Hatchbacks and Station Wagons

Hatchbacks and station wagons both have a similar two-box body style configuration, five doors, and five seats. Where do we draw the line, on whether a car is classified as a hatchback and not a station wagon? There's a slight confusion when it comes to these body types. In fact, confusion in modern cars is prevalent nowadays, as design evolution slowly blurs the boundaries – even between crossovers and SUVs.

There are a number of similarities and characteristics shared by the two segments. In this article, we will tackle the differences between both – drawing a line separating a hatch from a wagon.

The obvious difference

Hatchbacks and Station Wagons

Both the hatchback and wagon segments are based on sedans – meaning, they use the same platforms utilized by their counterparts. That said, both their ground clearances and roof heights are as low as a sedan. These similarities are what causes the confusion and often, first-time car buyers won’t notice the differences at first glance. The most obvious difference is that station wagons are visibly longer than hatchbacks. Both are five-seaters, yes, but wagons have an extra bit of cargo space, hence the longer body. However, measuring the length of the cargo area isn’t always reliable compared to the next few methods.

The number of windows says something

Hatchbacks and Station Wagons

You don’t need to line up a hatchback and a wagon side-by-side to compare their length. Apart from the contrast in dimensions, there is another way to tell which is which. This method is simple and is very easy to do – count the number of windows. If you have a hatchback in your garage, you’ll notice that there are only two pairs of windows: the front and rear door windows. This isn’t the case for a wagon, as it has an additional pair of windows on the rear. In this case, there should be three pairs of windows, otherwise, it’s a hatchback. However, some hatchbacks have 3 pairs of windows, and that leads us to our next section.

Count the number of pillars

Hatchbacks and Station Wagons

Apparently, the same case as with the windows, station wagons usually has more pillars compared to a hatchback. Hatchbacks are composed of an A-pillar, B-pillar, and a C-pillar, while station wagons have D-pillars added to the rear. However, there’s a slight issue here. As stated previously, some hatchbacks have more than two pairs of windows, but that does not mean we can categorize them as station wagons. This concern brings us to our next point.

Compare the rooflines and rear bumpers

Hatchbacks and Station Wagons

The first three tips are valid methods in differentiating a hatch from a wagon. However, modern car designs could still spark a bit of confusion. For example, the Honda Jazz has more than two pairs of door windows and four pillars despite it being categorized as a hatchback, which kind of makes the aforementioned tips invalid. However, there’s another more probable method in distinguishing a hatchback from a station wagon, vice versa. It’s by comparing their rooflines.

Hatchback rooflines are likely to dip immediately past the rear passenger doors, while station wagons have roofs that continue past the rear door. In a simpler perspective, the D-pillar of a hatchback is usually situated on top of the rear wheel arch – resulting in a short rear overhang. On the other hand, the D-pillar on a station wagon is pushed further to the back, making the rear overhang longer versus the hatchback’s. With this in mind, perhaps the easiest way to distinguish a hatchback from a wagon is the rear clip or the rear bumper.

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