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Three doors or five – which should you go for?

  • Three doors good, five doors better?
  • We weigh up the pros and cons for both
  • Ultimately a case of style vs practicality

Many of the small and medium-sized hatchbacks out there at the moment are offered with the choice of two body styles, with either three or five doors.

The odd number of doors is actually a little confusing; a five-door car is really, strictly speaking, a four-door car – the fifth door is car manufacturers’ way of describing the hatchback tailgate at the back. Likewise, a three-door car features two proper doors for people and a hatchback for luggage.

Which is right for you? We take a look at the pros and cons of both formats below.

Three-door cars: the advantages

One of the primary motivating factors in buying a three-door car over a five- is that in the majority of cases they look more dynamic and sporty. Not for nothing are the majority of ‘hot hatch’ performance cars based on a three-door body shape rather than a five.

This is partly because having two rather than four main doors allows the designers a freer rein in creating the side window shape. Take the Peugeot 208 for example, pictured below.

Peugeot 208 three five door

Two Peugeot 208s show how three- and five-door cars often have very different side window shapes 

Since the rear passenger window on the three-door (right) doesn’t have to be part of a door, it gets a more angular shape and some additional chrome trim.

Three-door models tend to be a little cheaper than their extra-doored siblings, usually by a few hundred pounds.

Three-door cars: disadvantages

The two side doors need to be quite wide (and therefore heavy) to allow access to the rear seats, so opening them in tight parking spaces can be tricky.

Over-the-shoulder visibility tends to be worse in three-door cars too, often because their more rakish side window shapes mean larger rear pillars. Blind spot checking and changing lanes is often easier in five-door models as a result.

The primary disadvantage of a three-door, of course, is that it’s far more difficult for rear passengers to access and egress the rear seats and they’ll need to draw on some extra reserves of agility to do so.

Five-door cars: the advantages

Quite obviously, the main plus point of a five-door car is that it’s not only easier for passengers to climb into the back but it’s also easier to place luggage and cargo into the car when the rear seats are folded flat.

An extra pair of doors also makes life a lot easier when fitting a child seat in the back. Lifting a child in or out of a three-door car can be very awkward and place a great deal of strain on your back, so family buyers would be best to confine their search to five-door models.

SEAT Leon three and five door

Like the mechanically similar Audi A3, three- and five-door versions of the SEAT Leon have different wheelbases

Generally there’s no difference in overall luggage space or rear legroom in a five-door car as their wheelbase and overall dimensions are usually the same as their three-door counterparts. One of the exceptions to the rule is the five-door Audi A3 Sportback, which has a slightly longer wheelbase than the three-door A3 for better rear legroom thanks to its modular underpinnings.

Five-door cars: disadvantages

When climbing into a five-door car, the front doors are naturally far shorter than those of the three door car, leaving you a little less space to clamber into the driving seat – although the trade-off, of course, is that it’s easier to get into the car in tight spaces.

As a rule, five-door cars are more expensive than three-door versions. For example, the Ford Fiesta is around £600 pricier with five doors than three at the time of writing.

Renault Clio seats

Five doors make it easier to load and access cargo when the seats are folded, as in this Renault Clio

Summary

No surprises here. There’s no question that five-door cars are more usable and if you regularly carry more than one passenger then it’s the format to go for.

If you don’t however, the majority of three-door cars just look and feel a little bit nicer – and so often in car ownership it’s the little things that count.

Some popular cars at the moment are available only in five-door form to save the manufacturers the cost of manufacturing two different body styles – the Ford Focus and Renault Clio are two current examples.

In most cases both three- and five-door versions of the same model have the same wheelbase and overall dimensions, and handling-wise you’ll be hard-pushed to feel any obvious differences between the two on the road. There’s generally no difference in interior or boot space, either.

As a footnote, there are a few literal ‘three-door’ cars out there with three conventional doors as well as a tailgate, for example the Hyundai Veloster and Mini Clubman with one door on one side and two on the other – but that’s another story.