Kyle Henderson (writer)
Elsewhere in the world, hatchbacks are ubiquitous. From Tokyo to Wolfsburg, they gamely fulfill their utilitarian purposes as people, uh, do whatever it is people do in other countries. Here in America, however, drivers have typically shunned small, fuel-efficient cars. That, of course, is quickly changing—but it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the very American need for speed. Luckily, carmakers have provided us with practical hatchbacks that also happen to go very fast.
Volkswagen GTI : The GTI has long been an icon in Europe, where sport hatches can command the same kind of chest-thumping respect that muscle cars do here. (“Kick-ass hatchback, bro!” sounds much better in German.) But the GTI has its own army of devotees here in the States as well—and the sixth generation lives up to the legacy. For starters, it looks great. Subtle design tweaks—a thinner grill, a wider-seeming stance—combine to make a powerful statement that this is a go-fast car. Yet at the same time, the GTI also feels more refined than ever. Its signature checkerboard upholstery pattern graces seats that are bolstered perfectly for the twisties yet comfy enough to accommodate Granny’s lumbago, while the cabin feels far more Euro luxury than racer-boy chic. A 2.0-liter, 197 horsepower turbocharged I-4 provides 206 lb-ft of torque. And while you can’t go wrong with the six-speed manual tranny, VW’s dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission’s Sport mode redlines the engine with alarming regularity. And by “alarming” we of course mean “awesome.”
Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart : The new five-door version of the Lancer sedan was originally intended for Asian and European markets only. But thanks to the planet-wide economic implosion—or just merciful benevolence—the suits at the Japanese automaker decided the U.S. market was a good fit. Maybe that’s because it’s a car that can just about do it all. The hatch is actually half an inch longer than its sedan cousin, providing more than 49 cubic feet of storage space after a quick adjustment of the folding split rear seat. That’s plenty of room for a bike, some lumber, or a kidnapped WNBA power forward. The car may be all business in the back, but its mean-looking nose announces that it’s got plenty of party in the front. Underneath the Ralliart’s hood, a 2.0-liter, 237 horsepower turbocharged powerplant (the base engine differs) churns out 253 lb-ft of torque—respectable numbers despite the fact that the hatch outweighs the sedan by 44 pounds. Power is delivered to all four wheels thanks to the Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST, for those scoring at home), the same tranny used in the demonic Lancer Evolution. The net result? You’ll be the only person leaving Home Depot while flogging his magnesium paddle shifters.