10 of the Boxiest Cars and SUVs On the Market
Square, upright bold (and beautiful?) shapesby Andrei Nedelea, on
Most cars you can buy nowadays are designed to look like wedges that seem as if they’re on the move when standing still. However, there are still those models that buck the trend, adopting a boxier and generally more upright look.
Some do it for functionality, others for pure style, but what’s certain is these boxy models don’t really constitute the norm, and you have to really do a thorough search to find them. This list doesn’t include Japanese Kei cars or JDM models in general (since we’d fill the list quite quickly), but I have included one Kei entry just to show a style of small car that is most popular in Japan.
You really won’t find them outside Japan, so elsewhere you have to look harder to get your boxy car and/or SUV kicks. From 2009 until 2014, Nissan sold the asymmetrical Cube people carrier outside Japan and that car would have made a great poster vehicle for this article, but now it’s been relegated to JDM-only status so that won’t work...
But, thankfully, such models do exist, if we concentrate on the sort of vehicles you can buy in North America and Europe. Here’s our list of the ten boxiest cars available in these regions, plus one super-boxy Kei car to represent Japan.
Believe it or not, BMW makes one of the boxiest cars you can buy right now, in the form of its hugely popular i3 all-electric vehicle. It has a body-on-frame construction and, to keep its weight and center of gravity down, BMW engineers have designed its structure out of aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer - a material that’s kind of like carbon fiber, but not as expensive to make (nor is it as good).
The i3’s body is unusually boxy for a modern car, but I’m not really sure in this case it was not simply a byproduct of engineers looking to give the car as much space as possible given its wheelbase.
It, therefore, had to be quite vertical in order for passengers to enjoy being aboard it.
And, it’s actually succeeded, because if you spec your i3’s interior with lighter trim materials and the bamboo wood trim dashboard, it’s a really serene place to be. So while in this case the boxiness may not have been specifically desired (had it been a lower and sleeker shape it would have been more widely appreciated for the way it looks) the fact that its interior is so good probably makes those who don’t really like its exterior still appreciate what it offers.
Read our full review on the 2018 BMW i3.
The previous Dacia/Renault Duster was about as boxy as crossovers got and, while the new one has slightly toned that down, it can still be included on this list.
The Duster’s exterior boxiness translates into lots and lots of space inside, both for passengers and cargo - it’s not the most high quality interior out there, but boy is it practical.
It is simply cavernous inside and unmatched for interior space at its respective price point. However, its boxiness also renders it quite handsome to look at, and very proud and purposeful to behold. I think practicality is the reason behind why the Duster looks the way it does, but designers have done a great job of styling it to look just right. Even if the new model is less boxy than the old one, it will still stick out in a parking lot of swooping, tapered cars.
Read our full review on the 2014 Dacia Duster.
Since around one-third of all cars sold in Japan are Kei cars, this style of upright, squared off, and very tall looking city car is hugely popular. Japan is a heavily urbanized territory, so dense that crowded cities are common, and vehicles like the Honda N-Box are a great way to get around while enjoying great fuel efficiency and tax reductions. Such vehicles also have to conform to strict size requirements and engineers who design them gain space where they can (especially by going vertically).
The 2018 Honda N-Box is a striking vehicle. From whichever angle you look at it, it looks way too tall and narrow, like a top-heavy caricature.
But, it actually drives pretty well, and if you opt for the N-Box Custom Turbo with the optional all-wheel-drive system, you’ll not only get a sporty body kit and a radical overall makeover but also extra performance too. Inside, from the driver’s perspective, you really get a sense of just how tall the N-Box is, and Honda engineers have even managed to put a glove box right in front, in between the steering column and dials.
The N-Box is the definition of a boxy car, one that does it both for the looks and also practicality. It’s also Japan’s best selling Kei car, followed by the Daihatsu Move and Tant models, then the Nissan Days all of which are of the same dimension and generally very boxy, but none as boxy as the N-Box.
If you liked the Dacia Duster’s boxiness but felt it still wasn’t boxy enough for you, then maybe the more extreme styling of the Jeep Renegade will be more appealing. It looks even boxier and even more upright than the Duster, with nearly upright A-pillars and a fairly tall roof.
There is a lot of vertical emphasis in the Renegade’s design, and this gives it quite a distinctive look - nothing else looks like it, not even other Jeep models.
What’s nice about the Renegade is that the exterior design theme is carried over inside, and you definitely see the continuity.
However, it’s nowhere near as spacious as you think it’s going to be - remember, this vehicle shares its underpinnings with the Fiat 500X, and you can kind of see that in the amount of rear legroom.
So, the Renegade was probably specifically designed to look bold and boxy, but this doesn’t really translate into as roomy an interior as you’d expect it to have, so it’s a bit of a case of style for style’s sake.
Read our full review on the Jeep Renegade
Kia Soul sits in an undefined place of the compact car market: it’s neither a hatchback, nor is it a crossover or people carrier, and yet it’s all of those things at the same time. It looks like a crossover from the outside, but from the inside, there’s so much usable space that it feels more like a people carrier, a vehicle specifically designed around its practical and roomy interior.
So the Soul doesn’t neglect interior practicality, and it also blends it with quite a unique take on the whole boxy, upright crossover-like design theme.
