The Volkswagen Golf stands out as the best hatchback you can buy. It’s all the car you’re likely to need, unless you regularly haul a group of people, or a ton of gear. It’s well-built, it drives well, and it’s available with a long list of tech features including a digital instrument cluster, plus cutting-edge electronic driving aids.
The hatchback segment is relatively small in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped our reviewers from driving every model that competes in it to find the best one. If you’re not sold on the Golf, there are other great hatchbacks to choose from including the Mini Hardtop, the Honda Fit, and the Chevrolet Bolt.
Why should you buy this: The Golf ticks every box in the mainstream hatchback segment.
Who’s it for: Anyone who just needs a car.
How much will it cost: $24,115+
Why we picked the Volkswagen Golf:
The Volkswagen Golf hasn’t been the best-selling car in Germany for decades by accident. Now well into its seventh generation, Volkswagen’s most popular nameplate continues to offer one of the best interiors in its class, a generous amount of trunk space, and agile handling at an attractive price point.
The Golf speaks tech, too. All but the lowest trims come with a state-of-the-art infotainment system displayed on a color touch screen, and the list of options includes driving aids such as a lane departure warning system, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control. You can even get a digital instrument cluster, which is normally found on much more expensive cars.
Volkswagen offers several variants of the hatchback Golf. Buyers in select states can pick up an all-electric model called the e-Golf capable of driving for up to 125 miles on a single charge. At the other end of the spectrum, the iconic GTI is one of the very best hot hatches money can buy. Finally, the Golf R tugs at the heartstrings of speed aficionados with a 300-horsepower turbo four and all-wheel drive.
A new, eighth-generation Golf was recently unveiled for the European market, but it’s unclear if it will be sold in the United States. Given the limited market for hatchbacks in the U.S., VW may not import the standard Golf. Redesigned GTI and Golf R performance models are already confirmed for the U.S., however.
Best premium hatchback
Why should you buy this: Cheap it ain’t, but it’s hard to beat in terms of style and handling.
Who’s it for: Those willing to pay more to get more.
How much will it cost: $24,250+
Why we picked the Mini Hardtop:
The Mini Hardtop embodies the concept of form over function. It wears a retro-chic design inspired by the original Mini introduced in England all the way back in 1959. It’s much bigger than its truly Lilliputian predecessor though, and it uses time-tested mechanical components borrowed from the BMW parts bin.
Don’t let its humble roots fool you, the Mini is far from an economy car. It boasts a surprisingly spacious cabin built using premium materials, and it’s offered with features you’d usually find on cars positioned in the next segment up. Notably, buyers can deck out the Hardtop with a moon roof, parking sensors on both ends, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, and adaptive cruise control, however these options inflate the price significantly.
The lineup includes several variants, including two- and four-door hatchbacks and a range-topping John Cooper Works model tuned to pump out 228 ponies. Mini will soon top that with a 306-hp GP model, and will launch an all-electric model as well.
Chevrolet Bolt EV
Best electric hatchback
Why should you buy this: With the Bolt, you’ll never have to stop for gas again.
Who’s it for: Eco-conscious motorists.
How much will it cost: $37,495+
Why we picked the Chevrolet Bolt EV:
The Bolt EV is Chevrolet’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. It’s not the only electric hatchback on the market, but it’s one of the few that’s not designed as a compliance car to satisfy California’s draconian clean air regulations. Simply put, it’s better engineered than most.
Sold all across the nation, the Bolt EV is capable of driving for up to 259 miles on a single charge, which places it well ahead of the Nissan Leaf and most other competition. Plugging it into a 240-volt charger replenishes about 25 miles of driving per hour, though using a fast charger yields 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes.
Drivetrain aside, the Bolt EV excels as a hatchback; it’s a good car that just happens to run on a large battery. Its low trunk floor can accommodate a grocery trip’s worth of bags, and even taller drivers can comfortably drive it on a daily basis. An elegant-looking cabin and a whisper-quiet ride remind the passengers that they’re not burning gasoline to get to their destination.
Best all-wheel drive hatchback
Why should you buy this: Subaru’s time-tested all-wheel drive system make the Impreza more capable than many crossovers.
