When it comes to buying a vehicle, there are so many options on the market. A good place to start is with what kind of vehicle you want. Two of the popular options on the market are a hatchback and SUV — both of which serve a specific market and aim to excel at specific things.
SUVs are better at off-roading, hauling cargo, and fitting people comfortably. They’re also safer and have more options to choose from. With hatchbacks, you’ll get a more performance-oriented vehicle that offers better fuel efficiency and maneuverability. On top of that, hatchbacks are typically less expensive than comparable SUVs.
To better understand the choice, I put together this ultimate guide. I will be explaining all about SUVs and hatchbacks through a comparison of their pros and cons. By the end of this piece, you should know which option is right for you.
What Is an SUV?
Just to lay down some quick definitions, an SUV is a Sports Utility Vehicle. It’s larger than a car and offers more room for passengers and cargo. You’ll find SUVs of different sizes, ranging from small crossovers to large 3-row SUVs that can comfortably seat 8 people.
The definition of an SUV loosely includes an in-cabin trunk, seats that can fold down, and longer overall dimensions as compared to a car.
Common examples of SUVs are the Chevy Tahoe, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4.
What Is a Hatchback?
A hatchback is a specific style of car. If you take a standard sedan and change the trunk, you’re left with a hatchback. The important feature is that the trunk is included in the cabin space, and the trunk opens as a hatch instead of a detached trunk.
These cars aren’t as popular in America, but they have a huge international presence. They’re also the preferred vehicle for Rally, and people who value performance tend to buy them.
Common examples of hatchbacks are the Honda Civic Hatch, VW Golf, and Ford Focus ST.
How I’ll Cover the Pros and Cons of Each
In this guide, I’ll just be talking about the benefits of either vehicle option. From there, you can infer that the opposite is true for the other vehicle option. For instance, when I say that hatchbacks are more affordable, the assumption is that SUVs are less affordable.
Doing this will help me avoid repeating the same ideas twice in this guide, allowing you to get the answers even quicker.
Benefits of a Hatchback
I’ll start by talking about hatchbacks. This section is all about what makes them great.
Maybe it’s just subjective, but I think hatchbacks look much more stylish than SUVs do. SUVs can get a little bulky and have harsh lines, but hatchbacks have the advantage of being smaller and sportier-looking by default.
Add in the fact that the desired customer cares about the look of the car, and you’re left with a gorgeous vehicle.
As I alluded to earlier, hatchbacks are more affordable than SUVs. In an earlier guide, I explained that hatchbacks are more expensive than sedans, but both are much more affordable than SUVs, in general.
You might spend 5 to 10 thousand dollars more to own an SUV which is a pretty drastic difference.
Another point to mention is how fuel-efficient the everyday hatchback is. It’s common to find options in the 30-range when it comes to estimated mpg.
While SUVs are certainly better than they used to be, they’re still much larger and heavier than cars. That means that by default their fuel efficiency will take a hit.
If you want to postpone your trips to the gas station, you should grab a hatchback.
Lower Operating Costs
The savings don’t stop at the sticker price and frequency of fill-ups, it also transcends to your overall operating costs. Every oil change and tire rotation is going to be slightly less expensive for the life of your vehicle.
Parts are typically easier to find and less expensive than SUV replacement parts.
On top of that, you’ll probably find that your insurance rates are lower to cover a hatchback. Remember, insurance premiums have to do with the resale and repair values of a car — the lower it is to fix the car for the insurer, the less expensive it is for you to insure it.
Sportier Feel and Better Performance
When you drive a hatchback, you’ll notice a much sportier feel as compared to an SUV. This is especially true for track-worthy options like the Golf R — an option that can go 0-60 in less than 4 seconds.
Even though a separate trunk doesn’t make a car suddenly more powerful, auto manufacturers understand that people who shop for hatchbacks like having extra power and performance. To boost their sales, they give the people what they want.
