Many years ago, no self-respecting car manufacturer could do without at least one sleek two-door coupe in its model range. Mechanically, these cars would be largely identical to the mid-range hatchback of the day, but they looked far more exciting. Today, only the prestige manufacturers persist with low-slung coupes.
Taking the place of hatchback-based coupes in model line-ups are crossover hatchbacks. If you want something that's not too exotic, but still has a bit more panache than the average small SUV, there's a growing number of high-riding hatchbacks that may not be the most practical in their price class, but that distinguish themselves with more style or more engaging handling than their peers. Here are our top 10 picks.
For years, Cupra was the sporting division of Seat - much like 'R' now is to Volkswagen - but today it stands as independent brand of its own, with unique designs and an altogether more athletic calibre than that of the old Seat mothership.
The Formentor isn't the first product of the reborn Cupra operation (that was the 306bhp Cupra Ateca, introduced in 2019), but it is by far the most convincing, being rakishly handsome, surprisingly spacious, good if unspectacular to drive, and generally interesting. We like it rather a lot.
The engine line-up is also usefully broad, ranging from downsized petrols to quick plug-in hybrids and the flagship 2.0 TSI, which uses the same four-wheel drive system and 2.0-litre TSI engine as the new Golf R. With the upcoming VZ5, Cupra will even go so far as to shoehorn Audi's thumping five-cylinder into the Formentor, though equally, this car doesn't such an exotic engine in order to appeal.
Being well priced in relation to premium-brand rivals, and with a well-executed interior (infotainment aside), the Formentor does enough to top our list of family crossovers - at least for now.
Volkswagen's first attempt at a crossover hatchback is a very impressive one. The T-Roc offers sharp, interesting styling, a well-made interior and handling characteristics that are more akin to those of a small hatchback than a proper SUV.
It's not quite as good to drive as the Formentor, it isn't quite as practical, and the interior quality is questionable in places, but it still is easy to recommend. It will soon be facelifted, too.
The mid-spec model isn't unreasonably priced, but like-for-like versions of the Skoda Karoq and Seat Ateca are still slightly cheaper. That said, neither offer a high performance derivative that rivals the 296bhp T-Roc R. Essentially a high-riding Golf R, this quick crossover is a curiously compelling machine.
We like the CX-30 - its silky handling and plush interior stand it out in this class, and the attractiveness of the exterior design is matched only by the Cupra.
Neither is it an especially complicated device in concept: there is a choice of two petrol engines, and either front-drive or four-wheel drive. Either way, you get Mazda's mild-hybrid technology, and very nicely judged handling traits, by the class standards.
It falls down a touch in terms of interior space, and both the engine's lack the easy-access torque of rivals, so they need to be worked harder than you might expect. Otherwise, the CX-30 is arguably the most dynamically gifted car in this class.
The X2 is one of the more unusual additions to BMW's X-branded range of cars, those models with greater practicality and a raised ride height. It's more hatchback than crossover, but that's no bad thing, because there is the BMW X1 carry that role.
It might be one of BMW's first front-wheel drive cars, but those who cherish driving should put the X2 at or close to the top of their wish-list. In both turbocharged petrol and turbodiesel forms, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines offer a muscular and refined power delivery. The top of the range X3 M35i is no doubt the most fun to drive, but for daily driving duties, the regular versions are a better compromise.
The steering is also enjoyably direct, while body control is excellent by the standards of the class. There are more practical alternatives, but perhaps none that are as dynamically convincing. However, the recent arrival of an all-new X1 suggests there's a new X2 on the way.
Stylistically, the Toyota C-HR was a breath of fresh air when it came out, as it showed crossovers needn't look dull. It has been around since 2016, but it still stands out next to more athletic rivals. It has the handling to back those sporty looks up, too.
While the original, 1.8-litre hybrid powertrain is a bit gutless, the newer 2.0-litre version with 182bhp is usefully brisk, if still not in any way rapid. And while that sloping roofline may look great, it eats into rear head room. Toyota's infotainment system is also left wanting when compared with rivals, though the facelifted version does get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard.
Where the original Mercedes GLA was little more than a ruggedised A-Class, the latest one is the result of a much more considered effort. It's still not the cheapest or most practical option - the Mercedes GLB offers more utility and if you're looking for value you shouldn't look to Stuttgart anyway - but it will be much more appealing to anyone after a stylish crossover.
