What a long, strange trip it's been for the hatchback in the American marketplace. Back in the 1970s, many of the first hatchbacks sold to American buyers were bare-bones econo-boxes, but they sold well enough, because of their low price and practicality.

But as tastes shifted and big-boy SUVs steamrolled onto the scene in the '90s, hatchbacks lost popularity. Now that gas prices are through the roof, SUVs have fallen out of favor, creating an opening for hatchbacks to make a comeback. Many buyers still like the versatility of having a fifth door and flexible cargo-hauling capacity.

Consumer Reports magazine recently published their latest round of hatchback ratings, so this seemed like a good time to take a look at their choices for the top-rated hatchbacks and to add a few more of our own. CR based their ratings on their own road test scores.

What follows is a gallery of 12 of the top hatchbacks on the market today. The first six are the ones CR chose as their top six picks. The second six are some of our alternative choices -- some of which also appeared in CR's rankings, but lower on their list.

Since safety is sometimes a concern with smaller cars, we also included the driver crash-test ratings provided by the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority for those vehicles where data was available -- with a five-star rating being the highest.

1 - Volkswagen Rabbit

MSRP: $15,600 - $17,575 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 29 mpg Hwy, 22 mpg City

NHTSA Crash Rating: Four Stars* (* 2007 Model)

The VW Rabbit held the top spot in Consumer Reports' recent hatchback ratings. The Rabbit, which in another life was dubbed the Golf, is "well-equipped and enjoyable to drive," CR reported, with "agile handling, versatile interior and commendable fit and finish." The Rabbit also got high marks for reliability, and is powered by a 170-hp five-cylinder engine.

2 - Toyota Prius Touring

MSRP: $21,500 - $23,770 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 45 mpg Hwy, 48 mpg City

NHTSA Driver's Crash Rating: Four Stars

Coming in second behind the VW Rabbit is America's most popular hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius. Consumer Reports chose the Touring trim, but it's also available as a standard and base. CR liked that the Prius had "excellent fuel economy, decent acceleration, good interior room ... and a well-controlled ride ... that is steady and composed" on the highway. It gets power from its synergy of a 1.5-liter gas engine and an electric motor which delivers a combined hp rating of 110. The Prius hatchback is roomy, handles very well, and offers power mirrors, remote keyless entry, and a tilt steering wheel as standard equipment.

3 - Mazda3 Grand Touring

MSRP: $13,995 - $20,295 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 32 mpg Hwy, 24 mpg City

NHTSA Driver's Crash Rating: Four Stars

Taking third spot in the Cosumer Reports ratings is one of the most fun-to-drive cars in the sub-compact class, the Mazda Mazda 3. CR chose the top of the line trim, although it also comes in the entry-level "i"model. The Mazda3 is powered by a 156-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, it handles like a dream, has one of the nicest interiors in this class and is reasonably priced.

4 - Subaru Impreza Outback Sport

MSRP: $19,995 - $19,995 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 27 mpg Hwy, 20 mpg City

NHTSA Driver's Crash Rating: Five Stars

The fourth pick from Consumer Reports is the Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. Offering a rugged appeal, sporty handling and a spacious interior, CR noted that this redesigned '08 edition is "noticeably improved" over the previous version, and that "the comfortable ride is impressive." Its standard AWD features means it can traverse snowy roads with ease. A five-passenger vehicle, its power comes from a 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

5 - 2009 Toyota Matrix S (tie)

MSRP: $16,190 - $20,660 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 29 mpg Hwy, 21 mpg City

NHTSA Driver's Crash Rating: Five Stars

5 - 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT (tie)

MSRP: $15,400 - $20,000 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 28 mpg Hwy, 21 mpg city

NHTSA Driver's Crash Rating: Five Stars

The fifth spot was a tie between these two 2009 models -- they're both based on the Toyota Corolla sedan, and are "essentially the same car," noted CR. They're tallish hatchbacks, and Consumer Reports was impressed that their "added height gives it more passenger and cargo space than most competitors." CR chose the mid-line Matrix S and the Vibe GT, both of which come with the larger 2.4-liter engine, which means these two puppies are a little quicker off the dime than some other entries in this class.

6 - Scion xB

MSRP: $15,750 - $15,750 || Get a Price Quote

Fuel Economy Range: 28 mpg Hwy, 22 mpg City

NHTSA Driver's Crash Rating: Four Stars

"Funky and boxy" are two of the terms Consumer Reports used to describe the '08 Scion xB, which has expanded its dimensions since the early days of the model. It's now two inches wider and a foot longer. The new 2.4 cylinder engine "performs much better" than the old plant, CR noted, adding that, as a result, its fuel economy has dipped. CR liked its "enormous" rear seat, "generous" cargo area and "easy cabin access." Power comes from a 158-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual as standard.

Next Page: Volkswagen R32, Dodge Caliber SRT4, Chevrolet HHR SS, Volvo C30, Mini Cooper Clubman & Chrysler PT Cruiser Limited


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