The Nissan Cube is a small crossover SUV sporting a boxy, whimsical body design housing a practical cabin. Small on the outside, it's easy to maneuver, easy to park, and it's EPA-rated at 31 miles per gallon Highway. Yet it's big on the inside. It seats five people, with miles of headroom and acres of cargo space.
Nissan refers to the Cube as a mobile hub, instead of a car, because it is meant as an affordable, moveable gathering place for young people, their friends, and their music. Its back seat reclines for comfort or can be deleted for van-like cargo space. Nissan markets its cube in fashionable lower case, like iPhone and smart fortwo.
Cube was new to the U.S. for 2009. For 2010, Nissan Cube changes are oriented around the information and entertainment systems. Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls are now standard on all but the base model; as is a six-speaker stereo with iPod interface, MP3/CD-ROM capability, Radio Data System (RDS), and speed-sensitive volume control. For 2010, the Cube SL with the Preferred Package and the top-level Cube Krom (pronounced chrome) add a 4.3-inch color audio display with USB connectivity and a rearview monitor, along with Intelligent Key and push-button starting.
The Cube may be a newcomer to the U.S. market, but it has been on sale for a decade in Japan, and the version sold here is actually the third generation of the product. The Cube predates the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Scion xB, Kia Soul, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit, all of which Nissan counts as the Cube's direct competitors. The Cube is built on the same Nissan B platform as the Versa, a roomy subcompact that also competes with those cars.
The Nissan Cube is powered by a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the same engine that powers the Nissan Versa in this market. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or the Nissan-built Xtronic continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
We found the Cube perky in the big city and able to keep up with the traffic on the highway. Easy to park, it can make a U-turn in the tiniest of spaces. It made us smile, it's cute, it holds a lot of people and cargo, it's zippy, and it can be easily customized with accessories.
The Cube is the latest addition to an increasingly crowded segment of cute little cars aimed at younger drivers, but it can certainly be appreciated by older drivers who need a second car as a runabout or weekender, or those in between who are looking to downsize their car payment and fuel bills.
Nissan says its designers had in mind a bulldog wearing sunglasses when they were working on the Cube. This might explain the concave, rounded corners on each of the four side windows, with shorter windows in the front doors and longer windows in the rear. Even more odd (literally) is the Cube's odd number of visible roof pillars: a fairly conventional three on the left side but only two on the right, with the third pillar on right side covered by dark glass. This feature, as much as any other, gives the Cube its unique appearance.
Except for one new color choice (Sapphire Black), the 2010 Nissan Cube looks just like the 2009 Nissan Cube.
The Cube's side windows are rounded at the corners, as if intentionally at odds with vehicle's overall squareness, and beveled into the surrounding sheet metal.
This alone would set the Cube apart from most other vehicles; but even more unique is the single, hidden roof pillar at the Cube's right rear, which creates the illusion of a continuous sweep of glass flowing all the way from just behind the center right door pillar, around the right-rear corner of the vehicle, and across to the left side of the tailgate, where it meets up with a conventionally visible pillar just where you'd expect to find it holding up the left rear corner of the roof.
Thus the left and right sides of the Cube are decidedly different, and it's this assertive asymmetry that easily trumps the fish-tank side windows as the Cube's more striking visual feature.
The Cube's exterior also features a long, flat roof with built-in ridges for strength and quietness, a tall windshield, tall side windows and large doors, including the left-hinged, right-opening “refrigerator” rear cargo door.
Base, S, and SL models breathe through three distinct tiers of air intake. At top, a gray plastic grille with a slotted texture integrates with the main light clusters; it curves up at its bottom center to make room for a simple air slot below it. Below that, a body-colored grille integrates into the bumper, with fog light nacelles at its outboard ends. The appropriately named Krom both simplifies and brightens this arrangement with single rectangular grille between the headlights and a much bigger and bolder opening below that in a more sharply defined bumper; both openings are filled with bight horizontal bars.
