Two major factors influence a car’s design: style and function. Depending on whether the goal is head-turning looks or maximum space for people and things determines the outcome. If the latter goal is the chief concern, then there’s no denying that a boxy design is the way to go. Start adding sexy curves and swooping rooflines and passenger and cargo space pay the price. In honor of those space efficient rectilinear designs, we have come up with our Top 10 Boxy Cars. Other than alphabetical, this list is in no special order and encompasses both old and new. Because some designs just don’t go out of style.
Introduced back in 1968 and running through 1976, BMW’s 2002 basically invented the popular sport sedan segment. The boxy, unassuming compact Bimmer offered spirited performance and agile handling that could give sports cars of the day a run for their money on a twisty road. Perhaps most prized among these are the “tii” versions made from ’72 through ’74. Sporting fuel injection rather than the standard 2002’s carburetor, the 2002 tii had 125 horsepower to the standard 2002’s 100.
This seemingly bland, compact car quickly became known as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Unlike most Japanese compacts of the time (late ’60s through early ’70s), the 510 wasn’t just a simple economy car. Equipped with a peppy four cylinder engine, front disc brakes and an independent rear suspension, the rear-drive 510 was something of a poor man’s BMW 2002 that responded well to basic modifications. As such, this boxy, rear-wheel-drive sedan was a well-balanced performer and a big hit as an SCCA road racer for enthusiasts on a budget.
Amidst today’s crossover SUVs and minivans, Ford’s Flex, which debuted for 2009, is something of an anomaly — a modern take on the old-school station wagon. With its flat sides and squared-off roofline the Flex offers a surprising amount of space within. Indeed its third row seat can handle a pair of adults. Compared to a bulky minivan or large crossover, the Flex sits lower and offers a more carlike driving experience to go along with its unique looks.
Seemingly picking up where the first-generation Scion xB (see below) left off, the Soul is another compact cubist car that manages to make a cool styling statement with its simple lines. A peppy, fun to drive demeanor, good build quality and a low price add to this Korean’s many charms.
The original Mini debuted for 1959, offering Europeans a tiny car that could still seat four and zip in and out of city traffic. A small four cylinder engine driving the front wheels contributed to the Mini’s amazing space efficiency. The Mini’s light weight, low center of gravity and squat stance translated into a high fun to drive factor. The Cooper was initially a higher-performance version of the Mini. After being produced until 2000, the original Mini was finally retired. BMW bought the rights to the Mini and reintroduced a completely redesigned model for 2002.
With the aptly-named Cube, introduced for 2009, Nissan unabashedly embraced the Boxism school of automotive design. Trying to add a dash of style backfired, as some critics mercilessly described the Cube’s looks, especially from the rear, as a cross between a vending machine and a washing machine. Still, others think it looks cool and the basic tenets of big room in a small package hold true here, with the tallish Cube boasting comfy, thickly padded seats with plenty of space for a quartet of basketball players.
The first generation Scion xB (2004-2007) was a popular car among the younger folks. Proving that it can be hip to be square, this xB combined affordability with a sense of style along with a generous standard features list and rugged underpinnings courtesy of its Toyota parentage. Sadly, the second-gen xB, although still a good, practical car, got bigger and somehow lost the “cool” cache of its earlier brethren.
Once the vehicle of choice for hippies and Grateful Dead devotees (who usually were one and the same), the earlier versions (1950s-1960s) of the VW Type 2, or “Bus, Microbus, Van” boasted seating for up to nine. Acceleration, for lack of a better word, was snail-like, courtesy of its air-cooled four cylinder engine that made anywhere from around 24 to 54 horsepower. Somehow these breadboxes have become genuine collectible vehicles, with the split windshield, multi-windowed versions going for the biggest bucks. Auction sales of the latter have seen them go for anywhere from $50,000 to over $100,000.
Volkswagen Rabbit and Golf
Also earning honors in the boxy car awards for Volkswagen are its Rabbit and Golf. Introduced in the mid-’70s, the Rabbit (called the Golf in Germany) had a space efficient transverse four/front-wheel-drive powertrain, that along with its square-rigged body allowed more passenger room inside than, according to the ads of the time, a Rolls-Royce Corniche. The Rabbit name later changed to Golf for 1985, then briefly back to Rabbit for 2006-2009 before again going back to Golf. Special mention goes to the GTI version of both, a hopped-up Rabbit/Golf that was a blast to drive yet easy to live with thanks to its inherent practicality.
Volvo…take your pick
The first boxy Volvo was the 140/240 series, which debuted for 1967 and ran, essentially with the same body shell, through 1993. We like the turbo version which debuted in the early-’80s, putting some serious spring in this shoebox’s step. One could also make the “looks like the box it came in” case for Volvo’s 740/760/940/960/850 models that were produced in the ’80s and ’90s and featured slim roof pillars, a low beltline and large glass area that made for excellent outward visibility.
Note: Whether your aesthetic is boxy or sleek, Advance Auto Parts has all the car parts and automotive accessories you need to keep your ride running smoothly.