Wednesday 20th February 2013


PH BLOG: GOODBYE THREE-DOOR, HELLO ESTATE?

Will fast wagons one day replace three-doors as the hot 'hatches' of choice?


Iíve never been enormously fussed about whether my hot hatch comes with three or five doors. If itís priced keenly, is entertaining to drive and practical itís a good hot hatch. Looks matter too but Ė with a few exceptions Ė the difference between three- and five-door versions isnít a deal breaker to me.

GT's OK, but an RS version would be tasty
GT's OK, but an RS version would be tasty
Of course, I could be the exception. And the recent grumbles over the lack of a three-door version of two popular hot hatches Ė the Focus ST and the Clio200 Turbo Ė show that this is an issue people are pretty passionate about. But it looks like this is the start of a trend that weíre set to see more of. Sales figures of three-door cars have dropped off to such an extent now that most manufacturers will seriously be questioning the point of developing such a model in their next cycle.

So where does that leave three-door fans? Well, buying a five-door hatch, whether they like it or not, is the obvious answer. But Fordís Focus ST estate Ė and the arrival of Renaultís not unattractive (but not for the UK) Megane GT estate Ė has made me wonder whether the small, fast estate could, if the three-door does become extinct, fill the vacuum.

Fabia vRS is the sleeper of the bunch
Fabia vRS is the sleeper of the bunch
The logic in buying an ostensibly more utilitarian car because you don't want one thatís become too utilitarian seems perverse, I admit. But just hear me out. Iím a huge fan of a fast estate Ė and, judging by the reaction to the Focus ST, Iím not alone. Fordís sold 500 estates over here so far Ė roughly a quarter of the total since the ST was introduced, and that proportion is ever increasing. Then thereís Skoda, which has introduced the Fabia vRS in understated estate form for the first time. Meanwhile, further up the scale, Mercedes reports a 106 per cent jump in sales of its E-Class AMG estate year-on-year in 2012. A different class of car, true, but a staggering figure and worth mentioning.

Thereís no doubt that appetite for performance estates is ramping up in the UK, then. But this isnít a new idea. Hondaís Civic VTi met with some success in Aerodeck form back in the late 90s. And then there was Fordís Focus ST170 estate, which came shortly thereafter. Iíve always had a yen (no pun intended) for both. Maybe itís the way an estateís longer waist and curtailed rump suits spoilers and chunkier bumpers. Or maybe it's more conceptual - the idea of a workhorse being elevated to become something greater than its humdrum origins. Whatever the reason, I canít shake the fascination.

Civic VTi led the way in the late 90s
Civic VTi led the way in the late 90s
Cooking versions of the estate models are increasingly popular too as car sizes inflate and larger models are simply too big. Over in Europe, meanwhile, estate cars in this sector have always sold strongly. So thereís clearly far more logic in developing a basic estate bodyshell than a three-door. Ford has realised this, and seems to be reaping the benefits Ė but I wonder if more will follow.

Three-door hot hatches have been a part of the landscape since the genre was invented, and I know many still prefer them. But I canít help but feel their extinction is fast becoming an inevitability. At least if they were replaced by hot estates, weíd have alternatives Ė and, potentially, very appealing ones at that Ė to the five-door hot hatches that we'll be seeing more of as a result. †

Alex

Author: Alex Robbins
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