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.
Chevrolet Spark EV
The fastest version of Chevy's smallest vehicle is also, counterintuitively, the greenest. Due to the thrusty nature of electric motors – which create gobs of potent torque as soon as you touch the gas pedal – this all-electric Spark lights a fire, accelerating to 60 miles per hour almost four seconds faster than its petroleum-powered sibling. With an 82-mile range, an affordable base price, and an optional fast charger that can juice up the entire battery pack in just 20 minutes, it's as good an argument for an electric commuter car as any. [Base price: $26,685; $19,185 after $7,500 federal rebate; chevrolet.com]