Certain words strike fear into the heart of certain people. Say "hybrid" to a muscle-car owner and watch his lip curl in disdain. Say "minivan" to a new dad struggling to hang onto his youth and watch him turn pale.
If anything, the word "hatchback" is even worse. There's not active fear, there's just a kind of "ewwwwww" reaction. Those aren't for us, it says. Nor for anyone we know. Or anyone we'd even want to know.
And yet, quietly and steathily, hatchbacks have been making a comeback in the U.S. market.
Trunk - 2009 BMW X6-Series AWD 4-door 35i
2010 Honda Accord Crosstour
Trunk - 2010 Porsche Panamera 4-door HB 4S
Trunk - 2010 Acura ZDX AWD 4-door Advance Pkg
Trunk - 2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo 4-door Sedan 550i RWD
2009 Los Angeles Auto Show
Any name but that
It's just that you'd never know it, because they're labeled with all sorts of cleverly concealing names.
How about "sports activity coupe"? That'd be the tall, all-wheel-drive BMW X6, built on the X5 sport-utility platform but with odder looks, a chest-height tailgate, and very little headroom in the rear seat.
Approach an X6 from the rear and you'll notice that it has a tailgate that's far more horizontal than that of the X5 SUV. You might even call it a ... hatch.
But, nein, this is no such thing. It's a sports activity coupe. (Which actually has four doors, not the two that define a coupe, plus a hatch rather than a trunklid. But just ignore the man behind the curtain.)
Then there's the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour, which our Bengt Halvorson covered in a drive report yesterday. And Europeans models galore, from the steady-as-she-goes 2010 Volkswagen Golf (one of the few hatches offered consistently from the '70s) to the Volvo C30.
Even Porsche, of all makes, has gotten into the act. What exactly would you call its first-ever four-door car, the Panamera, if not a hatchback? That's no trunklid behind the doors: That's a hatch, pure and simple.
We rather like the coinage used by our Nelson Ireson, whose wrote last Friday that Infiniti and Lexus have chosen not to offer what he terms "apple-bottom hatches," which sounds pleasingly saucy to our ears.
He calls the genre the "five-door, not-quite-a-hatchback big-rear car," and adds the 2010 Acura ZDX and the 2010 BMW 5-Series Grand Turismo to the list as well.
Confirmed by the data
Recently, Ward's Auto confirmed our sense that the bustle-backs are part of a broader resurgence. Back in 1982, a full 40 percent of U.S. production was hatchbacks and station wagons, but it all went downhill from there, bottoming out at less than 6 percent in 1998.
Station wagons fell to the double whammy of minivans and SUVs, and sedans struggled to hang onto the car market while hatches just went away.
But after holding at 7.5 percent for several years, hatchbacks won 13 percent of sales last year, and should keep climbing.
It's all about Lifestyle!
Lacking the Name That Cannot Be Spoken, the word "lifestyle" always seems to crop up somewhere in the marketing jargon. That's it: They're not hatchbacks, they're "lifestyle vehicles!"
Ford, to its credit, is taking a simpler approach for the launch of its 2011 Fiesta subcompact and 2012 Focus compact, both of which offer two models: a four-door sedan and a "five-door," an adjectival phrase made into a noun because the H-word dare not speak its name.
Still, last fall, when we asked a Ford marketing executive what the company had learned about its target younger buyers' perceptions of hatchbacks, he danced mightily.
He talked about utility. He talked about lifestyle. He talked about offering multiple options to customers. And he talked about lifestyles a lot.
But never once did he say the dreaded word: hatchback.