Earlier today, I wrote about how there’s really only one two-door hatchback left on the American market, at least how we normally picture two-door hatchbacks. There’s also many sports cars with two doors and a hatch at the rear, and those are technically hatchbacks, too. Or are they liftbacks? Or three-door cars? I saw a lot of names for these, and I feel like we should try and decide if these terms actually mean different things. I mean, what else do you have going on right now?
Fundamentally, it’s a car, with either two or four passenger doors, that has an opening body panel at the rear that opens to a cargo area that is part of the overall interior volume, and not separated by any permanent body panels.
In the most general of terms, it’s this:
Okay. Now, let’s get to some terms. This body style is often referred to as a 3-door if it has two passenger doors, or a 5-door if it has four doors. I propose that both of these terms be eliminated, because it’s weird referring to that rear tailgate or hatch or whatever as a “door,” which we almost exclusively think of as what passengers use to get into a car.
I mean, you can get into a car via it’s rear hatch, but it’s not really how it works, and it’s almost always a pretty clumsy business that ends with you somehow punching your own nose with your knee.
I always preferred to call these two or four-door hatchbacks. Even if we agree on that, though, there’s some trickiness to the “hatch” part itself.
While I think we all agree that the upward-opening tailgate counts as a hatch, what about something like this?
I’ve asked this particular question before:
I think this still counts as a “hatch.” The more it swings sideways, the more door-ish it feels, but I think if it’s canted back at an angle of 45 degrees or more, it slips from door to hatch.
That said, I feel that nearly vertical rear doors are, somehow, a different category, conceptually:
I mean, that’s a door. I can’t see it as a hatch? I feel like if someone referred to a Discovery as having a rear hatch, this is not what I’d picture, at all. When I hear the phrase “5-door body” I’m far more likely to picture something like this Land Rover.
So, where are we? I think hatches open from the bottom up normally, but a side-opening rear is a hatch if it’s canted far enough from the vertical. If it opens from the side and is almost vertical, it’s a door, and that’s the only time 3- and 5-door makes sense.
Now let’s talk about the term “liftback.”
I mostly associate this term with Toyota, who preferred it to hatchback for many of its cars.
It’s worth noting that even in that Toyota press photo where they call the car a Liftback, they also use the term “rear cargo hatch.”
I have heard some explanations that “liftbacks” are specifically for rear hatches where they’re laying almost horizontal. I always think of the Lamborghini Espada when I think about a hatch like that:
Does it make sense to use a different term for an almost-flat hatch? and, if so, would that Toyota Liftback even make the cut, compared to, say, that Espada? I’m not really sure.
Here’s what I propose: they’re hatchbacks, whether they have two or four passenger doors, and if you want to really emphasize they’re low and sporty, you can say it’s a liftback design; maybe that’ll work well for the sports cars that don’t want to be lumped in with hatches.
And the 3- and 5-door thing I say we reserve for cars that have three or five actual door-like, nearly vertical, side-hinged doors.
We all cool with this? If not, now’s the time to make your case!