You’ll notice that you can accelerate, decelerate, and take a corner much better with a hatchback. It’s largely why they’re used in Rally in the first place.
Easier to Park and Maneuver
Hatchbacks have smaller overall dimensions and a tighter wheelbase (the distance between your front and rear axle). As a result, the car is a lot more maneuverable than an SUV. In addition, they’re easier to park, and especially easier to parallel park.
If you live in a city or area where parking is scarce, SUVs become a lot harder to own. I made the mistake of taking my buddy’s 3-row SUV to San Francisco, and I still have flashbacks of how terrible the parking was.
Better Field of View
Even though SUVs are higher from the ground, hatchbacks generally have a better field of view. This refers to how much you can see from the driver’s seat. It’s because the vehicle isn’t as long and features more glass than bodywork.
Since the hatch is basically one big window, this style of vehicle offers more opportunity to see around you as compared to a sedan or SUV. The drawback with SUVs is that they have so many extra seats and bodywork that gets in the way of your vision.
Benefits of an SUV
Next, I’ll talk about SUVs. Again, this section is all about the benefits of buying and owning an SUV.
More Available Options
When it comes to SUVs, you’ll be able to hand-pick the exact features and performance you’re looking for. There are nearly 100 options for SUVs on the American market. Comparatively, there are only 20 or so options of hatchbacks that you can buy today in the USA.
In addition to different makes and models of SUVs, you’ll also find a lot more sub-models and trim levels. Why does this matter? With a breadth of options, you can be very specific about what features you want, and how much you want to pay.
Better Resale Value
Even though you’re spending more for the SUV upfront, the vehicle doesn’t depreciate as quickly as a hatchback does. That means that you can get a higher price if you resell an SUV later.
If you’re looking to own and drive a vehicle until it stops working, then you probably don’t care about the resale value. However, if you tend to swap vehicles every 3 to 10 years, then this is an important consideration.
It might be obvious, but SUVs have a lot more storage space than a typical hatchback. This difference is even more dramatic if you go for a 3-row SUV option. With the rear two rows dropped, you have a ton of space to fill your SUV with cargo.
Even with the seats up, SUVs tend to have pretty spacious and deep trunks to use. A hatchback has a better trunk than a sedan, but it pales in comparison with an SUV.
This comes in handy during grocery runs, helping your friend move, or road trips. More space equates to more freedom when it comes to moving things around.
In addition to more storage, you’ll also enjoy more seats. This removes the physical constraint of how many people you can carpool with.
In a hatchback, you can seat 4 people comfortably. In a large SUV, you can get 8 people in the vehicle and all of them will be comfortable.
If you have a family or find yourself frequently driving groups of people around, an SUV would be your only option.
More Comfortable Option
SUVs also have more headspace, legroom, and elbowroom in each seat. Hatchbacks can feel pretty cramped, especially for taller people.
There’s a reason why celebrities always ride around in big Tahoe’s and not Civic Hatchbacks. The added comfort becomes a no-brainer if you want to feel luxurious from point A to point B.
Better Ground Clearance
The ground clearance of a vehicle refers to how much space there is between the bottom of the undercarriage and the road underneath. Large ground clearance means that there’s a big gap.
It might not seem important, but ground clearance is a big deal for a vehicle — especially in snowy areas. If your vehicle is further from the ground, you can safely drive through thicker snow without getting stuck.
If you get your hatchback stuck in snow or mud, follow my guide to get out. With an SUV, you probably don’t have to worry about that.
More Favorable Driving Position
Since SUVs are higher off the ground, you have a better driving position. This term basically means how much of the road you can see and what kind of visibility you have.
I mentioned that hatchbacks have more visibility from the cabin, but they’re much lower which means you can’t see as much of the road and cars around you.
With taller vehicles, you can simply see more, even though there are fewer windows to see out of. I recognize that this seems like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m talking about two different things.
