Eating the Endocrinologist’s Lunch

Yesterday evening I noticed two cars, a fourth generation 3-door Seat Ibiza and a DS DS 3. One was a bit of a holdover and the DS was, I imagined, the shape of three door cars today.

2011 Citroen DS3: Citroen UK

They haven’t really gone away (though they are a much diminished presence) these three door cars but have changed form a bit. Some have anyway. The Corsa and Fiesta are pretty much the same as they ever were.

Before proceeding, I should note that the 3-door Ibiza went the way of the ear trumpet in 2017 with the introduction of the fifth generation model. That is such a subliminal model-change that I had to cross-check photos.

So, who makes a smallish three door car today? 

2017 Mini: source

Mini is the first and most obvious example. They cost from fifteeen thousand pounds if you really want to own one. Here is an orange one, left. As we know they are all about customisation, very much in the tradition established by Ford’s Mustang in 1965. Mini have expanded the range both literally and figuratively and perhaps one day, all Minis will have two doors plus three doors and no fewer.

If you decide to head over to a VW dealer they won’t sell you a three-door Polo but will allow you to buy a three-door Golf. This one (below) comes from California and is in Trendline spec. In Europe the GTi still comes in three door form. Ford, Opel, Peugeot, Citroen and Mazda do not have a three-door C-class car and have no done so for some time.

You can also buy a VW Up Exclamation Point as well. That means VW scores quite well in the three-door hatch stakes. There might be a Skoda version of the Up available in three-doors … and indeed there is.

2018 VW Golf: source

Interestingly, Hyundai are still ploughing on with the 3-door i20 which, you will notice is a rather more expressive product than the outgoing car. Too expressive, perhaps. Suddenly all those swage lines seem all too 2017.

2018 Hyundai i20 hatch: source

Hyundai tag this one as “the small 3-door hatch with a sporty twist” and costs from 12,300 pounds sterling.

The venerable Fiat 500 is a three-door car, so common as to be invisible. Yet its massive sales indicates there is an appetite for the cars. It’s a customiser’s car – and also the king of the special edition. If you see one, send in a photo as I can’t for the life of me find any on the ‘net.

Not too disimilar in size is the Peugeot 108. Now there’s a surprise, ladies and gentlemen. How many of you can honestly say they were fully aware the 108 existed and was not still called 107?  I am not afraid to say this one had passed me by. They cost just under ten grand. Autocropley said this:

“That the Peugeot rolls a bit matters little, its willingness to slice through curves enhanced by steering that’s accurate and of decently consistent feel. On twisting backroads you can soon develop a satisfying rhythm, and all against the backdrop of the triple’s game gurgle.

Its relatively soft suspension allows the Peugeot to ride pretty well, too, although it sometimes gets choppy at speed. Cruising is subdued, the minor controls are easily manipulated and the front seats remain comfortably supportive unless you’re cornering hard.”

There’s another article waiting to be written about the 107 and 108 which will say, when written, that the cars are a curious and lasting disappointment to me. Here is a neatly sized vehicle with the potential to be a real go-kart if so tweaked and fettled and yet clearly the cars have never even come close to that level of appeal. Is there a good reason for that?

Much the same goes for the Up trio which have never risen above the level of functional motoring for people afraid to buy a nicer, bigger second hand car like a Focus, Astra or Golf.

2018 Peugeot 108: source

There are similar 108-y cars from Citroen and Toyota, by  the way.

At Opel we find a choice of two three 3-door cars: the Adam and the Corsa. One is very much in the Mini/DS mould of customisation and the other is very much a bit of an antiquity dressed up in some newish sheet metal. Both cost around 12,000 euros in base specification.

2012 Opel Adam

But there’s m0re at Opel…

Opel are still selling the lovely Astra GTC, meaning they have three three doors cars available. That one will cost you twenty-one thousand euros which is a snip for a rather good-looking car. You can roll your eyes if you like but I think this is very pleasing machine.

2018 Opel Astra GTC: Opel.de

Moving over to Ford, I was again surprised to discover that the Fiesta 3-door has survived into the new generation. This is nice to know and also, I suspect, a clue that the underlying architecture is much the same as the outgoing model which is why, like Adam Opel AG, they were able to retain the option. Clouds. Silver linings.

(Market) leader. 2018 Fiesta. Image: cardissection

Ford won’t take much of your money from you for the pleasure of a Fiesta 3-door: a shade over ten K is the asking. The existence of the 3-door Fiesta makes the thing known as the Ka all the more puzzling because it is sold only as a five door hatch. The amount of sense that makes is not much at all.

