Saloon or hatchback? Which is it? Why?
From 1972 to 1984 the VW sold the Passat with the option of a 5-door as well as 2-door and five doors. Today it’s only sold as a saloon and estate. The Citroen XM came as a five-door hatchback and as a fabulously useful estate. Its predecessors and successors could only be had as saloons or estates.
All generations of the Seat Toledo, barring one have been hatchbacks. For 1999, the second generation Toledo astounded the world with its saloon format (except in Britain where it was a hatchback**). By 2004 the status quo ante resumed and remains so.
In the 1970s quite a few manufacturers experimented with the 5-door format but reverted by the early 80s. We know this. Don’t write in. That isn’t quite the focus of interest today. Underneath my saloon-to-hatch-to-saloon inquiry lies the vague idea that someone out there thinks one format is superior, some of the time. Is that true?
This question occurred to me as I saw a Passat zoom along the town centre nine days ago. You have to hand it to VW: the Passat is a pretty imposing vehicle and it is not easy to precisely define why. I have some ideas. They aren’t very well formulated and may be more noise than signal. Width, I ask speculatively? Is it the way the chrome bars flow into the wide head-lamps?
Instead of gawping at the tail-pipe’s vanishing gasses I thought: Saloon. Saloon? Why are Passats always saloons – or why have they been thus for a really long time (since 1988). In the same time period Ford and Opel (once owned by GM) have given up on saloons for their large cars. It took Opel a very long time indeed, though. The new Insignia only comes as a hatch or an estate. The Mondeo gave up its saloon form in 2014.
If we look at Renault we find that ziggy-zaggy line of cars with the 18 (1978- 1989) in the middle of it. You could only get the 18 as a four door or estate. The predecessor also had only 4 doors – and this is in the middle of the hatchback boom, kicked off by Renault themselves. The 21 started life as a saloon and ended it with the singular 21 hatchback. Does that make any kind of sense? The Renault Talisman which is nominally a descendent of the 18 has four doors or is sold as an estatoid.
Turning back to France for a moment, Citroen turned the world upside down and sideways with the hatchback XM. Nothing was the same after that, was it?
It is well known that it had a 13th piece of glass, inside the hatchback which allowed the XM to be pretend to be a saloon: when you opened the hatch to get out your golf clubs the glass screen could stay in place to keep cold air off the back of the non-existant rear passenger.
They say life is but a brief moment between infinitely long periods of non-existance. The hatchbackness of the XM is not unlike that. 1955 to 1989 it’s salooniness at Haute de Gamme. Then hatchicity erupts into the void. From 2005 to 2012 its back to salooniness and theoretically still is.
In the general context of the times, the XM bucked the trend while at Peugeot they didn’t so PSA hedged its bets. Rover hedged its bets with the well-regarded 800. Interestingly it appeared as saloon in 1986, which made it the anti-SD1. I am not clear about the rationale for this: if the SD-1 disappointed as a hatchback then it made sense to offer its successor as a saloon. So was the hatchback of 1988 a bit of buyer’s regret on the part of Rover?
As you can see so far, I am 580 words into this piece and there is no pattern emerging. It seems like unto a bag of rags.
From 1998 to 2002 the Saab 9-3 (body 9400) existed as 3 or 5 door hatch. Lovely. For the replacement that car line went saloon – in the name of complying with the standards set by the BMW 3 series, Mercedes C-class and Audi A4. That didn’t work. I wonder what the replacement 9-3 would have been. I am guessing it would have reverted to a 5-door hatch because as we know the stoutly, confirmed saloonists at BMW, Audi and Mercedes have been dallying with 5-door cars and getting away with it.
After all that it still doesn’t make any sense as to why some cars have flipped and some have stayed the same for a long time. The Passat has done very well as a saloon – and yet… wouldn’t you think if it was a hatch it would complement the A4 which seems more rightly to be a saloon?
Finally, the latest development is that Peugeot are going to sell a 5-door hatchback as the replacement for the 508 which was a saloon, as was every similar Peugeot back to the founding of Peugeot in 1810. (I will tell you another time if I like this. Autocropley call the outgoing car “staid” when I remember it was hailed as handsome). Holy goodness. So, here’s another example of a flip. Would you expect this?
Einstein is said to have hoped that when he died, God would explain fluid dynamics to him (count me in on that, please). My hopes for the afterlife would include a) no television, b) understanding the Oldsmobile Cutlass model history, d) understanding the Triumph Toledo/Dolomite history and e) this whole hatch versus saloon thing.
** yes, really.