I lurked here a little a couple of years ago, but recently I decided it was time to join up.
I've recently had a 2002 half ton Chevy truck lost in a flood. This sent me looking for a replacement. I started to wonder if I could use a fuel efficient car to get the job done (literally, it'll be a work vehicle).
I was tempted by Volvo wagons, VW wagons, Subarus, Toyota Matrix , Chevy Colorado, Ford Focus, Dodge Caliber, and the Mazda 3. I thought that a hatchback would be pretty decent for me since I'm actually going to use it to haul a few things for work. The amount will vary from day to day.
Thanks to reading a bit on here, I saw mention of the Saturn SL series cars. It turned out that there were a few nice ones in Austin for what I think are low prices.
Well, I purchased a '99 SL2 today. I haven't driven it very much yet, but I'm about to drive it on a trip that is about 16 hrs round trip. I'll get familiar with it soon. I'm hoping that it'll have nearly as much luggage space (or more), including the back seat, as a small hatchback. I'm going to get a bit creative while packing tools into the car, etc....
A lot of folks do well with those Saturns and are very happy with them. Is yours manual or automatic?
If yours has roof rack rails, perhaps making a quick-disconnect system for them could allow you to remove them when not needed (for fuel economy) and mount them when you need them.
For your purposes, you might want to add a trailer hitch and use a hitch haul platform to increase the amount of stuff you can haul. You can keep it in the car and pile stuff on top of it when you're not using it so it doesn't stick out or take much space, then just hitch it up when you need to carry more.
You might even consider building a kammback/boattail on it, which would serve dual purposes of providing more weather-protected storage and potentially improving aerodynamic drag to increase fuel economy.
No, the license plate will need to be visible. I'm sure you'd get away with it, I bet they don't hassle people for that, but it's not properly legal. You might want to setup some kind of quick-release or use wing-screws like dealers sometimes use with dealer plates. Or, if front plates are optional in your state, take your front plate off and install it there.