Smart make the ForTwo and its very much an anomaly. It does have three doors but has no back seats at all – and one of the critiques of the three-door format was that access to the rear is tricky for parents who want to install and remove small kids. Since the ForTwo has no rear to access its existence is not all that much use to this survey. While we’re on the subject of small, anomolous cars, the Toyota iQ died in 2015.

Suzuki’s German website has no three door cars and is so much of a mess I encourage everyone to go right now and look at it but please come back. No three-doors there, alas.

I also took a look at MG´s website and there are some more cars there than the last time I looked.  None have three doors and three doors only.

At this point my search becomes something of a matter of rooting around the down the back of the sofa for firms still making smallish-three door cars. What I had expected was a big switch to bijou, customised cars like the Adam and Mini. However, I didn’t find that. Yes, those cars exist. In contrast, many of the three-door hatches looked much as they have done since the days of Angela Rippon and John Craven.

Fewer manufacturers make them and just because they make them it doesn’t mean many people really want them. They are now not a core format but some icing on (in some cases) stale cakes.

Anyone who wishes to add to this list is welcome.

(Post-script: The Range Rover Evoque used come as as three-door known as coupe and it did not survive 2017 but shuffled off the mortal coil.)

Correction: in the original text I wrote 1007 when I meant 107. Amended May 14 2018, 1.22 pm CET.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

41 thoughts on “Eating the Endocrinologist’s Lunch”

  1. The VW configurator has “four doors” as one of the first options for a Golf (in the UK configurator the 3 door vs. 5 door selection is actually the first step of a configuration). Three doors are the Golf’s default configuration available with every engine/trim level combination.
    At Audi, you can still get an A1 with three doors but they stopped selling A3s with three doors. An R8 is still not available with four doors.
    At Porsche you can get two or four door 911s, the latter named Bananarama

  2. Thanks for that research Richard. This subject is close to my heart and your article made for sobering reading. The fact that notbeven the mark 8 Golf/A3/ Leon may not be available as a 3 door is truly depressing. I can’t think of any car except the big bumper mark 2 Golf GTi that looked better with 5 doors instead of 3. Part of the reason for their demise is down to the severe reluctance of main dealers to sell the 3 door variants.

  3. Peugeot seems to have a problem shifting its newer 108 because the previous 0ne, plus the 208, have lasted so well.

    Surprised you didn’t mention the 500 straight away: far cheaper than the (now-bloated) Mini, and attractive for its economy — we’re talking “misers” here, who are v numerous in France.

    Surprised there’s no longer a 3-door Swift.

    Always prefer Skoda to trashy Seat.

    1. Maybe Danes are not such misers and don’t drive such long distances. I’d wait two mins max for one to pass my front door.

  4. I tried to find a (current) 3-door Clio, but I guess there aren’t any – every time I saw a three-doorish looking picture I noticed that it only looked so because of the disguised rear door handles.

    For me personally, the vanishing of three-door cars isn’t a big loss per se, as I always found it an impractical and unnecessary format for everything else than a really tiny car or a sports car / coupé. But nevertheless I might shed a tear over the loss of diversity and choice.

  5. “How many of you can honestly say they were fully aware the 108 existed and was not still called 1007?”

    Technically the 108 replaced the 107, not 1007.

  6. Having owned two three-door hatchbacks so far (a 1991 Lancia Y10 1.1. Fire i.e. and a 2002 Renault Clio 1.2 16v Dynamique), I’m not lamenting the decline in the three-door hatchback’s popularity. In general, three-door hatchbacks are a pain in the ass when it comes to access to the rear seat and exiting from it, and the front seat folding mechanisms can be notoriously prone to damage. Ever since I bought my 3rd-generation Delta, I haven’t looked back. Rigidity-wise, the car’s granite-solid, its doors provide passengers easy access, I can more easily toss a briefcase or a jacket on the rear seat and retrieve it from there afterwards. Oh, and something else: Bigger front doors, which are a must for three-door and two-door vehicles if you want even the most rudimentary sort of access to the rear seat, require a wider parking space if you’re to get to the driver’s seat without trying to become some sort of Houdini.

    1. Konstantinos, that’s an excellent point about the front door size. I bought my first car recently, a Mk 7 Fiesta. I went for the three door because I prefer the looks and don’t actually need regular access to the rear seat. What I have discovered is that the doors are really wide (and rather heavy) and that you have to reach a long way behind you to grab the seat belt (even as a six-footer).

    2. Thanks for praising the Delta 3, which was panned on here. Its wheelbase looks so long I expected it to be hard to handle, especially with its powerful engines.
      I agree on small front doors.

    3. The Delta’s handling and comfort combination should have been much better, and the alfisti in the Fiat Group have a lot to answer for, before being ordered to commit seppuku. However, for such a long-wheelbase car, the Delta III is unexpectably agile in an urban environment. I’ve threaded it through and parked it in places that its size would make you think were out of its reach.