In a lifted truck, you can see what the traffic around you is doing, since you have a better vantage point. The same is true for SUVs since they’re taller than hatchbacks. It’s almost like your short friend at a concert: they’ll see the backs of people in the crowd while you can see the stage and band performing.
SUVs are taller, which means that they have a higher center of mass. The center of mass is the balancing point of any object — if you take the average of all the weight and the location of the weight, then you’re left with a single point.
It matters in this context because higher centers of mass are better in crashes. If you have a low center of mass, you’re in a less safe vehicle.
Add in the fact that SUVs are much heavier, and you’re left with the simple fact that SUVs are safer than hatchbacks. Almost across the board, the IIHS safety ratings for SUVs are higher than hatchbacks. These ratings tell you how safe you’ll be in an accident on the highway.
Higher Towing Capacity
Another thing to think about is if you plan on towing anything behind your vehicle. This could be a trailer or boat. In either case, a hatchback won’t be able to handle it, only an SUV will.
For larger trailers and boats, you might have to get a truck instead. As it stands, SUVs have towing capacities that are multiple times higher than a standard hatchback.
For reference, a modern Honda Passport has a towing capacity of around 5,000 pounds while a Honda Civic Hatchback has a towing capacity of 1,100 lbs.
Towing more than the capacity means that your drivetrain can suffer. If you’re way over the weight limit, then your vehicle might not be able to stop the inertia of the load behind your vehicle. The boat might push your vehicle forward or slam into the back of you.
Easier to Get in and out of
If you have older family or friends with mobility issues, an SUV might be a great choice. There’s no need to duck down and roll into the seat of a hatchback when you have a spacious SUV. It allows people to get in and out easier.
This is true as long as you don’t lift your SUV and make it too tall.
Better in Inclement Weather
When it starts raining or snowing, you’ll be happy that you brought your SUV to work. Not only do SUVs have better ground clearance as I mentioned earlier, but they are often equipped with AWD — meaning that all four tires provide power to the road as you drive.
This different drivetrain will help you get out of sticky situations and drive through inclement weather with ease.
Some hatchbacks have AWD, but you’ll typically pay a lot more for it and they’re usually coupled with performance packs.
Another place where you will see the gap between SUVs and hatchbacks is on a muddy strip of land. When it comes to off-roading, the comparison isn’t even fair between the two: SUVs win that matchup every day of the week.
Hatchbacks are used in rally racing, which might seem confusing to you. The key is that the rally cars used typically go through extensive modifications before hitting an off-road track.
A stock hatchback is way worse than a stock SUV on the rolling hills near your house.
Which Is Right for You?
If you want to decide which vehicle is right for you, you’ll have to take a closer look at your lifestyle.
If you value the ability to drive off-road, haul plenty of people around, and fill up your vehicle with cargo, then your only option is the SUV. You’ll also enjoy better safety and visibility while you drive it. As long as you’re willing to pay more to buy and own one, you’ll be rewarded with all of these benefits plus a better resale value.
If you care about performance and cost, then a hatchback will give you everything you’re looking for. It will also offer better styling, fuel efficiency, and an easier ability to drive around town and park. They’re less expensive to insure and operate over time, so you will continue saving money.
For people on the fence, I would highly suggest driving one of each vehicle style and deciding for yourself. The difference will be pretty immediate, and you’ll quickly pick up on all the considerations I outlined in this guide. A lot of auto manufacturers offer SUVs and hatchbacks under the same roof, so you won’t have to go far to test them both.
Now you know everything you need to know about SUVs and hatchbacks. I just compared these two vehicle styles and gave you plenty of pros and cons to consider. I even gave you some hints about which vehicle option would be right for you.
If you want to learn more about different vehicle styles, check out the rest of my blog. Leave a comment below if you’re a fan of either of these vehicle options and which selling point speaks to you the most — I would love to hear what you think. Also, be sure to see which car products I highly recommend so you can get the most out of your vehicle.