Who’s it for: Winter warriors.
How much will it cost: $19,595+
Why we picked the Subaru Impreza:
The Impreza is gifted with Subaru’s well-regarded permanent all-wheel drive system. It’s certainly no off-roader, but it tackles harsh winter conditions with the kind of aplomb that many of its rivals can only dream of. To sweeten the deal, all-wheel drive is included in the price on all trim levels.
The Impreza’s cabin is a basic but pleasant place to travel in. It’s spacious, well-built, and its Starlink infotainment system is one of the more straight-forward units on the market. There is virtually no learning curve involved. Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist tech is also standard on all models, as long as you get the continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of the five-speed manual.
The trade-off is that the Impreza’s flat-four engine lacks a bit of pep. It’s consequently not as brisk as other hatchbacks on the market, and the four-cylinder eagerly makes its presence known in the cabin, especially at higher revs. Still, if you routinely drive on snow or ice, the Impreza should be at the top of your list.
Best luxury hatchback
Why should you buy this: It’s a Porsche that lets you hug curves with the whole family.
Who’s it for: Connoisseurs who need four seats.
How much will it cost: $88,550+
Why we picked the Porsche Panamera:
Who says a hatchback needs to be cheap? The Porsche Panamera probably isn’t what comes to mind when the term “hatchback” meanders its way into a conversation, but it certainly qualifies as one. The cargo compartment is accessed via a roof-hinged door, not a lid that flips up.
The Panamera drives like a Porsche, it accelerates like one, and this time around it finally looks like one; it’s almost a four-door 911, minus the rear-mounted engine, of course. The treatment continues inside, where it feels like a coupe until you look back and notice it has rear doors.
Porsche offers numerous variants of the Panamera, including V6-, V8-, and hybrid-powered variants. All offer above-par handling and a five-star interior.
Volkswagen Golf R
Best hot hatch
Why should you buy this: The hottest Golf perfects the concept of a hot hatch.
Who’s it for: Grown-up enthusiasts seeking performance without compromising versatility.
How much will it cost: $41,290+
Why we picked the Volkswagen Golf R:
With about 300 hp from a 2.0-liter turbo four, the all-wheel drive Golf R is an impressive car on paper. It’s even more so on a twisty back road, where it delights with a responsive engine and scalpel-sharp handling. It packs enough power to let the driver have a blast behind the wheel, but not enough to be intimidating or overwhelming.
We also like that it’s low-key. Volkswagen’s design department refrained from fitting silly wings and ostentatious spoilers. It’s not the kind of car that’s going to draw unwanted attention everywhere it goes. Even the exhaust note is surprisingly restrained.
There are other great hot hatches in the Golf R’s segment; the Ford Focus RS proved itself a worthy adversary, during its brief production run, and the Honda Civic Type R remains one of the best examples of the genre. But the Golf R has a unique combination of sportiness and refinement.
Best subcompact hatchback
Why should you buy this: The Honda Fit proves basic transportation doesn’t have to feel like a life sentence.
Who’s it for: Folks who think size matters, and smaller is better.
How much will it cost: $17,120+
Why we picked the Honda Fit:
The Honda Fit is one of the most practical small hatchbacks on the market today. It’s tiny enough to zip through even the narrowest streets, but it hauls lengthy and bulky items with ease thanks to a cleverly-packaged interior.
It defies the label “econobox” with a modern-looking interior built using materials that are nice to touch and look at. It’s surprisingly roomy, too; four adults can ride in the Fit without feeling cramped.
The Fit uses a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 130 hp. That’s decent for the segment, but more impressive is its fuel economy, which checks in at up to 41 mpg on the highway. The little Honda’s combination of interior space and good gas mileage makes a compelling argument against ever-popular crossovers. You can also get a Fit for less than a Honda HR-V, which shares the same platform. As an all-arounder, the Fit is hard to beat.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
- The best front-wheel-drive cars
- The best cars for 2019
- The best commuter cars for 2019
- The best tuner cars for 2019
- Hands on with the Taycan 4S