Are SUVs truly better than hatchbacks like many people believe? Find out in our detailed hatchback vs SUV comparison guide.
SUVs have been outselling hatchbacks in Europe and other parts of the world where both vehicle types are popular, which probably isn’t surprising considering that they are essentially hatchbacks with additional capabilities.
But does the average driver need those capabilities? Is he or she buying an SUV out of necessity or want? Hatchbacks are the superior option in several key metrics, so what gives?
If you’re having a hard time deciding which body style to get, our SUV vs hatchback comparison guide provides an overview of each vehicle type, highlights their pros and cons, and pits them against each other using nine decision factors to help you make the best choice for your needs.
Difference Between Hatchback And SUV
Of course, we can’t address the hatchback vs SUV debate without first introducing the contestants. This section provides a general overview of the two body styles and what they have to offer.
What Is A Hatchback?
Everything you need to know about hatchbacks can be found in AuoTribute’s detailed Hatchback buying guide.
Hatchbacks have traditionally been defined as small, boxy passenger cars with a two-box configuration and a cargo door that swings upwards. One box (compartment) contains and encloses the engine, while the other is shared between the passenger and cargo areas (there is no separate and enclosed trunk).
Unlike sedans/saloons, which have a trunk door that’s hinged below the rear window, hatchbacks have a roof-hinged rear door that opens upwards to grant access to the cargo area. Moreover, their rear seats can usually be folded down to boost cargo capacity.
Hatchbacks are otherwise mechanically similar to sedans and other passenger cars, meaning they are fairly lightweight, have a low ride height, source their power from small powertrains, and are typically not offered with all-wheel drive.
If you’re looking for good reasons to buy a hatchback, here are the biggest benefits of owning one.
- Space efficiency: Hatchbacks are small on the outside but surprisingly big on the inside. Their boxy shape and absence of a divide between the passenger and cargo areas make them very good cargo-haulers.
- Ride, handling. Compared to larger vehicle types, hatchbacks have compact, lightweight bodies and a low center of gravity that make them very easy to drive and park and comfortable to ride in.
- Fuel efficiency. Hatchbacks are one of the smallest and lightest vehicle classes and, therefore, most fuel-efficient.
- Price, costs. Hatchbacks are very cheap to buy and run. In addition to being fuel-efficient, they are inexpensive to maintain and repair.
Should You Buy A Hatchback?
Hatchbacks serve as an affordable, lightweight, and fuel-efficient way of making the most of not much. They are a great option for those looking for a spacious, easy-to-drive, and relatively inexpensive everyday vehicle.
What Is An SUV?
SUVs are for all intents and purposes hatchback with additional perks. They have a two-boxy design layout in which the passenger and cargo areas are one volume, a roof-hinged rear door for accessing the cargo area, and folding rear seats.
The main difference is that SUVs tend to be bigger, taller, and heavier vehicles with higher ground clearance and most models are offered with all-wheel drive. They can be classified into two types — those built like pickup trucks (“traditional” SUVs) and those built like passenger cars (crossover SUVs).
Understandably, of the two SUV types, crossovers are the most like hatchbacks. In fact, most models are conventional hatchbacks that have been modified to look and sometimes behave more like traditional SUVs.
SUVs have quickly become the most popular car body style. Here are the top reasons why people are buying them in droves.
- More space: The larger size and boxy, space-maximizing shape of SUVs result in quite a lot of interior and cargo room. They can often seat passengers more comfortably and carry more cargo than most other types of cars.
- Better visibility. Because most SUVs have a tall body and sit high off the ground, they offer the driver a great view of the road ahead.
- Driving. SUVs can drive over difficult terrain relatively easily thanks to their high ground clearance, and most models are offered with all-wheel drive, which improves traction in inclement weather.
- Towing. SUVs, especially truck-based models, usually have a strong, heavy build and powerful engines that allow them to easily tow heavy items such as boats and camper trailers. They are great for road trips.
- Safety. People feel safer in SUVs because of their larger and heavier build and the commanding view of the road they provide.
Should You Buy An SUV?
SUVs are very practical and versatile vehicles that offer a lot of interior and cargo room, great visibility, and impressive performance, but most people don’t have a real need for their extra capabilities. They make the most sense for individuals or families who live in an area with bad roads and inclement weather, often go off-roading, or regularly tow heavy loads.
Hatchback Vs SUV Comparison
The previous section should have provided you with a clear understanding of what hatchbacks and SUVs are what they have to offer. In this section, we compare the two body styles using nine important buying criteria to help you determine the right one for your needs.
It must be noted that this comparison mostly considers compact and subcompact SUVs and hatchbacks and nothing bigger. Midsize and full-size hatchbacks do exist; however, they tend to be liftback sedans and not hatchbacks in the most conventional sense.
If you’re looking for a large family vehicle, read our SUV vs minivan comparison guide.
Even though hatchbacks and SUVs have the same two-box design layout, SUVs typically have larger, taller bodies that grant them more interior and cargo room.
A compact SUV will generally have more overall room than a compact hatchback; however, a compact hatchback will be more spacious than a subcompact SUV.