  7. Oh by the way, I found a picture of a 3-door Toyota Yaris, 2018 model. So they might still be sold, I just don’t know where. All the newer Yarises I see are 5-door.

  8. The case for the 3-door consists of looks and sometimes price and perhaps torsional stiffness. The case against is related to rear access to briefcases and shopping, the door length and access to the driver’s saftety straps.
    Mick avers dealers don’t like three door smallish cars – why might that be?

    1. Dealers want to sell what they can easily resell when it comes back as a trade in. It’s a downward cycle. Re the seatbelt issue, I always find a 3 door car’s belt always fits more snugly as on a 5 door it often hangs loosely when the seat is fully back. With the kids a 3 door works well as it’s easier to fasten the seatbelts when you are hunkered down in front of them rather than reaching across them and you know they can’t get out!

    2. So really it´s the customers sending a price signal to the dealer and the dealer back to the next customer. I´d have thought a price drop would do the trick. Surely as many people who would buy one new would buy one used? Economics is funny. Then again, if the cars hang around they take up space. So the issue is what else could a dealer sell during the same time…

  9. Looks is certainly debatable. Sometimes we like the version we are more used to see and a rare exception (in both directions) looks odd. In the 70s and 80s many small cars originally only came with three doors and two more were added later – and sometimes one can see that it was an afterthought. In these cases I agree that three doors can look better. The Golf in the picture above (and most of the cars in its class today) have become too big to really look good with three doors, maybe also because the five-door version was considered the most important one and got more attention in the design process.

    Regarding safety belts: my 1.90 m colleague says that in most 5-door cars they (and the B-pillar) are too much forward for him, so the belt is loose and his side vision impaired. Therefore he prefers having only two or three doors.

    1. The safety belt location is a matter of ergomic compromise, I suppose. Some find the location too far forward and some find it too far back. The question is how many are somewhere in the middle. I suppose many three door designs exclude the largest and smallest drivers and I can´t see a workaround for this other than some kind of seat-mounted belt. I believe Mercedes tried this. In the 00s some American cars had belts that were attached to a runner on the door. When you sat in and closed the door the belt ran automatically to the back and all you had to do was put on a lap-belt.

    2. Modern cars have pre-tensioned belts. If you know how to set them up, they cater for all eventualities.

      About five-door cars posing as 3-doors, when the 156 came out with its trompe d’oeil it was a neat joke. I was surprised so many other makers copied it.

    3. The height of the belt at the B-post can be adjusted as can the longitudinal location of the seat. I can imagine a short person moving the seat forward, leaving the b-pillar behind. That can then be difficult to reach.

  10. Regarding whether the 3-door and 5-door look better or worse, comparatively. The problem is not so much to do with time allocated so much as the willingness of the manufacturer to make parts unique to each car in the name of design integrity. Ideally, there would be as many shared parts as possible. Ideally both cars should look equally good. Having realised that there is not much point in a compromised car, some firms made the 3-door and 5 door very different. You could say they wasted their efforts because the (usually) sportier three door ended up being off-putting to many buyers because it was given a larger or more powerful engine. What buyers seem to want is a dead ordinary three door that looks nice and maybe costs less than the 5-door. Manufacturers didn´t want a cheap three door cannibalising sales of the 5-door so they made them pretty much as expensive as each other and so people opted for the five doors and decided to forgo the hot hatch alternative see: Renault Megane, Opel Astra GTC/OPC and Kia Ceed GT. All of them were nice but not so nice as to make people choose many over the five door boggo cars.

    1. Remember the Alfasud where the ti models with the more powerful engines always came with two or three doors. It took Alfa a long time to provide three door ‘Suds with non-ti engines. As a result the standard engined 1.5 three door is the rarest of all ‘Suds with only a couple of thousands built.
      The original Golf GTI only came with three doors. After it lost a comparison test against Opel’s Kadett GTE in a German magazine for the single reason that the Opel had a four door option the Golf didn’t have, VW made a four door GTI available.

    2. To paraphrase Marge Gunderson from the movie Fargo, I’m not sure I agree with you one hundred percent on your police work there, Dave. The Alfasud only gained a hatchback (in 1981) during its third series. The series three was introduced a year earlier with the same separate boot arrangement its predecessors had, Alfa’s Neapolitan woes perhaps delaying the hatchback’s introduction. So yes, initially, the ‘Sud was made with both arrangements, (the series two and three were also briefly available concurrently) but to my (once comprehensive, now quite rusty) knowledge the hatch eventually replaced the booted saloon entirely.

