wagons lost the traditional tailgate for a liftgate or hatchback. Prior to that time wagons almost always had tailgates.

    My Chevelle wagon is an example of this.

    post-394-0-52826800-1327678252.jpg

    post-394-0-03533900-1327678275.jpg

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    I don't buy that one as the 73 & up GM mid size were wagons absolutely.

    Drew I'm with you on the cargo area being longer than tall.

    Suburban and Flex are wagons also :2cents: from someone who had more wagons than most people had cars in their first decade of driving.

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    Yep, I agree. A wagon/estate has the same length as its sedan/saloon equivalent, whereas a hatchback would have a shorter rear overhang.

    An A3 sedan without a longer rear overhang would look awfully truncated.

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    Yep, I agree. A wagon/estate has the same length as its sedan/saloon equivalent, whereas a hatchback would have a shorter rear overhang.

    An A3 sedan without a longer rear overhang would look awfully truncated.

    well... it'd look like a Golf.

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    Here is the Golf/Jetta wagon....so the A3's rear overhang is between that of the 5dr Golf and this...closer to the Golf, so I'd categorize it as a hatchback. Not that it really means anything..

    A40A53DB23DC422BCC2EE9B452885.jpg

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    Yep, I agree. A wagon/estate has the same length as its sedan/saloon equivalent, whereas a hatchback would have a shorter rear overhang.

    An A3 sedan without a longer rear overhang would look awfully truncated.

    well... it'd look like a Golf.

    Huh?

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    Yep, I agree. A wagon/estate has the same length as its sedan/saloon equivalent, whereas a hatchback would have a shorter rear overhang.

    An A3 sedan without a longer rear overhang would look awfully truncated.

    well... it'd look like a Golf.

    Huh?

    I think he meant 'hatchback' instead of 'sedan'.

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    Drew Dowdell - January 26, 2012 - CheersandGears.com

    Yesterday on Facebook, Aaron Bragman a new friend I met at NAIAS, and I got into a friendly back and forth over whether the Audi A3 was a hatchback or a wagon. I insist that it was a wagon and Aaron insists it is a hatch. My original position is that the A3 is a wagon because of the third rear window. Aaron says no, it is an identical car to the Volkswagen GTI which couldn't be called anything but a hatch.

    Now before I go on, I'm going to preempt some of the old timers here. For the sake of this argument, we are going to use body style definitions that apply to cars post.. oh... 1980 or so. That means a sedan is a 4-door and a coupe is a 2-door regardless of the existence of b-pillars or not.

    Interesting discussion, but I have to ask; if we're going with the 'loosey-goosey' modern marketing terms, what's the diff? ;)

    I for one would prefer to drive a "wagon" than a "hatch".

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