Don't Call Them Box Cars

October 12, 2010

Consumers are a finicky lot. We like what we like--and we don’t like some monikers attached to our preferred set of wheels. On the other hand, many of the target-market buyers of the funky-styled yet innovative and fun-to-drive small cars today couldn’t care less what others call their driving choice. It’s actually kind of amusing and fits right in with the younger driver’s look-at-me sense of individuality.

Just don’t call them box cars.

Here’s a lighthearted look at some of the (sorry, but it’s true) boxier versions of the small car segment. That they each appeal to different drivers with unique tastes is a given. They’re also fun, affordable, and undeniably instantly recognizable.

Kia Soul
The Korean automaker markets the 2011 Kia Soul as “A whole new way to roll,” and the tagline is certainly appropriate. Who can forget the playful hamsters cavorting in the Soul TV commercials? Talk about an attention-getting ad--Soul’s definitely got it. Available in four models (base 1.6L, Soul+, Soul !, and Soul Sport), starting manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRPs) range from $13,300 to $18,495. Powered by a 122-hp 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the base model achieves an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway. The other Soul models get the 140-hp 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with corresponding EPA estimated fuel economy of 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway. Soul has added appeal for younger buyers, boasting a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for 2010-2011 models.

Nissan Cube
With a starting MSRP of $13,990 for the 1.8 and $15,350 for 1.8 S, the 2010 Nissan Cube is certainly affordable. Of course, consumers can go more upscale, $17,450 for 1.8 SL and $20,440 for the edgy 1.8 S Krom Edition. Cube is also powered by a 122-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city/31 mpg highway--pretty respectable numbers, indeed. Cube boasts more than 50 standard safety features, including six standard airbags and stability control, and was named a 2010 IIHS Top Safety Pick. Other Cube highlights: room for five passengers, slide and recline second-row seats, and more than 58 cubic feet of cargo space. Highly customizable, Cube, whose lines are softened by strategically designed use of curves, definitely makes a statement.

Scion xD
A subcompact, the 2011 Scion xD has softer lines than its Scion xB sibling, which may appeal to a broader customer base. While criticized by some reviewers as short on space but long on available features, Scion xD, which shares a platform with the Toyota Yaris, nonetheless is a good value proposition for buyers. There’s also a special edition Release Series for 2011 with rich chocolate exterior color and other exclusive touches. Standard features include air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, sport front bucket seats, power door locks/windows/rear window defogger, and more. The five-passenger xB has a strong 128-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, EPA-estimated 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway fuel economy, and MSRPs beginning at $15,620 (manual) and $16,420 (automatic). As the Scion xD website says, the car’s got “Lots of Game. Plenty of hustle.”

Scion xB
Another 2010-2011 IIHS Top Safety Pick, the front-wheel drive, five-passenger Scion xB has a full complement of standard airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, and brake assist. Power comes from a 158-hp 2.4-liter dual overhead cam (DOHC) four-cylinder engine mated with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway, which ranks it near the bottom of its class. Still, the updated 2011 Scion xB is an affordable (MSRPs from $16,720 and $17,670, manual and automatic, respectively), safe, and funky-styled car that features generous cargo space, a strong engine, and long list of features for its price. And buyers do stand out when driving a Scion xB--by design. After all, Scion xB is the grandaddy of the kind of car some call a “rolling breadbox,” being on the scene far longer than recent arrivals like Kia Soul and Nissan Cube.

[IIHS, Kia, Nissan, Scion]

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