There was a time from the 1970s to the 1990s that boxy cars were all the rage. This happened, in part, because the manufacturing methods did not allow for the designs that we have now become accustomed to seeing in more modern times. Most of the body designs from decades past were made from plates of metal that had to be assembled together in pieces.
The newer, smoother curves of the auto body designs came much later, with the use of more exotic, lightweight yet strong materials such as carbon fiber, which could be processed into a beautiful, curvaceous auto body by using an injection molding processes.
Even though the manufacturing processes limited the cars from earlier decades to a more boxy style, it was still a style considered to be both pragmatic and attractive. Volvo made big success through the use of a major advertising campaign about the safety of its vehicles with the slogan “Boxy, but good™.”
In contemporary times, the boxy styled vehicles moved towards the SUV-types. Nevertheless, there are still crossover vehicles in modern production that are boxy “cars,” such as the Kia Soul.
Controversy rages about the modern boxy cars to determine if they are cars, micro-vans, wagons, or mini-SUVs. The lines have been blurred and the distinctions are not so easily determined. This makes a difference, for example, in the insurance rates for a vehicle that depend on how a “car” is classified.
Let’s take a look back at the classic and beautiful boxy cars from the decades before the millennium to see how they compare with their modern counterparts.
20. 1967 Morris Mini
The 1967 Morris Mini is a fun little car that uses the same amount of gas as a large motorcycle. It is very economical at the pump with its 34 HP 848cc four-cylinder engine. You can easily get 50 MPG on the highways.
If you are a taller person, you would want to get a convertible to let your head rise above the roof level. Driving this car is like driving a fast go-kart. Of course, just like riding a motorcycle, there is little to protect you in the case of an accident. Most people did not realize that they really should wear a helmet when driving a convertible version of this car.
For the do-it-yourself types, this car is really easy to repair. The challenge now is to find spare parts. Because it is such an antique, many parts are no longer available. However, with the advancements in 3D printing technology, it is possible to create brand new parts for this vintage vehicle. Hemmings reported that during 2014 a pristine version of this car sold for $181,500. Not bad for a car that originally sold for less than $2,000.
19. 1973 Datsun 510
There are quite a few 1973 Datsun 510 vehicles still in operation over forty years after their initial release. This car was built to last. Keeping them in decent repair is fairly easy because there are so many of these cars in the junkyards. It was a really popular seller in its time. For racing, the Datsun 510 was modified to improve performance. During the 1970s, this model was the East African BRE 2.5 champion.
The Datsun 510 is strong, reliable, and offers excellent handling. One disadvantage of owning one of these vintage cars is always finding notes on the windshield, when returning to the parked car, asking if you want to sell it.
18. 1974 VW The Thing
Volkswagen surprised the entire auto industry when it came out with “The Thing,” during the 1970s. It was cramped, underpowered, and felt like you were driving a large golf cart. Nevertheless, some people loved it for its unusual style and weird looks, which were a cross between a Jeep and a sedan.
Volkswagen only made about 250,000 of these cars during the ten years it was in production. It was only imported to the USA during the years 1973 and 1974, so an American version of this car is quite rare. It is possible to buy a secondhand one, which still runs, for around US$15,000 that is offered for sale by its owner on the Hemmings website.
17. 1976 BMW 2002
The 1976 BMW 2002 has a four-cylinder 1,500 cc engine that can take the vehicle to over 110 MPH at top speed. This is a robust vehicle that is easy to work on for those that are mechanically inclined. This model was first introduced in 1968 and it had some problems, most noticeably the heater blower motor would fail, which was not so good in the cold winter.
By 1976, BMW had ironed out all of the problems and during 1976 this model became a very reliable and solidly made vehicle. Many give credit to this model for establishing the popular Sport-GT style of vehicle and it is responsible for making BMW a household name.
The compact BMW 2002 model was the company’s best seller and became popular while BMW was having trouble surviving as a car manufacturer. This model is attractive to those who want a sports car, yet also have the need to drive the family around in a sedan. BMW sold over 400,000 cars of this model from 1968 to 1976.
16. 1980 Cadillac Sedan de Ville
The 1980 Cadillac Sedan de Ville has a huge 4.1 liter six-cylinder engine (a V-8 model is also available) and has 3-speeds in the automatic version. It is a gas guzzler and gets only around 14 to 17 MPG. The body makes use of plenty of steel and the vehicle weighs over 4,400 lbs, so it is like being in a tank if it gets in an accident. Pity the economy car that is involved in any accident with this Cadillac model. It feels very large and comfortable when riding in this car, kind of like riding on sofas from a living room.
