After a long wait, America is finally getting the Nissan Cube
. The first version launched in Japan in 1998 and stayed around until 2002. It lacked the unique design of the second-generation Cube that was sold from 2002 through 2008. We had a Japan-spec version of that car in the office last year and loved the funky styling, small size, and tight turning circle. The latest Cube keeps most of the cute styling of the last version but loses some of the odd features such as the column-shift automatic transmission and an electrically powered rear axle that gave the Cube four-wheel drive at low speeds.
The Nissan Cube is the new king of the box-on-wheels segment, at least with regards to exterior styling. The latest Scion xB lost quite a bit of character compared to the previous version and the Cube fills this void with impressive overall looks and some lovely details. The optional X-design wheels are a trademark feature of the square Nissan, as is the asymmetrical rear door design. The right-rear corner of the Cube has an additional window, which both looks cool and aids rear vision. Nissan claims a bulldog wearing sunglasses inspired the overall styling. Running around Ann Arbor, the Nissan got lots of looks and many people were eager to know its story.
The interior continues the funky exterior design. Nissan claims to have followed a lounge theme, giving occupants a relaxed driving/riding experience. The seats are comfortable and inspired by a sofa. The rear seat can slide six inches forward and back to allow owners to juggle cargo and passengers needs. Luggage space is a bit on the tight side with the rear seat in the upright position but the seat does fold for more room. Still, it would be nice if that rear seat either tumbled or was removable for even more cargo space. Headroom is massive. Even an NBA star wearing a ten-gallon hat would fit. There are some great details inside as well. The headliner and door speakers are rippled to resemble a water drop and there are cutouts in the doors for using bungee cords to attach items such as MP3 players or mobile phones. There are also hooks that are reconfigurable using the receptacles placed around the car. Comfort and convenience items such as iPod integration, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, premium audio, steering wheel controls, rear parking sensors, and cruise control are available on certain Cube models.
The Cube is available with one engine and two transmissions. The 1.8-liter inline four develops 122 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque and is also used in the Nissan Versa. Standard is a 6-speed manual transmission and a CVT automatic is available as an option. Fuel economy numbers have not been released but Nissan expects an EPA rating of around 30 mpg on the highway. All Cube models are front-wheel drive.
The Cube rides on Nissan's new B platform that also underpins cars like the newest Renault Clio and Modus. It uses a simple, strut-type front suspension and a torsion beam at the rear. We applaud Nissan for making stability control standard. Fifteen-inch steel wheels with covers are standard and sixteen-inch aluminum wheels are available. All models have the same damper and spring tuning.
This car is not just about styling - it actually goes down the road really well, although it's unlikely to appeal to hard-core driving enthusiasts. The somewhat quirky CVT transmission and the comically light electric power steering both come off as a negative at first but you quickly realize that they both perfectly fit the personality of this boxy Nissan. The chassis has a soft, though well damped feel that makes it very impressive over bad Michigan roads. The Cube feels well tuned and, to be honest, very French. It's no wonder the B platform is used by the Renault as well. The Cube is very relaxing and very comfortable to drive.
Its size, light controls, and insanely tight turning circle also make it an excellent city car. It's easy to park and offers great visibility. The 122-hp four-cylinder is energetic enough and the optional CVT does a good job keeping the engine nicely in its power band when accelerating. The Cube is easily the best-driving entry in the box-on-wheels segment.
We like the Cube. It has a blend of styling, price (starting just over $14,000), and driving pleasure that should fit many people's needs. It's far from sporty but has wonderful charm nonetheless. If you're looking for a funky, inexpensive car that is decent to drive, the Cube may be your perfect box.
2009 Nissan Cube
Base price: $14,685
As tested: $19,095 (SL CVT)
Powertrain: 1.8-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower: 122 hp @ 5200 RPM
Torque: 127 lb-ft @ 4800 RPM
Transmission: CVT automatic
L x W x H: 156.7 x 66.7 x 65.0 in
Wheelbase: 99.6 in
Legroom F/R: 42.4/35.5 in
Headroom F/R: 42.6/40.2 in
Cargo capacity (2nd row upright/2nd row folded): 11.4/58.1 cu ft
Curb weight: 2884 lbs (manufacturer, SL CVT)
EPA fuel economy: N/A