Top-Rated 2012 Hatchbacks: Performance & Design

Each year, J.D. Power surveys tens of thousands of people who have purchased a new vehicle and who have owned it for at least 90 days, asking questions about their satisfaction with the vehicle's performance, comfort, exterior styling, interior layout, standard and optional features, and more. The resulting data is presented in the annual J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study (APEAL).

Based on J.D. Power research, the hatchbacks listed below, in alphabetical order, are among the most appealing vehicles in their respective classes, according to the 2012 APEAL Study.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic

A subcompact car offering 5-door hatchback versatility, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is a new model that replaces the Aveo as the entry-level option in Chevy's lineup. It is sold in LS, LT, and LTZ trim levels, with a choice between a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder and a normally aspirated 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine.

Both engines produce 138 horsepower, but the turbocharged power plant generates more torque, delivers its motive force at lower rpm, and gets better gas mileage. Fuel-economy estimates range between 25 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, depending on engine selection and whether the buyer chooses the 6-speed manual gearbox or the 6-speed automatic transmission.

Chevrolet says the Sonic 5-door holds 19 cubic feet of cargo behind its rear seat and a maximum of 30.7 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat folded. In terms of crashworthiness, the Sonic receives a highest-possible 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and was named a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Following its inaugural year, the Chevrolet Volt returns for 2012, adding passive keyless entry as standard equipment while the previously standard navigation system moves to the options list. Gauge displays and control backlighting are improved for 2012, according to Chevy, and new colors are available for this unique car.

A 4-passenger hatchback, the Volt offers limited electric-only range. When the battery is depleted of energy, a 1.4-liter gasoline generator engine starts and the power it creates is converted to electricity to keep the Volt moving until it can be plugged in and recharged, or until the generator must be replenished with gasoline. In rare cases, such as when climbing a mountain grade at elevation, the gasoline generator engine may directly power the Volt's wheels, but such instances are rare.

The Volt receives a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA, and was named a "Top Safety Pick" by the IIHS, and can carry 10.6 cubic feet of cargo behind the individual rear seats, which fold to expand capacity as necessary. Tax credits are available to help to make the Volt more affordable.

2012 Fiat 500

Italian automaker Fiat returns to America after nearly 30 years, re-launching in the United States with the 500 mini-compact car. Offered as a 3-door hatchback or 2-door convertible, the new Fiat 500 is sold in Pop, Sport, Lounge, and performance-tuned Abarth trim levels. Buyers have plenty of opportunity to customize a 500 through a wide range of exterior and interior colors, as well as numerous optional features.

The lightweight, 4-passenger car is equipped with a 101-horsepower, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and a choice between a manual gearbox and an automatic transmission. Free maintenance for the first 3 years or 36,000 miles of ownership is included in the price, and the 500 is rated to get 27 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. The trunk measures just 9.3 cubic feet, but when the back seat is folded down, a Fiat 500 can carry up to 26.8 cubic feet of cargo.

The Fiat 500 Abarth is unique in that it contains a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 160 horsepower. Additional enhancements include a performance suspension, performance brakes, quicker steering, sportier exhaust system, and 16-inch aluminum wheels with better-gripping tires. This model also has performance-bolstered seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and styling modifications to set it apart from other 500 models.

2012 Kia Soul

A tall, roomy, 5-passenger, 5-door vehicle that is difficult to classify, the 2012 Kia Soul is offered in Base, Plus, and Exclaim trim levels. This year, the latter gains numerous standard features uncommon in the entry-level economy car class, such as LED running lights, LED taillights, Kia's UVO infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity, premium sound system, reversing camera, and more. Additionally, the 2012 Soul is restyled and equipped with more powerful engines.

A direct-injection, 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard for the Soul Base, paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Soul Plus and Soul Exclaim are equipped with a new direct-injection, 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with the same transmission choices. Fuel-economy ratings range from a low of 23 mpg in the city to a high of 31 mpg on the highway, depending on engine and transmission.

The 2012 Kia Soul is named a "Top Safety Pick" by the IIHS, and receives a 4-star (out of 5) overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA. It can hold up to 23.7 cubic feet of cargo behind its rear seat, and maximum cargo volume measures 53.4 cubic feet, figures on par with many compact crossover SUVs.

2012 Volkswagen GTI

The term "pocket rocket" was originally coined to describe vehicles like the 2012 Volkswagen GTI; small, affordable, performance-oriented cars designed to put a smile on their drivers' faces. The GTI, an icon dating back to a U.S. debut for the 1983 model year, is a 3-door or 5-door hatchback that adheres to the pocket-rocket formula, and earns a spot as one of the highest-rated hatchbacks in the 2012 APEAL Study.

A turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque, the power distributed across the majority of the engine's rev range to make the GTI feel responsive from almost any speed. A choice between a manual gearbox and an automated manual transmission delivers the power to the GTI's front wheels, and a standard limited-slip differential limits wheel spin and the effects of torque steer. Fuel-economy estimates range from 21 mpg in the city to 33 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA, and while the engine requires premium fuel, Volkswagen does provide free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years or 36,000 miles of ownership.

The 2012 VW GTI carries 15.2 cubic feet of cargo behind its rear seat, and provides 46 cubic feet of volume with the rear seat folded down. In crash tests, the GTI earns a "Top Safety Pick" designation from the IIHS.