Should you buy a hatch or an SUV?

4 October 2017
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Ask any non-Star Wars tragic exactly what the big deal is about those damn movies that are so inexplicably popular, and you’ll get a kind of uncertain shoulder shrug in reply. It’s not that they're inherently bad (okay, Jar Jar Binks is one obvious exception), it’s more that it’s impossible for us non-believers to really grasp what the big deal is.

And to be honest, that’s how I feel about SUVs. I mean, I like them. Provided you’re in the market for an actual SUV. But as a catch-all to replace every other car type? I just don’t see it.

You can buy front-wheel drive small SUVs, for example, which are neither capable nor practical. And you can buy big-engined performance SUVs, which are forever battling against their own immense physics whenever you try to make them feel sporty. You can select two-door coupe-styled SUVs that seem a worst-of-both-worlds proposition. And, if you're particularly unhinged, you can even buy a convertible SUV.

And even at their most practical, they're often not quite as practical as a wagon or, in some cases, a good hatch.

There are areas where they truly excel, though; a higher ride height does give you a commanding view of the road, and generally speaking, the extra ground clearance works wonders should you be into off-roading (though genuine four-wheel drive capability helps, too).

They’re easier to get in and out of, and for loading child seats and the like, because you step inside, rather than sink into them. Same goes for loading cargo into the boot, which is higher and easier to access.

But in plenty of cases, a good small hatch will suit your needs just as well, plus it will be cheaper, more fun to drive and, thanks to the swelling tide of SUVs on the road, you’ll feel genuinely unique to boot.

Take Honda, for example. Hatch lovers can opt for the Civic, small SUV buyers can choose the HR-V, and mid-size shoppers can take a CR-V. But which one is the best choice?

First, price: The Civic starts at $24,990, the HR-V starts at $26,990 while the CR-V will set you back at least $33,590. So the Civic wins the price battle.

What about space? The 4596mm CR-V sits on a 2660mm wheelbase, and will swallow 522 litres of cargo with the rear seats in place, or 1669 litres with them folded flat and luggage stacked up to the roof. The HR-V is smaller, at 4294mm long and a 2610mm wheelbase, and luggage space drops to 437 litres and 1462 litres with the rear seats flattened (and luggage loaded all the way to the roof).

But here’s the weird part. The 4515mm Civic Hatch is just about bang-on the same length as the mid-size SUV. And its 2700mm wheelbase is actually longer. Which is a boon for cabin space. And while its seats-up luggage space of 414 litres is the smallest of the three, fold those rear seats and you’ll find a not-far-off-the-pace 1267 litres of space (again, stacked to the roof). It's a not-so-big compromise considering its $10k less than the CR-V.

There are other perks, too. Generally speaking, replacing things like tyres will prove cheaper on the hatch, which uses less rubber, while its lower curb weight translates to better fuel economy, too. So you’re paying less at the pump. Smaller means easier to drive, and easier to park, too, and so most hatches will have bigger SUVs covered in the city, too.

The exception to all this, of course, is if you require four-wheel drive, intend to go off-road or just enjoy the ride height and easy-loading antics of an SUV. And if that’s you, you’ll be able to choose between the many, many suitable options.

But if you don’t, there’s plenty of savings to be had by sticking to a less-fashionable hatchback instead.

Where do you stand on the hatch vs SUV debate? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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