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.
The original Mini Cooper of the 1960s was one of the original hot hatches, and its millennial revival in the early 2000s is credited with helping to engender America's love of sporty, premium small cars. So it should come as no surprise that the latest generation of this aerodynamically boxy hatchback – which was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show – adheres to precisely the same formula as the previous two: decidedly retro-styled but a bit more rounded, and with handsomely rendered details such as the halo-encircled headlamps. The big news is under the hood, where a high-output, turbocharged three-cylinder engine takes the place of the traditional four-cylinder, enhancing efficiency. Will this usher in a new era of fun, potent three-cylinder engines? It might. [Starting around $20,000 and escalating rapidly; miniusa.com]