An econobox is a slang term for any of a series of small, boxy, fuel-efficient car with few luxuries and a low sticker price. The term may have been coined by Car and Driver magazine as an alternative to their usual term for such an econobox: "shitbox".
The typical econobox is a subcompact car, usually with a three-door hatchback
format with transverse engine
mounting and front-wheel drive
, to maximize interior space despite overall small dimensions. They are usually outfitted with vinyl bucket seats
, basic AM radio
, a rudimentary heater, foam-cushioned plastic trim, two-speed wipers and painted steel rims with a chromed wheel nut cap.
Econoboxes first came to prominence in the United States due to the 1973 oil crisis
. Japanese automakers
were leaders at producing smaller, fuel-efficient cars, as well as enjoying generally higher reliability and build quality than their US counterparts, so their offerings such as the Honda Civic
generally outperformed their American competitors such as the Chevrolet Vega
and Ford Pinto
Possibly the first econobox was the Austin Mini, first built in England in 1959. The best known American econoboxes were the Chevrolet Chevette and the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon. Japanese econoboxes include the Honda Civic (in particular the first and second generations) and the Datsun B-210. The Fiat 127 and its Yugoslavian counterpart the Yugo are also famous econoboxes.
Other well known economy cars like the Volkswagen Beetle and the Citroën 2CV are sometimes referred to as econoboxes, though they do not have the requisite square shape of a true econobox.
Other cars such as the Chevrolet Sprint, Geo Metro, as well as the Ford Fiesta, Ford Festiva, and Ford Aspire would be considered econoboxes.
Many long-running nameplates that have gotten their start as econoboxes have since moved upscale. The Austin Mini and VW Beetle, for instance, have been revived or succeeded by high performance vehicles whose retro exterior pays tribute to the originals, but they are now targeted at performance enthusiasts rather than the masses.
Automakers created new lines of entry-level economy vehicles, such as the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, whose base models are no-frills vehicles. However, due to engineering advances, they have an aerodynamic shape to reduce drag and improve on fuel efficient, while also providing substantial interior volume, despite the exterior dimensions. Unlike original econoboxes, current entry-level vehicles now incorporate more safety features, while amenities such as power windows and air conditioning are available as options or on more expensive trims. Indeed, while offering base models allow the manufacturer to claim a low MSRP for advertising purposes, the most common models produced will actually be the the mid-level trims that contain some of these luxuries.