Like the Jeep Renegade small SUV, it has vertical windscreen pillars, and its roofline does not drop down towards the back of the car - there is absolutely no tapering going on here.
It also has a bold, upright front end, with slim horizontal light clusters and everything really adds up to a vehicle that’s eye-catching. It looks like a popular crossover but is really more like one of those not-so-cool small people carriers that buyers have ditched for crossovers in recent years. The Soul is a great boxy car that isn’t just in it for the style points.
Read our full review on the 2020 Kia Soul
The Lada Niva has been in production since 1970, and its body remains for the most part identical to present day. The Niva is unashamedly boxy and square, but it’s been around for so long, its shape could definitely be called iconic.
It’s definitely not a car that was styled a certain way, and the way it looks is a clear result of what it was designed to do.
Its interior is spartan but spacious and even many decades after it was first conceived, it’s still serving the needs of buyers. It offers an old school approach to creating an off-road-capable vehicle that also drives decently on tarmac. In fact, the Niva is probably one of the automotive world’s original successful crossovers/small SUVs, and there’s definitely an inherent coolness that can be derived from that.
Land Rover did a crazy thing when it transitioned from the old shape Discovery model to the new one. It tried to offer a vehicle that looked visually linked to its predecessor both inside and out, but at the same time offer a more modern and rounded aesthetic - it’s still a very tall and boxy vehicle, but now it’s gentler on the eye with softer corners and creases.
But there’s nothing subtle about the asymmetrical rear end design which definitely looks interesting (and again retains a design trait from the previous Discovery), and it might definitely make you raise an eyebrow when you see one for the first time.
Some don’t really like the look of the new Discovery, and point to its predecessor’s simpler and more honest look.
The new Discovery certainly has its charm, and just like the model it replaces, its boxy look is also there for practical reasons - to offer decent space for all three rows of occupants, as well as increasingly higher seating the further back in the vehicle you sit.
Read our full review on the 2018 Land Rover Discovery
Mercedes may have slightly softened some edges and changed a few things around with its new G-Class, but it really looks 99-percent the same as the old one. It is unashamedly boxy with a shape clearly penned back in the 1970s, and once you learn of the model’s initial destination as a military vehicle, you can’t unsee that connection.
There’s no denying that the G-Class packs a strong presence in person, the kind of imposing vehicle that looks like it could either ram you out of its way or drive over the top of your car.
It’s an undeniably appealing aesthetic, if perhaps a bit too unfriendly for other road users, like, say, in a city where people drive smaller and much lower cars.
And its tall and boxy shape does not also have the added benefit of acres of interior room - in fact, it may feel quite cramped compared to your expectations if you’ve never been in one, reminding you yet again of its 1970s military roots in a bad way, as does its on-road driving experience.
Read our full review on the Mercedes G-Class
The new Suzuki Jimny is just so cute that you want to pinch its square little cheeks. Suzuki has done a truly fantastic job of bringing the world this new icon of boxy motoring. The new Jimny is boxy not only because it looks really good, but also to offer decent interior space - it does both surprisingly well.
It also doesn’t have one bad angle.
From the front, side, rear, and all three-quarter views, the Jimny looks purposeful and well proportioned with a hint of cheekiness.
It’s such a playful shape that it really shows the team of designers at Suzuki really had a lot of fun creating it.
Move inside, and you’ll discover an interior far better than what you remembered from the outgoing model. It doesn’t really feel especially plush or fancy inside, but the design follows the same aesthetic as the exterior. It comes packed with features and is quieter and more comfortable than before. This vehicle is going to be a global hit, and the unique boxy look will be one of the reasons.
Read our full review on the 2019 Suzuki Jimny.
Volvo thankfully didn’t use a cookie cutter approach to creating the XC40 small SUV, which sits below the XC60 and XC90 in the Swedish manufacturer’s range. The two larger high-rider offerings look very similar, but the XC40 adopts a completely different (and quite boxy) look.
It’s not immediately apparent that Volvo wanted the XC40 to look a bit boxy, but from certain angles, it certainly looks like it.
I think it is a superb styling exercise that, in my view, surpasses Volvo’s two larger offerings and makes the XC40 one of the best looking taller vehicles you can buy at any price.
Like the best of these boxy cars with extra care for the styling, the interior follows the exterior’s aesthetic and it all ties in really nicely. Plus it’s quite roomy and airy inside, and you can really jazz it up with striking colors from the factory. The XC40 blends practicality with looks or, in other words, it doesn’t go for a look that’s too boxy to get maximum space inside. At the same time, it’s boxy and squared off enough that interior space is ample for all passengers, as well as cargo.
Read our full review on the 2018 Volvo XC40
Volkswagen adopted a bit of a Kei car approach for the Up! city car, a model with a very small wheelbase but, surprisingly, enough room for four adults to travel in comfort. You won’t be able to carry many bags at the same, but it’s such a small car that even fitting the people inside without them feeling like sardines is an accomplishment.
When you look at the Up!, its boxiness strikes you, but while it isn’t as immediately cute as the Jimny, for instance, it’s not a bad looking car.
The GTI version, with red accents, sportier bumpers, and larger rims looks good, and it’s definitely considerably more stylish than a base Up!.
VW’s subsidiaries also sell their own version of the Up!, called Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii respectively.
Read our full review on the VW Up!