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.
Ford Fiesta ST
Ford introduced the potent Focus ST last year to great accolades from enthusiasts. The blue-oval brand is now following up that success by doubling the same recipe with its smallest hatch, the Fiesta. Ford has thus crammed a potent turbocharged engine, snug Recaro sport seats, tightened suspension bits, bigger and gummier tires, and all manner of metallic trim into a balanced package that's rumored to be the most fun small car on the market. [Base price: $21,400; ford.com]