Sedan versus hatch: which is better?

Toyota Corolla sedan and hatch side-by-side.

Toby Hagon

Posted March 14, 2022


There’s a bit to think about when choosing between a sedan or hatch: which provides better boot space? Which has a better resale value? Which is right for you? 

The big Aussie sedan was long the staple of an Aussie driveway, until the wagon turned up – giving people the option of more space to pile things in.

But the sedan has been overshadowed in recent years by all manner of SUVs, as well as the humble hatchback.

Early hatch efforts such as the Holden Torana and Ford Laser helped with the popularity of a body style that is still a big seller today.

So, if you’re in the market for a small or medium car, which do you choose? 

Do you go for the size and tradition of the sedan or opt for the stumpy tail of a hatch?

We crunched the numbers on six popular small cars, each of which is available as a hatch and sedan: the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato, Audi A3 and Subaru Impreza.

The world view

Geography affects the popularity of sedans and hatches around the world. America and China – the world’s two biggest car markets – typically prefer a sedan over a hatch.

Europe, on the other hand, swings the other way.

Some car makers, including Toyota and Hyundai, separate their sedans and hatches more dramatically than just changing the rear-end – and it’s all in response to those market preferences.

The Corolla and i30 sedans, for example, sit on a longer platform with more space between the front and rear wheels (the wheelbase) to create more rear legroom. That’s important for Americans, who are often bigger and want more space and it’s also important for China, where it’s considered a luxury to be driven around in the back seat.

Those brands’ Europe-focused hatches shorten things for the tighter streets and more compact dimensions buyers demand.

As for Aussies, we’re still partial to a sedan, but in the small car realm, hatches have taken over, these days accounting for the bulk of sales.

Some car makers say sedans attract more older buyers, likely because that’s what many grew up with. 

Audi's new A3 sedan and hatch have distinct styles and size differentials.
The Mazda3 hatch is 200mm shorter than its sedan sibling.
Ths Subaru Impreza is impressive in hatch or sedan guise.

Crunching the numbers

Sedans are almost always longer than their equivalent hatchback. The extra millimetres – typically between 100 and 300 - are added to the back of the car, elongating the boot and how far it protrudes beyond the back wheels.

That’ll mean you may struggle to fit into some parking spots if you’re in the sedan compared with the hatch – but only if things are tight.

Most sedans have a slightly lower roof than their hatch counterparts, although usually only by a few centimetres. It’s as though they’ve been squashed from the top, stretching their bodies in the process. 

While those in the front seats won’t notice much difference, those in the rear often will.

In the Audi A3, for example, 22mm is shaved off the rear headroom as a result of the lower roofline that tapers at the back windscreen. That’s a common theme and for taller occupants that could make the difference between having to stoop slightly versus sitting upright.

Is a hatch or sedan better for boot space? 

A hatch swallows a lot more luggage than a sedan, right?

Not so fast. Look at the official measurements for boot space and it’s usually the sedan that boasts more capacity. 

Of the six vehicles we compared, the sedan averaged a boot that was 119 litres larger in capacity. That’s plenty of bags and could make the difference between stuffing in another few teddy bears or leaving them in peace at home. 

But the difference partly comes down to how those boot capacities are measured. There are two main methods for calculating luggage space: VDA (Verband der Autombilindustrie) and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). 

The VDA method is most commonly used in Australia and involves calculating how many standardised blocks could fit in the boot. But it only measures to the top of the back seats, so misses out plenty of usable space in a hatch.

The SAE method uses smaller-load objects (which can potentially fill some of the holes created when calculating the VDA method) and measures all the way to the roof.

Little surprise, then, that the SAE number typically benefits vehicles such as SUVs and hatches, which have a more open load area.

The Kia Cerato proves the point. Measured using the VDA method, the Cerato sedan has a 502-litre boot versus 428L for the hatch. But employ the SAE method and the sedan’s capacity drops to 434L while the hatch shoots up to 741L. 

Given most owners will utilise all the available space, it pays to dig deeper than the numbers. Because, yes, a hatch will typically take more than a sedan.

The Hyundai i30 hatch sits on a 70mm shorter wheelbase than the sedan.
The Kia Cerato sedan has a 502-litre boot against 428 litres for the hatch ... but that is loaded to the top of the rear seats. In real-world use, the hatch can be more practical.

Boot breadth 

Another key point with a hatch is the broadness of its boot opening.

Because a hatch is hinged on the roof – taking the back window with it when you open the boot – there’s a much deeper opening.

Whereas a bike or large box might not physically make it past the narrower opening of a sedan, with a hatch there’s a better chance you can use the folding functionality of the back seats. 

Again, it’s a win to the hatch. 

Is a hatch or sedan better for resale?

Resale value is important with any new car and it’s logical there could be a difference between hatch and sedan. 

But there’s not a whole lot between the two – most of the time.

Of the six cars we’ve looked at here, most have almost identical forecast resale values after five years and 80,000km of ownership.

According to industry guide Redbook, the Mazda3 and Audi A3 will be worth the same in future.

For the Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza and Hyundai i30 the hatchback has a very small advantage over the equivalent sedan. However, we’re talking a couple of hundred dollars, which is hardly the sort of thing to sway a buying decision early on. 

The outlier is the Kia Cerato; the hatch is predicted to retain 59 per cent of its original value whereas the sedan is just 50 per cent.

Hatch v sedan dimensions

Hatch v sedan dimensions

Length (mm)

Height (mm)

Load capacity (VDA)

Weight (kg)

Mazda 3 hatch

4460

1435

295

1317

Mazda 3 sedan

4660

1440

444

1316

Toyota Corolla hatch

4375

1435

217

1375

Toyota Corolla sedan

4630

1435

470

1420

Subaru Impreza hatch

4475

1480

345

1383

Subaru Impreza sedan

4640

1445

460

1373

Hyundai i30 hatch

4340

1455

395

1276

Hyundai i30 sedan

4650

1430

474

1230

Kia Cerato hatch

4510

1445

428

1345

Kia Cerato sedan

4640

1440

502

1320

Audi A3 hatch

4343

1449

380

1320

Audi A3 sedan

4495

1425

425

1320

The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.


  • BYD Sealion 6
    Review

    2024 BYD Sealion 6 review

    The BYD Sealion 6 is a plug-in hybrid family electric SUV capable of achieving a range of over 1000km if the battery is kept recharged. Can it outshine the Toyota RAV4 Hybird and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV in the medium SUV segment?
  • Kia EV9 GT-Line
    Review

    2024 Kia EV9 GT-Line review

    The Kia EV9 GT-Line is an exceptional family SUV that stands out in every measure. It's a comfortable seven seat vehicle with fully electric propulsion and realistic battery size that delivers over 500km range.