• Image Credit: MINI

Hatchbacks may well be the best-kept secret in the auto industry. Affordable, fun, versatile and very fuel efficient, the hatchback often functions as a great combination of a crossover and sedan. They can be perfect for small families, couples or singles alike. And they are especially useful for the first-time car buyer, perhaps the young driver going off to college.

We have a hard time understanding why American buyers haven't liked them as much as we, or Europeans, do. Maybe that is changing, though, because there are more hatches being offered today than we have seen in many years.

Given all of their inherent selling points, we think that a hatchback should be one of the first things many car buyers test drive.

To back up our claim, we've compiled a list of eight of the best hatchbacks on the market right now. These are all well under $30,000, are great to drive, get very good fuel economy and offer a level of versatility that a sedan simply cannot match. Click through and see if we can change you perception of the 3- and 5-door hatch.

  • Image Credit: Subaru

8. Subaru Impreza Hatchback

MSRP: $17,995
Invoice: $17,198
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway

Not too sexy, but so darn reliable and capable that it has to make out list of recommended hatches. We especially like the choice of the Impreza for parents buying graduation presents for their college-bound kids.

All new for the 2012 model year, the Impreza has been refined inside without losing any of its rugged reliability. The standard all-wheel-drive system in Subarus means that the car will serve anyone well, but especially the teen driver heading back to a New England or Great Lakes colleges where snows and icy roads can develop at any time.

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  • Image Credit: Ford

7. Ford Fiesta Hatchback

MSRP: $14,200
Invoice: $13,668
Fuel Economy: 29 mpg City, 39 mpg Highway

The Ford Fiesta Hatchback is stylish, fuel efficient and versatile. The 1.6 liter engine isn't our favorite powerplant in the category, it offers more than enough pep to get you from A to B just fine. We'd rather have 39 mpg on the Highway than a few extra horsepower.

Starting at just over $14,000, the Fiesta Hatchback is a great value, coming with lots of standard features as well as a plethora of options, like an option for Ford's SYNC handsfree telematics system.

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  • Image Credit: Fiat

6. Fiat 500 Abarth

MSRP: $22,000
Invoice: $21,145
Fuel Economy: 28 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway

The Fiat 500 is a love-hate car with a lot of buyers, and even within the staffs of AOL Autos and Autoblog.

We are recommending the latest version of the 500 to be introduced, the Abarth, which is powered by a turbo-charged 1.4 liter four cylinder.

The wee 500 is an import from Italy, though it is built in Mexico for the North American market. The styling is fun inside and out. And, when considering the 500, we also like the 500C, the convertible version of this Euro hatch.

While it doesn't have a track record yet in the U.S. for quality and reliability, we can attest to the fact the cars we have had have certainly felt well-screwed together. Materials have also been well chosen and fitted.

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  • Image Credit: GM

5. Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback

MSRP: $14,800
Invoice: $14,430
Fuel Economy: 26 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway

Seldom has a company replaced a vehicle no one particularly loved with one that almost everyone seems to like as has been done in the case of the Chevy Sonic.

The Sonic replaced the dreaded Aveo in the Chevy lineup, and we couldn't be more pleased. Not only do we very much like the interior upgrades from the Aveo, but the tuning of the 1.8 liter 4 cylinder engine in the Sonic is a winner with us as well.

Starting price of less than $15,000 makes it one of the least expensive of the hatches we are recommending.

The fuel economy of 26/35 is good, but could be better if Chevy could trim a bit of weight and maybe go down on the displacement of the engine. Honda gets along with a 1.5 liter. How about it Chevy?

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  • Image Credit: Mazda

4. Mazda3 Hatchback

MSRP: $19,300
Invoice: $18,462
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 38 mpg Highway

The Mazda3 is a perennial favorite of ours. It doesn't get top billing simply because it lacks some of the state-of-the-art in-car communications we like. But it drives great -- it's a car that really likes to be tossed around a bit on the road. The new Skyactiv technology that boosts fuel economy is very welcome too.

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  • Image Credit: Hyundai

3. Hyundai Veloster

MSRP: $17,450 - $21,950
Invoice: $16,842 - $20,898
Fuel Economy: 28 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway

The Hyundai Veloster is a car that is growing on us. As in the case of the MINI Cooper, we prefer the turbo-charged version.

When the Veloster was first introduced to us on the auto show circuit, some thought it was odd duck with its one rear door, and an answer to a question no one was asking. But the solid reception of the car by the media and the public shows that clever and expressive styling is always welcome.

All that combined with Hyundai's warranty and quality ratings makes it a leading choice in the hatchback arena for us.

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  • Image Credit: MINI

2. MINI Cooper

MSRP: $19,500 - $24,950
Invoice: $17,632 - $22,537
Fuel Economy: 29 mpg City, 37 mpg Highway

European car companies know that hatchbacks can and should be fun. Enter the MINI Cooper, just about the most fun we think anyone can have driving a hatchback priced under $30,000.

We prefer the turbo-charged version of the 1.4 liter four cylinder engine and the manual transmission, but the automatic works nicely too.

There is so much fun in the styling. It looks awesome in your driveway, and as you drive it. The fuel economy is excellent at 29/37. Owning a MINI is a statement, and if you buy into the MINI gear to go with your car, it's really a lifestyle and fashion choice.

MINI does not top the prevailing lists for reliability, but we think that is splitting hairs. The cars have proven to be very reliable and the dealer experience is excellent. We love the fact that MINI offers a bike, as well as loaner cars, if you leave your car for service.

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  • Image Credit: Honda

1. Honda Fit

MSRP: $15,325 - $17,060
Invoice: $14,926 - $16,607
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway

The Honda Fit has the benefit of one of Honda's best engines -- the 1.5 liter four-cylinder. Whether mated to a manual transmission or the automatic, it has plenty of pickup and pop from a standing start, and delivers 27/33 fuel economy. Our real-life driving fuel economy has been more like 36 mpg in mixed driving.

The Fit is also deceptively roomy inside, creating a cavernous storage area when you put the second row of seats down. It makes us think of packing our stuff off to college, making the Fit one of our top picks for a back-to-college car. But it remains top of the heap for us for hatchbacks.

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