15. 1987 Bentley Turbo R
In 1989, when it was first imported into the United States, Motor Trend called the Bentley Turbo R the first model of Bentley in years that deserved the brand’s name. It has an eight-cylinder 6,750cc engine that provides 330 HP at 4,000 rpm. It utilizes fuel injection for added torque. It has an excellent suspension system that gives it good handling.
The release of this model brought a renaissance to the Bentley brand, establishing it as a very desirable luxury brand in its own right after being under the shadow of the Rolls-Royce brand for so long prior to 1987. Many reviewers gave this Bentley Turbo R model a perfect rating of five out of five stars.
14. 1987 Buick GNX
Road and Track reported in 2016 that a 1987 Buick GNX collectible car sold for $165,000. This vehicle originally sold for $26,000 to $28,000. When first released, this vehicle could accelerate to 60 MPH in less than six seconds and reach over 105 MPH in fourteen seconds until it finally topped out at around 124 MPH. That is an amazing amount of power for a vehicle weighing in at about 3,500 lbs. It has a 3.8 liter, inter-cooled, turbocharged V-6 engine providing 245 HP and 355 lb.-ft. of torque.
13. 1987 Honda Civic CRX
The 1987 Honda Civic got great reviews when it first came out. It is built extremely well and it is common for the 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine to last well over 200,000 miles. Many of these vehicles are still on the road today, thirty years after they first sold.
Drivers of this vehicle report getting 35 to 45 MPG. Besides the excellent fuel economy, the other reasons why people like this car are because it is easy to repair and the parts are not expensive.
12. 1989 Volvo 240
People who originally bought the Volvo 240 really like it. The Volvo 240 is also an excellent used vehicle to purchase. It gets a 4.8 out of 5-star rating on Edmunds.com from owners. This model is almost indestructible. Owners report that it has a decent fuel economy of about 28 MPG. Repairs are somewhat expensive; however, it rarely breaks down.
Volvo is known for its reliability and safety. Many Volvos are handed down from generation to generation because this is a safer vehicle for teen drivers to use. Its boxy design is built very strongly to protect the passengers. Volvo is the leader in boxy automotive designs and continues to follow this pattern even today.
11. 1991 Audi Quattro Sport
The 1991 Audi Quattro Sport is a sports vehicle that is fun to drive. Its performance is good and the handling is excellent. It has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine (which can be upgraded) that is capable in the standard version of hitting 160 MPH at top speed. It is comfortable, quality-built and fast. However, there is not much room in the back seats.
With the optional four-wheel drive, this car was frequently used as a rally race car. Even though critics doubted the viability of an all-wheel-drive rally car, it won its first rally in 1981 after this model first came out and continued to win rallies for all the years up to 1991 when the model was discontinued.
10. 1991 BMW M3
This powerful special edition BMW M3 cost around $65,000 when it first debuted. The biggest complaint about this model from American owners was the constant need to stay calm and not fly down the highway, breaking the speed limit, in order to avoid trouble with the police.
With its 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine, it can go from zero to 60 MPH in 6.9 seconds. This car is not only a status symbol because of the BMW brand; it is also a very capable race car that really needs the unlimited speeds of the German autobahn for full appreciation. Many of this model were modified and used for racing.
The 1991 BMW M3 has the unusual characteristic of appreciating in value around 27% after it came out. One of these BMWs in good condition now sells for around $80,000, even though it came out over 25 years ago.
9. 1991 Maserati Biturbo
This Maserati was a “down market” version made for those who could not afford the pricier Maserati models. It has a 2.5-liter V-6 engine, which produces 185 HP and was the first twin-turbo production vehicle. It accelerates to 60 MPH in 6.1 seconds and hits a top speed of 134 MPH.
It was notorious for having electrical problems and the engine overheating. The first year for this model’s sales in America was 1984 and it sold 2,023 units. The second year after this model debuted, American sales fell to 1,190 units. In 1986, it sold 1,298 units. After that, its popularity steadily declined. In 1990, it sold only 240 units in America. The 1991 model was better quality, but few people wanted one. This was a marketing disaster because Maserati needed to make a car that could sell in volumes due to cash problems at the factory.
8. 1992 Dodge Dynasty
Many feel the 1992 Dodge Dynasty is the best car ever made by Dodge. It was built to last and it is common for the original 3.3-liter, V-6 engine to exceed 200,000 miles before needing to be rebuilt. The transmission will probably go out before the original engine does. It has a plush, comfy interior. Its style looks dated now and some call this a “grandma’s” car. In fact, some inherited this car from their grandma who actually bought it when it was a brand new car. It is very reliable and has the decent gas mileage of 24 MPG in the city and 32 MPG on the highway.
7. 1993 Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang has always been an American favorite. The 1993 model does not have the classic Mustang look from earlier years like the 1960s. Instead, the designers decided to make it look boxier. This model sold from 1984 to 1993. It was available with a 2.3-liter, I-4 engine that produced 105 HP or an LX 5.0-liter V-8 version that produced 205 HP. The I-4 engine has a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. It gets an average of 26 MPG in fuel economy using regular gas.