Around back, Krom is distinguished by horizontal air slots in its rear bumper, a more defined license-plate niche, and a free-standing rooftop spoiler. Running-board-like side sills complete the Krom's body mods.
Wheels also help identify the individual members of the Cube family. Base and S models wear plain plastic covers with a six-spoke pattern. SL models upgrade to alloys with four slim double-spokes, a design that looks almost too light for the Cube's visual weight. Krom's more interesting wheels feature eight individual spokes that each meet the hub at a tangent, so they look like they're spinning even when standing still. Other wheels are offered as accessories
The Cube is built close to the ground, so it is very easy to get into and out of, and the cargo sill is low enough for a child to load groceries over.
What the Cube has more than anything else remotely in its class is its huge interior size, just under 110 cubic feet overall, in a car that's only 157 inches long.
We found a 6-foot, 4-inch driver has about eight inches of headroom; and leg, hip and shoulder room is equally generous. A six-way manual adjuster provides for all types of driver physiques.
The reclining rear seat slides fore and aft more than six inches, enabling moms to deal with backseat kids or babies easily at arm's length or large adults to sit comfortably behind large adults in the front seat. The optional cargo package deletes the rear seats to provide enough space for a rock band's gear. Multi-functional hooks can be detached and moved around the car as needed, and there six cupholders.
Although the Cube's design is quirky on the outside, it's all business and quite normal on the inside, with a conventional gauge package, a slightly stylized center area with the radio and environmental controls, and a large glovebox, with storage cubbies all over the doors and interior.
Interior design licks include a ripple-effect headliner with concentric circles around the dome light, a theme repeated on the speaker cones (and on the Rockford Fosgate subwoofer when ordered). The waveform dashboard and instrument panel are delightful to look at and very easy to use.
The Krom and Preferred Package SL come with that Rockford Fosgate subwoofer mounted in the center of the cargo door.
Weighing just 2800 pounds in its basic form, the Cube doesn't tax the 122-horsepower engine at all, and it feels reasonably quick getting away from stoplights and stop signs in urban and suburban settings.
The Cube SL test car we drove had the CVT transmission as standard equipment, and it worked very well with the engine's 127 pounds-feet of torque without a lot of waiting around for the revs to catch up to the ratios, a common problem with other CVTs that tend to make driving noisy and clunky. Not in the Cube CVT. It's not a rocket ship, but it more than keeps up with the traffic, and it isn't buzzy or whiny at freeway speeds.
The Cube runs on Regular gas, and with the CVT is EPA-rated at 27/31 mpg City/Highway. The six-speed manual is actually somewhat less efficient, at 25/30 mpg.
The suspension under the Cube is entirely conventional, with MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front, and a torsion beam setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar at the rear: simple, cheap and effective, and a system that has tuned out almost all of the usual body roll in corners, so the Cube feels stable and planted on its relatively skinny, tall tires.
The steering is light and easy, but not ropey; its variable assist is vehicle-speed-sensitive even on the base model. The driver's seating position is nice and high, with really excellent outward vision in all directions. Base and S models ride on P195/60HR15-inch tires; SL and Krom have slightly lower-profile 195/55VR16's, but there are no options larger than that.
One of the driving dynamics that distinguishes the Cube is its 33.4-foot turning circle, the shortest in the class, and more than six feet shorter than some of its competitors, a factor that just makes the Cube more maneuverable in more tight places than the other cute little cars.
We found the brakes worked just fine in the busy, crazy downtown Miami traffic, defending the Cube against tourists, pedestrians, scooters and cabbies, with good power and good pedal modulation, without the added expense of rear discs. The brakes are discs front and drums rear, but with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, Brake Assist, traction and yaw control built into the system.
The Nissan Cube is cute, practical, and fuel-efficient, whether used as a primary car or as a runabout or weekender. It holds a lot of people and cargo, it's zippy, and it can be easily customized.
Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Miami, Florida, after his test drive of the Cube.