By JIM PARKER The Post and Courier

In expanding its buyer base, Hyundai has gone to building swift, luxurious cars -- but not at the sake of its economy line including hatchbacks.

Consider the Veloster. With a base price of $17,300, the car embraces a four-cylinder engine producing 138 horsepower and posting rarefied fuel numbers of 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.

Notably, the Veloster is a brand new model for 2012, and it’s a hatchback. At least thus far in the Charleston area, the edition is a best seller.

“We have not been able to keep a Veloster in inventory,” said Jeff Aysse, general sales manager at Hendrick Hyundai on Savannah Highway.

“It’s a fuel efficient car, a fun car, but practical.”

The Veloster is no oddity, either. Carmakers showcased close to 60 hatchback editions for the 2012 model year, according to auto information company Edmunds.com. Hyundai also has the Accent, available with the rear liftgate; and the wagon-like Elantra Touring, which is considered a hatchback.

Aysse said the hatchback is a popular style because it bridges the line between utility and enjoyment. Since the rear door lifts out of the way, the models can offer more cargo area. Yet they can be sporty, streamlined - and less conventional than a sedan or coupe with a trunk.

According to the Edmunds.com list, hatchbacks tend to log highway mpg numbers in the 30s and 40s, cost below $20,000 and run on modest power plants below 150 hp.

But there are exceptions. Here’s a closer look at the 2012 models:

• Two hatchbacks churn out 300 hp apiece. They are the mid-sized Acura ZDX, priced at $46,020; and the luxury BMW 535i Grand Turismo, costing $57,000 and posting gas figures of 19 mpg city, 28 highway.

• A number of choices are hybrids, including the Honda CR-Z and Insight, Lexus CT 200h and the vaunted Toyota Prius and new Prius c.

• At least five EVs are listed: the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

• Fiat, which is not in the Charleston market as yet, sports two hatchbacks: the 500 and the 500 Abarth.

• Excluding electric vehicles, the most fuel efficient hybrid is the Prius c at 53 mpg city, 46 highway and the standard Prius with 51 mpg city, 48 highway. The best economy among purely gas-powered hatchbacks is the smart fortwo at 34 mpg city, 38 highway; and the Accent and Kia Rio at 30 city, 40 mpg highway.

• The biggest “gas guzzler” is the Acura ZDX at 16 mpg city, 23 highway.

• The least expensive models are the fortwo at $12,490 and the Ford Fiesta at $14,100.

• At least one hatchback is diesel-powered; the Volkswagen Golf Diesel.

• Comparing horsepower and price, the sportiest hatchback is the Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 listed at $24,000 while rolling out 263 hp, or $91.25 per each hp. (Most models were from the low $100s to close to $200 per hp). Of course, the Mazdaspeed 3 also has the second lowest fuel mileage at 18 mpg city, 25 highway.

• Expected new hatchbacks on the way are the BMW i3, Chevrolet Spark and Spark Electric, Honda Fit EV, Hyundai Elantra GT, Mercedes-Benz B-class, Mini Paceman and Volkswagen Polo.

Separately, hatchbacks have gained a following among younger motorists who like to retool their rides with supercharged engines, paintwork and new audio systems.

The tricked-out vehicles, notably older Asian models, aren’t all hatchbacks. But the liftgate does offer more flexible seating and storage chocies as well as a convenient and showy site to install speakers, subwoofers and other sound gadgets.

Aysse, of Hendrick Hyundai, said the hatchback style does have some practical advantages. For instance, the high liftgate tends to raise the overall height of the cargo bay and give more headroom for passengers.

“With the Elantra Touring, there are people whose special purpose is to have some room,” he said. One recent customer was an artist who wanted more space and height to store paintings, which can be awkward fitting through a standard car door. The artist also owns a sport-utility but likes the improved fuel economy of the Elantra and would use it on trips “south of an hour,” he said.

In other cases, the liftgate feature is more of an appendage.

Aysse said, “I think we see people buy a hatchback Accent or Veloster, not so much for the hatchback, but a sporty car.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.