People who bought the LX version did so more because of the performance than the looks. The LX version was 200 pounds lighter and about $6,000 cheaper when first released than the GT convertible, which was the nicer looking vehicle. It is faster than the GT on the track by a few tenths of a second at the quarter mile.
6. 1994 Lexus LS 400
The Lexus was the Japanese automaker’s challenge to the Mercedes-Benz S-class models and the E550 model Mercedes-Benz that has an almost identical body style. The Japanese wanted to prove to the world that they could make a quality luxury vehicle to rival anything produced by the Germans. The quality of the Lexus LS 400 is excellent. This car has a very comfortable ride. It was first introduced in 1989 and by 1994 it became extremely popular.
The Japanese decided to take on the luxury car segment because of the restrictions on the number of vehicles allowed to be imported from Japan to enter the USA. This upscale vehicle sold for a higher price point and made more profit per unit. While the quality levels of Mercedes suffered during the 1990s, the Lexus was a vast improvement over the same style of similar Mercedes in both reliability and workmanship.
5. 1994 Mercedes Benz E500
The E500 was the Mercedes-Benz that was a competitor for the Lexus LS 400. The E500 Mercedes-Benz was known for the durability of its engine and transmission. Most engines in this vehicle can easily last to over 200,000 miles if maintained properly. It comes with a 5.0-liter, V-8 engine that provides plenty of power (322 HP) and speed (top speed is 190 MPH). It can reach 60 MPH in less than six seconds. Owners report that it gets the decent mileage of around 23 MPG on the highway. It rides just as nicely at 120 MPH as it does at 60 MPH.
4. 1996 Volvo 850 wagon
Volvo once again makes our list. This time with a station wagon that takes a boxy style to a new level. If you want to carry the kids around safely this is the perfect vehicle for that. You can even use this vehicle to haul stuff from a home repair center or use it for a camping trip.
It has an 2.3-liter inline 5 engine that produces 225 HP. It gets around 25 MPG even when driving at top speeds. There is a button that changes the car from economy setting that saves on fuel, to power setting, which turns on the turbocharger, and then this Volvo can really go and accelerate quickly.
Used Volvo 850 Wagons are available for lower prices when they have over 100,000 miles on the odometer. Even with this high mileage, you can expect the average 850 original engine to be able to make it to 200,000 miles or more.
3. 2015 Scion xB
A competitor in the category of boxy modern vehicles is the Scion xB. The manufacturer calls the Scion xB style a five-door, compact, hatchback. The Scion xB model was discontinued by Toyota and was no longer be available as a new vehicle after 2015. A used 2015 Scion xB in perfect condition sells for $12,000 to $15,000.
Fans of the Scion xB are many with Edmunds giving it a 4.8 rating out of five stars. It has a spacious interior with lots of leg room. Its 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine is responsive. It does not have great fuel economy (average 24 MPG), the ride is noisy, and the rear visibility is low. The problem is that Toyota felt the sales volumes were not sufficiently large enough to continue production of the Scion xB.
2. 2016 Nissan Cube
The Nissan Cube looks like the Kia Soul’s cousin. However, similar appearances can be deceiving. U.S. News says that owners of the Nissan Cube complain about the lack of power and handling problems at high speeds and on curvy roads. They give the Nissan Cube a rating of only 3.9 stars out of five.
It has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 122 HP. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic transmission. It is designed for comfort, but lacks acceleration and handles poorly. The one thing nice about the Nissan Cube is, because of its boxy shape, the interior is roomy with wide seats and nice cushioning. Because of the troubles it had during 2010 with fuel safety standards, the 2016 Nissan Cube has limited availability in the USA and in 2017 is being replaced by the less boxy Nissan Versa.
1. 2017 Kia Soul
This Kia Soul is a crossover between a car, a van, and a mini-SUV. The actual classification, for insurance purposes, is a wagon. The basic model of the 2017 Kia Soul has a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine delivering 130 HP with a six-speed transmission in either manual or automatic. There is an automatic 2.0-liter version with 161 HP. A turbo-charged model is also available.
Car and Driver gives the Kia Soul five out of five stars. They like the turbocharged version that delivers 201 HP at 6,000 RPM and accelerates to 60 MPH in 7.6 seconds. It has a seven-speed transmission with a dual-clutch automatic. The MSRP is $16,995. It is practical and fun to drive. It was selected by Car and Driver to be in the Top Ten Autos for 2017.
Sources: cargurus.com, hemmings.com, roadandtrack.com, Edmunds.com, topspeed.com, caranddriver.com, and usnews.com
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