    3. Eóin , you are absolutely right. The hatchback ‘Sud only arrived with the third series, I just used misleading wording.
      There were interesting ‘Sud variations, like the series three with the old small light units that was only sold in the UK (it was called something like TiS if my memory doesn’t play a trick on me).
      The original sales brochure contained a photograph of a green two door standard ‘Sud, something that was never sold. That’s Mezzogiorno car production. One of our first family ‘Sudswas bought at a time when the only possible gearbox had four speeds. This didn’t prevent our car from having a five speed gearknob.

    4. I’d rather you got the wrong gearknob than the Mezzogiorno all got coralled into the mafia, which was partly what the Naples factory was planned to thwart.

  11. Richard: The height of the seatbelt can’t be adjusted at the B-post in my Fiesta. It surprised me as I assumed such niceties were long since standard.

    Talking of three doors, which car had two different sheet metal body styles for its three door variant?

    1. Ford Sierra. One could make an argument for the R8 Rover 200 as well.

    2. Renault Megane – 1st generation, and possibly 2nd and 3rd as well.

    3. Ah – looks like I misunderstood the question. Just ignore me.

  12. Eóin gets it. I’m sure there were others, but in this case I was thinking of the Sierra. The XR4i was, I believe, the first three door variant and had C and D posts. The later cooking model three door just had C posts and very elongated looking rear three quarter glass.

  13. The Opel Kadett B was available in a bewildering variety of bodystyles. As two-doors you could have saloon, fastback saloon, as well as two types of coupé. It’s not exactly matching your question, John, as one door (AKA tailgate) is missing, but I still think it’s remarkable. Other bodystyles were three- and five-door estate and four-door saloon with notchback and fastback. German Wiki says that all of the eight were available simultaneously at a certain time, but it must have been a very short one, probably when the two coupé types were overlapping.

    If you’d show such a range to an automotive product planner today, you’d probably cause a heart attack…

  14. The modern product planning equivalent is the bewildering array of vehicles to address every niche now offered by the three premium German manufacturers.

    1. Have you seen Kia´s product range? It dwarves Ford, Honda and Citroen. Opel´s is pretty extensive as it Toyota´s.
      The way I see it, the models are now divided up into lots of different vehicle lines rather than vehicle lines divided up into several different bodies. Instead of a Humber Churchill saloon, coupe, estate and two-door saloon there is a Humber Churchill saloon, Humber Cathedral SUV, Humber Excursion MPV/SUV, Humber GreeLaner (a Churchill with 4-wheel drive). Model names have proliferated. What a nuisance. People used to think I need an Astra – which one? Now it´s which car do I need – Astra, Crossland, Grandland, Mokka or what… The same is true for many other brands. The poor old humdrum three door hatch was just a variant of a mainstream model – it is has faded to be replaced by three other models, as it were.

  15. BMW’s i3 is a five door masquerading as a three door with its half rear doors and with no exterior handles must be unique in this category. Its half size reverse opening rear doors with no central post certainly gives full access to the back seats when the front doors are also opened.
    Front belts are mounted on the leading edge of these rear doors for convenient access as in normal four and five door designs.

  16. I am not a particular fan of 2-door or 4-door-cars but there are some carmakers, that should better build no 4-door-cars. A Mini One with 4 doors looks like a miserable copy of a japanese backyard garage, made of a Nissan soandso. And the Mini Clubman has lost all its unique flair by axing the suicide doors (and the taillights) of its predecessor and adding 2 vulgar doors (and Dame Edna taillights).

    At the other side, i would never buy a 2-door Corsa. Not (or not only) because of aspects of depreciation or practical use but simply because it looks cheap and ugly.

    1. I always assumed 3dr versions were generally the preferred version if one omitted the practical side since they were usually sportier or more ‘Fun’ looking than their more conservative 5dr counterparts. However a few ‘bad apples’ come to my mind when it comes to “when bad 3dr conversion happen to good cars”: the original Fiat Tipo and the 2nd gen.Lancia Delta. Their 3 dr versions would have greatly benefited from longer doors I think.

    2. The three-door Tipo Mk 1 never bothered me. It had a nice, clean and tidy style. Out of the same box, the Peugeot 306 3-door is light-looking, agile-looking and pretty much epitomises an idea I have about the whole south-western European way of life where it´s always 9.15 on a Saturday morning in summer.

    3. Yes, the 306 with 3-doors is a fine example of mediterranian lifestyle while his brother ZX with 3-doors looks like a car for east-european countries ruled by an old unpopular communistic staff. Especially those ZX with non painted plastic bumpers.

    4. The three-door ZX didn’t do so well: these days I never see them but see 5-flap ZXs and every type of 306 all the time. In particular, the 306 is like the 406, apparently very durable and liked by their owners. I
      should snap the 3-door 306 that shares my street.

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