Let's Settle If We Call This A Hatchback Or Liftback Or Door Or What

Illustration for article titled Let's Settle If We Call This A Hatchback Or Liftback Or Door Or What
Image: Jason Torchinsky

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?

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I suppose we need to define, roughly, the sort of car we’re talking about here. It’s not a wagon—I’ve codified what that is before, and it’s not a fastback, which has a trunk, not a hatch.

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:

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Image: Jason Torchinsky

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.

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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?

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Photo: Jaguar/Classics

I’ve asked this particular question before:

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Image: Toyota
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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:

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Image: Jason Torchinsky
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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.

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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.

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Image: Toyota

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.”

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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:

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Image: Lamborghini
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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.

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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!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

DISCUSSION

Garland - Last Top Comment on Splinter

A liftback is a hatchback with a fastback profile. AKA, the best non-wagon bodystyle, both sportier looking and more practical than any sedan. And Toyota has nothing on Saab, who was king of the liftbacks.