Renault Group

From carrying straw bales to golf bags, the hatchback sparked a revolution

22 October 2021

I want to see loading volume” were the words used by Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault from 1955 to 1975, when briefing his teams on the design of the Renault 4. This unusual vehicle was set to make car history for a feature that may seem insignificant nowadays but effectively sparked a small-scale revolution when it was first introduced – the hatch. Featuring this fifth door and a flat floor, the Renault 4 was a saloon car, an estate car and a utility car. At the time, the extra door at the back made it easier to load straw bales into the 4L, whereas nowadays people use it when putting objects such as overnight bags and suitcases into the Arkana. Hugues, Managing Director Renault Classic, takes a look back at the hatchback revolution sparked by Renault.


The Renault 4 was unveiled in 1961, a time when people in France were beginning to leave their country lives behind them and move closer to urban areas. However, public transport links left much to be desired, particularly on the outskirts of towns and cities. People began to feel the need for a car suitable for rural and urban areas alike, a car they could drive to the shops or to work. It was also a time when increasing numbers of women were in employment and households’ purchasing power began to expand. Against that backdrop, the car that would soon come to be known as the “4L” provided a 24/7 solution for both urban and rural living – all thanks to the humble hatch!

Hatchbacks revolutionised the automotive industry by offering greater interior modularity.

Managing Director Renault Classic
The Renault 4, the first hatchback by Renault

A door to freedom

The fifth door meant that the Renault 4 quickly became a social phenomenon. The man behind the project, Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault from 1955 to 1975, explained to his teams that he wanted to see “a high loading volume” for a “blue jean” car – a car that would suit people of all ages and social classes around the world. Over 8 million units have been sold in more than 100 countries over a period spanning more than 30 years, so it is safe to say his wish was granted. “The hatch on the 4L gave rise to a new car model and a new car feature,” says Hugues. “This wonderful invention resulted in a vehicle that was a saloon car, an estate car and a utility car in one.”
Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault from 1955 to 1975 in front of the Renault 4
The hatch provided users with an easy way of loading anything from straw bales to camping equipment into the 4L, a perfect fit for all lifestyles. Furthermore, the fifth door offered greater interior modularity, enabling engineers and designers to create the first “voitures à vivre” or cars for living. “The hatch showed that engineers could deviate from the traditional ‘bonnet, passenger compartment, boot’ structure” explains Hugues. “The fifth door allowed for greater freedom in terms of design.” The hatch did give rise to new types of vehicles, such as monospace and SUVs.
The Renault 16 abandons the traditional trunk for a hatchback

A feature applicable to the entire range

The hatch was key to the success of the 4L, which is why Renault dared to extend this feature to a more traditional segment – family saloon cars, which had regular boots. Launched in 1965, the Renault 16 was the figurehead of an unprecedented revolution that heralded more upmarket hatchbacks. When you think about it, the Renault 16 was like a large version of the Renault 4 – they were both hatchbacks, so they came with a fifth door and offered incredible rear seat modularity.
With the Renault 16 came the realisation that hatches coming as standard features on family and upmarket models wasn’t an issue.
Hugues, Managing Director Renault Classic
The Renault 25 Baccara offered a clothes bag under the rear shelf of its hatchback
In actual fact, any car model could be a hatchback, including saloon cars, coupes and city cars. Renault began developing a wide range of hatchback models, such as the R20 and R30, the Fuego, the R25 and the R11. Hatchback cars were thrust into the spotlight when the Marreau brothers won the 1982 Paris–Dakar Rally in a Renault 20.
Thanks to its hatchback, the boot of the Renault Arkana is very accessible

A perfect fit for Arkana

Of the entire Renault range, the Arkana stands out as a shining ambassador for hatchbacks. “The hatch was a perfect fit for this car, which is a wonderful cross between an SUV and a saloon car” continues Hugues. “It’s the ideal solution for designers, as they can come up with a sleek and elegant design that brings customers all the practicality they need. The Arkana’s hatchback body features a spacious, easily accessible interior that provides more loading space than a boot alone.” In a nutshell, it is the ideal car to carry a golf bag – and still have room for a straw bale!