The latest generation capitalises on the A-Class' appealingly designed and materially upmarket cockpit and versatile MBUX infotainment system. It also manages to tick the all-important SUV box of a high hip point. Despite big wheels and AMG Line suspension, it even manages to deliver good ride comfort.
If you want to go fast in your crossover hatchback, none will go faster than the - deep breath - Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 S 4MATIC+ Plus. Thanks to a faintly ridiculous 416bhp will sprint to 62mph in 4.3sec. Ł66,000 is a lot of money for a crossover, but it's a surprisingly serious performance car.
Jaguar's follow-up act for the successful F-Pace will certainly catch your eye when you first see it. As you'll likely guess from the look of its curvaceous bodywork, it's not the most practical compact SUV in the segment, but the richness of its interior for the most part convinces you that it feels like the luxury prospect you took it for.
A facelift for 2021 has introduced Jaguar Land Rover's excellent new Pivi Pro infotainment system and few mild tweaks to the baby Jag's exterior, but it's beneath the surface where the biggest changes have been made. The old Ford-related D8 platform has been replaced by the same PTA architecture that underpins the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
This change is significant. Not only does it help to improve the slightly lacklustre dynamics of the original, but it also means you can now have your E-Pace with a range of mild-hybrid petrol and diesel engines, or even as a plug-in hybrid. The PHEV is the only example of the updated E-Pace that we've driven, but on the handling front, things look good. There's a definite edge to the way it gets itself into a corner, and its ride is comfortable, too. It certainly feels more like a junior Jaguar SUV than its predecessor.
Given the success of the standard Kia Ceed, the Xceed crossover, which follows a familiar recipe of raising the hatchback's ride-height and beefing up the looks but without really altering anything oily, was the model that Kia had to make. It proved to be the right decision, because the Ceed on stilts now outsells its more conventional counterpart.
This is an attractive crossover with better-than-average driving control and a reasonably fluid ride, but there are more frugal and spacious cars among its peers. On the other hand, it is the only Ceed derivative available as a plug-in hybrid, since the regular Ceed, Ceed Sportswagon and Kia Proceed became petrol- and diesel-only.
Few firms have embraced the cult of the crossover quite so completely as Audi, which offers an almost endless array of Q-badged models, from the entry-level Q2 through to the imposing Q8. Many versions are also offered in Sportback guises, which throw a dash of coupe styling into the mix.
Based on the standard Q3, the Q3 Sportback features a lower roofline that adds some kerb appeal but robs those in the rear of some headroom - although the boot remains unchanged at 530-litres. Under the skin it has the same choice of petrols and diesels, plus a plug-in hybrid option and, of course, the availability of quattro all-wheel drive that's brings enhanced traction but is still better suited to the road than the rough stuff.
It's a composed and capable car to drive, but there's very little in the way of driver engagement and the low speed ride is on the firm side, particularly if you specify the larger wheels. Elsewhere it benefits from a beautifully exeuted interior that looks good, is solidly finished and packed with the latest kit. Either waty, you'll really have to love the looks to justify forking out the extra couple of thousand pounds of the dynamically identical and more practical Q3.
It's taken Renault a little while to commit to the crossover bandwagon, but models such as the rather good second generation Captur suggest it has now got the swing of things. Even so, the larger Arkana proves something of an outlier in the class, its swooping coupe-inspired roofline at odds with the more practical SUV-inspired lines of rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Karoq.
That said, there's no doubt the French machine looks fairly distinctive, giving it greater showroom appeal than the more sensibly-styled competition. Yet there's also decent space on offer, with a surprising amount of rear headroom given that low roofline, plus a decent 513-litre boot (480-litres in the hybrid). It also looks smart inside and there's plenty of standard kit, so it's a shame the fit and finish are below par, with some flimsy feeling plastics making it feel less upmarket than the cheaper Captur.
There's a choice of 138bhp petrol and 143bhp hybrid powetrains, with the latter featuring Renault's novel four-speed unsychronised automatic gearbox. However, its the former that feels the most livelu, thanks to its crisper power delivery and mild hybrid assistance. The handling is precise and surprisingly biddable, although the trade-off is firm (albeit quiet) ride.