It's time to bring these hatches out of obscurity.
Now has never been a better time to be an enthusiast - the horsepower wars are raging, and performance cars are exceeding the abilities of the average driver. It isn't all burnouts and exhaust crackles though, as crossovers and SUVs threaten the existence of sporty sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks. Drivers in the US have never been big on hatchbacks, preferring instead to buy three-box sedans with pitiful trunks. That is why we have compiled a list of 10 forgotten hatchbacks, which we think could be worth a second look today.
The Saab 9-2X, or 'Saabaru' as some like to call it, was sold for just two model years from 2005 to 2006. Though it had a Saab badge, the 9-2X was essentially a rebadged Subaru Impreza. GM owned a 20% stake in Fuji Heavy Industries at the time, and thus the 9-2 was born. Base Linear models were powered by a 2.5-liter EJ253 engine producing 173 horsepower. The nicer Aero trim was essentially a WRX, powered by a turbocharged boxer engine producing 230 hp.
Many people remember the Volvo C30, but almost all have forgotten about the 480 Turbo. Volvo sold the 480 from 1986 to 1995 and it was brought to the US in 1987. It was marketed as a 2+2 Sports Wagon and had extremely unique looks. The most powerful version packed a 1.7-liter turbo-four with just 118 hp, and power was sent out to the front wheels only. Clearly, the 480 wasn't a speed demon, but it did look cool thanks to those unique popup headlights.
Much to our chagrin, BMW has never sold the 1 Series hatchback in the US. We did have one consolation, the E36 generation 318ti. 'Ti' stands for Turismo Internazionale, but most people simply called this car the 3 Series Compact. It was marketed as an entry level 3 Series and was powered by a slow 1.8-liter or 1.9-liter four-cylinder producing around 140 hp. It may not have been fast, but the 318ti was RWD, so it could easily be transformed with an engine swap from a faster BMW like the M3.
Here have a twofer, from two companies that no longer sell cars in the US. The second generation Isuzu Impulse was sold from 1990 to 1993 - it was also known as the Asuna Sunfire in Canada. The car's unique styling was based on GM Europe's design for the Lotus Elan and was originally offered in FWD only with a 1.6-liter 130 hp engine. Isuzu later introduced the turbocharged AWD RS model, which bumped power up to 160 hp. The performance was solid for the period and the Impulse even had a suspension that was tuned by Lotus.
Isuzu also manufactured the Geo Storm, which was essentially the same car. The Storm lacked the Lotus suspension tuning, a turbocharger, or AWD, but still looked cool in its own right. In addition to the sleeker coupe, the Storm was also sold as a more practical wagonback. Slow sales killed off both cars, and both companies never built anything as cool as these cars before dying off completely in the US.
No, that isn't a typo - Mazda did indeed build a car called the MX-3. The MX-3 was built from 1991 to 1998 and went by many names around the world: MX-3 Precidia in Canada, Eunos Presso, Autozam AZ-3, and Mazda AZ-3 in Japan, and Eunos 30X in Australia. Power was sent to the front wheels by a range of four-cylinder and V6 engines, but our favorite is the 1.8-liter K8-DE DOHC 24-valve V6. It only produced 130 hp, but it is still one of the best-sounding V6 engines to ever sit in a production car.
The Dodge Caliber SRT-4 is one of the most modern vehicles on this list. As a hot hatchback, the SRT-4 was greatly overshadowed by other offerings at the time, but they are now remarkably cheap on the used market. Power came from a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 285 hp. A six-speed manual was the only transmission option, making this a bit of a sleeper car.
The Kia Forte5 is the only model on this list that is still sold today. Frankly, we forgot it existed and wanted to make amends. The Forte5 SX trim is powered by Kia's 1.6-liter turbo-four producing 201 hp. Power goes out to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch, though a six-speed manual is available (oddly, for an extra $2,200). Get a Forte5 while you still can, because the 2019 Forte is on the way, and no hatchback or turbo model has been announced at this time.
The first generation Lexus IS was mainly sold as a sedan, but Lexus also offered a cool wagon model. Like the sedan, the SportCross was powered by a 3.0-liter 2JZ inline-six producing 215 hp. Power was sent to RWD, but the SportCross was only available with an automatic.
The Nissan Pulsar NX (or EXA in Japan) was sold from 1986 to 1990. It's most prominent feature was a unique roof design that could be transformed into a coupe, targa, cabriolet, or station wagon. Even the most powerful version only produced 130 hp, so it was never meant to be a performance car. It was later replaced by the NX Coupe, which came with a more powerful 2.0-liter engine producing 150 hp.
We won't go so far as to call the Pontiac Vibe or Toyota Matrix good looking, but they were still cool. These two cars came from a joint partnership between GM and Toyota, and both were available with a 1.8-liter 2ZZ-GE engine that was also used in the Lotus Elise and Exige. The engine produced as much as 180 hp and could be mated to a six-speed manual transmission. What we have here are essentially two Lotus Elise hatchbacks, though this is a bit of stretch.