The sporty hatchback has been around for nearly 50 years – many experts date its production genesis back to the MGB-GT of 1965. But its American market primacy likely peaked in the mid-1980s, when the body configuration accounted for nearly 40 percent of new vehicle sales. It's pretty much been in popular local decline since then.
Yet as Americans begin paying attention to issues like fuel economy, practicality, and the efficient use of space, hatches are gaining in popularity once again. But these vehicles aren't the punishing forms of debtors' prison they once were. They're increasingly the most interesting and innovative segment of the market. To prove this, we've selected nine of the latest lift-back models, each of which fits squarely in the category but busts out of the, ahem, box in unusual ways.
BMW's new i sub-brand is dedicated to creating vehicles that are made of innovative materials, motivated by innovative powertrains, styled in an innovative idiom, and created to appeal to innovative urban dwellers worldwide. The i3 is its first production vehicle: a sporting, rear-wheel-drive, electric-powered hatchback with funky center-opening rear doors, carbon-fiber body panels, exotic alloy underpinnings, and hemp-reinforced plastic interior trim. It can go 80 to 100 balanced miles on batteries alone. Equip it with the tiny gasoline-powered range-extending onboard charger and you can double that. [Base price: $42,275; with range extender, $46,125; less $7,500 federal rebate: $34,775–$38,625; bmw.com]