why are rally cars hatchbacks

Why Are Rally Cars Hatchbacks? Just Compare To Sedans

So, why are rally cars hatchbacks? There are many opinions on this point, such as hatchbacks are lighter, smaller, and have shorter wheelbases than sedans. However, I suggest you compare two legendary vehicles in the WRC to find the answer.

On the one hand, there is the sedan Subaru Impreza WRC97 and the hatchback Hyundai I20N Rally1 on the other. Which is better for the rallying sport? Let’s figure it out.

Subaru Impreza WRC97 is the type of WRC car, first introduced in 1997. This rally sedan relates to Colin McRae’s era and brought Subaru third and last manufacturer championship victory.

The Hyundai i20 N Rally1 hatchback debuted in 2022. It fortified the manufacturer in the championship against Toyota with a few rally victories. So, after upgrades, the car has been continuing to race in the WRC these days.  

Both are the most powerful and fast for their time but in different ways.

why are rally cars hatchbacks explained in comparison between Hyundai i20N Rally1 and Subaru Impreza WRC97
Subaru Impreza WRC97” by Neilhooting is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pursuing The Best Rally Car Specs: Hatchback Or Sedan?


Because what’s a good rally car? Besides horsepower, acceleration, and speed, it is lightweight, length-compacted, and well-designed aerodynamics, which are the success ingredients, right?

So, the significant specs advantage of hatchbacks against sedans lies in the length. The Hyundai i20 N Rally1 is about 25 cm shorter than the sedan Subaru Impreza WRC97. Feel the difference, as they say.

So, in terms of racing, 434 cm for WRC97 against 410cm of i20 N plays a role in being more responsive to corners.

You can say, how does the additional length feel like for a driver? Lewis Hamilton gave the best answer once. He said it is like driving the bus. That says it all.

On the other hand, the rally hatchbacks are wide and tall. The I20N has a width of 187 cm and a height of 147 cm, while the Subaru Impreza WRC97 was only 178 cm and 139 cm simultaneously.

To compare the past with the modern is useless, you may say. However, sedans in the WRC also had the advantages.

Thus, despite the popular opinion, the wheelbase of current hatchbacks is longer. Hyundai I20N’s wheelbase is 263 cm, while the Impreza WRC97 is 10 cm shorter, 252 cm. Did it play a role in the speed and acceleration? Partly, yes.

Thus, with 310 hp at 5500 rpm, the Subaru Impreza WRC97 accelerated for 0-100km/h in about 4.5 seconds and could reach 250 km/h, while its rally car’s type grandson I20N (as both are car WRC type) with 380 hp takes 0-100 km/h in 4 seconds and rarely goes over 200 km/h. 

To make things simple, the rally sedan Subaru was clumsy, but it was faster. On the long straight, WRC97 had topped the speed step by step and reached a stunning 250 km/h like a rocket! So, the current Hyundai сannot boast with.

Okay, but why are most rally cars hatchbacks? The devil is in the details.

hatchback rally cars in the WRC explained in comparison with sedan
Hyundai i20N Rally1 No.11 in 2022 FIA World Rally Championship” by Tokumeigakarinoaoshima is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

What’s The Advantage Of Rally Hatchbacks Against Sedans In The WRC?

The reason lies in new FIA regulations and the hybrid power unit transition.

So, in the time of sedans, their rally car engines weighed about 109 kg. However, the new generation of cars, Rally1 cars, require a new approach to their design.

Its HPS hybrid system is the power unit, battery, and engine complex. Of course, the WRC modern engines became lighter, weighing about 94 kg, but it is just the engine, while only the power plant ads over 87 kg.

Thus, the weight in Rally1 cars is placed to distribute the load: 100kg on the nose and 100kg on the back, where the power plant is located.

Therefore, the modern rally car design must be more compact and higher. Its body needs a rounded form to reduce the load on the wheels and suspension, resulting in it accelerating fast.

So, if the Rally 1 car were a sedan, it would be even more unwieldy, so passing the sharp turns would be an issue for the suspension, damaging the vehicle soon.

Okay, but how about the weight?

why are rally cars hatchbacks in the WRc explained
Subaru Impreza WRC” by RWD Cars is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Are The Current Rally Hatchbacks Lighter Than Past Sedans?


Although weight is one of the crucial factors in any motorsport discipline, there is no significant weight difference between hatchbacks and sedans in rallying.

Furthermore, modern hatchbacks weigh more than sedans: Hunday’s I20N’s 1260 kg against Subaru Impreza WRC97’s 1230kg. 

The crucial point is how the cars’ weight is allocated through their design. And hatchback meets the purpose in the best way.

why rally cars hatchbacks in the wrc explained in comparison with rally sedans
Chris Atkinson 2006 Subaru Impreza WRC” by 6tee-zeven is licensed under CC BY 2.0


So, we compared the specs of two distinct WRC cars: the sedan Subaru Impreza WRC97 and the hatchback Hyundai I20N.

At first sight, there is no difference between their performance. Whether sedan or hatchback, both perform perfectly and showcase nearly equal results.

Although, the distinction is still to be.

Contrary to popular belief, rally hatchbacks are neither lighter than sedans nor have a shorter wheelbase. What has changed is the length. The Hyundai I20N is 25 cm shorter than Subaru Impreza WRC97. And that makes sense related to speed and acceleration, although sedans had faster top speed. So, it plays a role, but not the maim.

Why FIA WRC rally cars are hatchbacks? Because of the modern technologies, updated regulations, the switch to the hybrid system, and safety.

The Rally1 cars are heavy vehicles. In addition to the engine weight of about 100 kg, their hybrid power system adds another 100 kg.  

It forces manufacturers to create a specific design that helps their cars carry that extra weight but still be fast.

The rally hatchbacks aim at both these goals. Their rounded bodywork allows the 1260 kg of weight to be distributed, reducing the load on the suspension in rallying. The modern Rally1 car is, therefore, wider and higher.

Moreover, such a racing shape improves the cars’ aerodynamics, resulting in maximum downforce. Consequently, the rally hatchbacks showcase performance despite their size and weight.

Overall, hatchbacks in the WRC because of the time. When soon there will be a need to make a rally car more capable, which will be suited to the SUV, crossover, or coupe, then it will be something new. Until then, the hatchback is the perfect option.