What ever happened to notchbacks?

1993 Citroën Xantia

Car body styles, much like fashion, come and go. Manufacturers do their best to invent and produce new ones whenever they think people aren’t satisfied with the existing variety. However, there are times when the correct solution to that problem turns out to be removing some options. The recent crossover frenzy has even put hatchbacks and sedans in danger, so it’s not surprising to say their less popular sibling currently is on the verge of extinction.

1983 Alfa Romeo 33

What are notchbacks, after all?

Have you noticed that the biggest visual difference between a hatchback and a sedan is the latter’s stretched rear end? Besides extra trunk space, the so-called third box makes the car more aerodynamic — that means slightly better performance figures and the bonus of not needing rear wipers. On the other hand, sedans are heavier and harder to maneuver, although technology has minimized that. Notchbacks, in short, are sedans with a shorter third box.

Like most body styles with intermediate character, notchbacks could result interesting for multiple reasons. They offered larger trunk than hatchbacks, taller trunk lid than sedans (usually named “liftback”) and a more practical cabin than that of coupés while staying away from typically family-oriented styles. Since the styling trends of the 1980s favored well-defined portions for the body, notchbacks were virtually sedans with a shortened rear end.

1998 Opel Astra

Why did they become famous?

Decades ago, not only did the automotive market offer few body styles, people didn’t seem to be bothered by that (not like now, at least). Therefore, the sparse attempts of selling something different were often well-received. Companies intending to produce compact cars used that body style to make them roomier, while those developing full-size models resorted to it in order to offer something other than sedans and station wagons.

Another important advantage was hidden in plain sight. Most car models had very simple design elements back then, so it was relatively easy and cheap to adapt parts such as doors and tail lights from one body style to another. In the 1990s, one could choose from the small Peugeot 309 to the large Merkur Scorpio. The Ford Escort is remarkable for being a notchback since 1980 and because its Cosworth version had a widely famous double rear spoiler.

2000 Renault Laguna

What were the reasons for their fall?

No, this one can’t be blamed on crossovers; it started long before those even existed. Notchbacks lost popularity mostly because the reasons which gave it to them in the first place ceased to exist. Hatchbacks became roomier on their own, sedans used technology to mitigate their maneuvering issues, and large hatchbacks were no longer a thing even in France, where people used to love them. As if that wasn’t enough, design evolution had some fault as well.

Automotive style becomes more complex as the years pass. Attractive models are developed as a whole, with some degree of connection between literally all parts. As a result, the “shortened sedan” strategy was no longer possible to execute without a bad outcome. In nowadays, distasteful adaptions receive such bad feedback from the media and the customers that executing them is no longer worth the reduction they might promote on production cost.

2008 Mercedes-Benz CLC

Is there anything left of them today?

In a way, yes. Four-door coupés have a different origin, since they create an intermediate point between sedans and coupés. However, one can see them as a much sportier and more stylish interpretation of notchbacks, since some of them feature a rather similar third box. While the original concept was restricted to (very) few models and is likely to disappear soon, its modern interpretation became one of the current hottest trends of the market.

One could say notchbacks lost appeal for being too practical for what modern customers want. People who want large cabin and trunk can opt for a station wagon or a crossover, so those who stick with models such as hatchbacks and sedans have very different wishes. This is exactly why four-door coupés have thrived: they move away conventional categories towards sportiness, rather than something even more conventional like internal space or low final price.

2014 Ford Mondeo Hatchback

After reading this post, you’ll hopefully be able to spot notchbacks on the street, as well as understanding how this body style differs from those with rather similar characteristics. Besides, depending on the opinion you have about notchbacks, this reading might even improve how you see modern-day four-door coupés! If you liked what you read, please give it some claps here on Medium and/or share it with your friends!



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Danillo Almeida

Danillo Almeida


Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.