Then there is fact that many larger SUVs offer three-rows of seats and can accommodate 7-8 passengers, while hatchbacks are limited to only two rows and five passengers
If you have a large family or place a premium on interior comfort, an SUV is usually the better choice.
The higher ride height of SUVs makes getting in and out of them and loading child seats easier. Whereas low-riding vehicles such as hatchbacks require you to crouch, you don’t sink into them.
Loading items into the cargo area is also easier with SUVs since their elevated load floor is more leveled with a person’s hips and requires less bending to access.
Hatchbacks are easier and more fun to drive than SUVs. Having a lighter body with smaller proportions makes them nimbler, while their lower center of gravity results in less body roll when cornering.
Hatchbacks are also easier to park, making them great vehicles for urban living.
The higher ride height and seating position of SUVs grants drivers a more commanding view of the road ahead, which is particularly handy when driving in crowded urban environments.
Riding higher than other motorists can also be an ego boost for many drivers.
SUVs are generally more capable vehicles than hatchbacks. Their higher ground clearance makes driving on rough roads and terrain easier and most models are offered with an all-wheel or four-wheel drive system for added traction.
SUVs also tend to have better towing capabilities, and robust models can tow heavy loads such as campers and boats with ease.
By contrast, hatchbacks sit low to the ground and only a few models offer all-wheel drive, making them less suited for off-roading driving in inclement weather (eg. wet, muddy, snow, or icy roads). Towing large, heavy items with them can also be an issue.
The lighter curb weight of hatchbacks makes them the more fuel-efficient option.
It’s basic physics: The smaller and lighter something is, the less energy is required to move it. With hatchbacks, you’ll be paying less at the pump or, in the case of electric vehicles, charging stations.
Hatchbacks are safer than they have ever been, but SUVs have an advantage in collisions. Thanks to their larger size and greater mass, they are better able to absorb impacts in head-on crashes with smaller vehicles, subjecting all riders to less force.
According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study that analyzed the collision results of a sample of 2015 to 2018 model year vehicles, small SUVs equipped with all-wheel drive have a death rate that’s 2-5 times lower than small sedans and hatchbacks.
Most hatchbacks are cheaper than comparable subcompact and compact SUVs. For example, the Volkswagen Golf hatchback is about 8 to 12 percent cheaper than the similarly-sized Volkswagen Tiguan crossover SUV even though both models are mechanically similar.
Basically, for the same price, the average hatchback will get you more tech, safety, and convenience features than the average SUV.
Cost Of Ownership
The lower average purchase price and better fuel-efficiency of hatchbacks make them cheaper to own over the long run than SUVs.
Replacing things such as tires is also cheaper with hatchbacks since they use smaller tires, but insurance can be a toss-up between the two body styles.
Hatchback Vs SUV FAQs
The answers to the following questions summarize many of the key points made in this SUV vs hatchback comparison guide.
Are SUVs Better Than Hatchbacks?
SUVs are not necessarily better than hatchbacks, but they have several unique advantages that make them a great choice for a subset of car buyers.
If you live in an area with bad roads or inclement weather, the high ground clearance and off-roading capabilities of SUVs will be of great benefit. Otherwise, for a lower price, a comparably-sized hatchback will offer nearly as much interior and cargo room, a better driving experience, and better fuel-efficiency.
Are Hatchbacks Easier To Drive Than SUVs?
Yes. The more compact dimensions, lighter curb weight, and lower center of gravity of hatchbacks make them easier to drive and park than comparable compact and subcompact SUVs, especially in tight urban spaces.
That’s not to say SUVs can’t be easy and fun-to-drive — they can. It’s just that their bigger bodies, greater mass, and higher center of gravity undermines their ride and handling.
Is An SUV Safer Than A Hatchback?
Studies have shown that SUVs are much safer than small cars such as hatchbacks and sedans. Their larger size, greater mass, and higher ground clearance mean they take less of the brunt of collisions with smaller vehicles, thus providing more protection for the driver and passengers.
The higher center of gravity of SUVs makes them more prone to roll-over incidents, however.
As you can see from our detailed breakdown and comparison of SUVs and hatchbacks, the fact that SUVs are now the most popular class of vehicles doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best option for you. The decision to get one over the other will come down to your needs and preferences.
Hatchbacks are generally more affordable and easier to drive and park, deliver better fuel economy, and have lower operating costs than SUVs. Consider getting one if money is tight and/or you live in an area with very limited parking.
SUVs, on the other hand, offer more interior and cargo space, and their higher ride results in better visibility and superior ground clearance for driving on rough roads and in inclement weather. Most models are also offered with all-wheel drive, which improves traction when driving in rain, mud, snow, and sand, as well as on dirt trails.
SUVs are ideal for those who desire a higher ride, require a more spacious interior and cargo area for carrying people and things and often drive in snow or on trails.
We hope that our hatchback vs SUV comparison guide provided you with all the information you need to make an informed decision. Of course, the smartest thing you can do is to give each body style a thorough test drive before spending your hard-earned money.