PH Blog: Goodbye three-door, hello estate?

I’ve never been enormously fussed about whether my hot hatch comes with three or five doors. If it’s priced keenly, is entertaining to drive and practical it’s a good hot hatch. Looks matter too but – with a few exceptions – the difference between three- and five-door versions isn’t 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 – the Focus ST and the Clio200 Turbo – show that this is an issue people are pretty passionate about. But it looks like this is the start of a trend that we’re 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 Ford’s Focus ST estate – and the arrival of Renault’s not unattractive (but not for the UK) Megane GT estate – 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 that’s become too utilitarian seems perverse, I admit. But just hear me out. I’m a huge fan of a fast estate – and, judging by the reaction to the Focus ST, I’m not alone. Ford’s sold 500 estates over here so far – roughly a quarter of the total since the ST was introduced, and that proportion is ever increasing. Then there’s 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.

There’s no doubt that appetite for performance estates is ramping up in the UK, then. But this isn’t a new idea. Honda’s Civic VTi met with some success in Aerodeck form back in the late 90s. And then there was Ford’s Focus ST170 estate, which came shortly thereafter. I’ve always had a yen (no pun intended) for both. Maybe it’s the way an estate’s 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 can’t 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 there’s 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 – 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 can’t help but feel their extinction is fast becoming an inevitability. At least if they were replaced by hot estates, we’d have alternatives – and, potentially, very appealing ones at that – to the five-door hot hatches that we'll be seeing more of as a result.  


P.H. O'meter

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Comments (134) Join the discussion on the forum

  • matty1980 20 Feb 2013

    From my personal point of view maybe this makes sense? I have gone from a Clio 182 to an Octavia vRS estate. Now I can't see myself not having a fast estate.

  • Evo 20 Feb 2013

    Er no, young people without families I'm sure would prefer a hot hatch.

    Those with families that have to compromise and need the extra space will buy a hot estate as it does two jobs in one.


  • X5TUU 20 Feb 2013

    Anything with more than 3 doors is a family wagon ... no exceptions

    I do like the idea of fast estates etc... ever since the heady days of the T5-R in the 90's but for me, no thank you

  • goron59 20 Feb 2013

    I don't even want back seats, let alone doors, etc.

    But if I did, I kind of like the wagon/sportback arrangement.

  • Andy20vt 20 Feb 2013

    Lack of a 3 door Focus ST and 3 door Clio RS means that unfortunately I'll never again consider buying one of these cars (unless they revert to a 3 door format). 3 door cars have always been associated with youth and sportiness - where as a 5 door is for taking the kids to school, or for old people. Fast estates are a completely different market all together.

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