If you like to drive and boot space is the least of your worries, consider yourself potentially an owner of a hot hatchback. Sure, there are plenty of hatchbacks out there that are little more than a few flimsy panels, four tires and a steering wheel thrown together. But when done well, designed and built by people who care passionately about the driving experience, you’ll find there are cars out there with tiny dimensions that look great and are satisfying to drive. A hatchback can be the ultimate ride in an urban environment.
A hatchback is generally defined as a car with a sloping back and a hinged rear door that opens upward. Technically, it’s what those in the automotive industry call a two-box design (or two-box styling), which describes the engine compartment and a cabin that combines the passenger and cargo space. They are certainly not for a family of five.
Hatchbacks’ typically petite dimensions, low center of gravity, weight and tight turning radius make them a thrilling drive. Hands on the wheel in a snug cabin, awash in a feeling of total control, hatchback drivers may well be privy to a higher order Zen than most. With the right engine and engineering, good suspension and responsiveness, a hatchback can make even a Jakarta commute enjoyable.
The most obvious, and perhaps most luxurious, of hatchbacks is the Mini Cooper, though it only officially arrived in Indonesia last year. The Mini Cooper has had a visible presence here since the first set of mini wheels rolled in.
After being taken in by BMW, the formerly iconic British auto (and car of choice for Mr. Bean) was reinvented and reintroduced as a high-end luxury hatchback, and with great success so far. They are small, shiny and very, very cool.
For the Indonesian market, there is the base model Mini Cooper, the Mini Cooper S model, and the Mini John Cooper Works. The Mini Cooper has 122 horsepower and accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 9 seconds. It has a top speed of 203 km/h. The turbocharged S model has 184 horsepower and achieves 100 km/h in 7 seconds. The John Cooper Works Mini Cooper boasts 211 horsepower and does zero to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds.
The Mini Cooper is serious fun to drive, and is one hatchback that comfortably holds its own in the luxury car segment. The interior design of these cars is quirky. There’s leather, there’s color trim, and a huge speedometer, smack dab in the middle of the dashboard.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a favorite among the auto press. It’s fast, nimble and sensible looking too. It is one car that you’ll often see dressed up with a sporty body kit and huge rims. But it rarely looks bad. That’s one underappreciated beauty of hatchbacks: They’re receptive to all kinds of statement-making alterations.
The 2.0L TSI engine, connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission, reaches 100 km/h from a standstill in 6.9 seconds. With 210 horsepower, the car’s top speed is just under 240 km/h.
The Suzuki Swift is perhaps the most popular of the high-end hatchbacks that can be found roaming Jakarta’s streets. Most often you will see the base model — slipping with apparent ease through tight gaps and confidently navigating back alleys — and occasionally you’ll see a Suzuki Swift GT3, the sports model, featuring a front bumper bar, side skirts and a rear spoiler.
The GT3 features a 4-cylinder, 16-valve, 1.4-liter M15A engine, paired with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It makes for a quick little car that goes well from a stop.
Published in the Jakarta Globe on May 4, 2012.