2013 Nissan cube

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2009 Nissan cube Review

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.3

Bottom Line:

The Nissan cube promises buyers utility, economy and fun features at a bargain-basement price tag — much like the competition. Its ace in the hole is an emotion-evoking design unlike any other.
Pros:
  • Cute and comfortable interior
  • Plethora of personalization options
  • Quirky asymmetric styling
Cons:
  • No-hustle performance
  • Snug rear cargo area with back seats upright
  • Quirky asymmetric styling

Although it may seem just another entry into the exploding “box car” segment, the 2009 Nissan cube could actually be the originator.

Entering its third generation, the extreme-styled cube has been sold in Japan since 1998. Now, Nissan has finally deemed it ready for U.S. consumption.

The cube infuses a much needed dose of eccentricity into the style-conscious youth market at a time when the competition is growing more conventional.

Model Lineup
More than basic transportation, the 5-door box-shaped cube relies on offering Generation Y buyers an expression of individualism on top of multifunctional utility. Good or bad, the Picassoesque asymmetry grabs onlookers’ attention in a way no entry-level compact should. And if the standard setup isn’t different enough, Nissan will offer a catalog of 40-plus dealer-installed personalization accessories, including everything from exterior enhancements to a ’70s shag-carpet dash topper.

The not-so-stripped-down base 1.8 comes standard with all the key desirables, such as power accessories, CD player with aux input for a portable audio player such as an iPod, keyless entry, 15-inch wheels and a multitude of safety features. Though stepping up to the S nets only a few minor additions, including upgraded cloth and cruise control, the SL strikes the best balance of great features with 16-inch alloy wheels, standard continuously variable transmission, and an upgraded stereo with iPod connectivity, along with additional conveniences. The SL Preferred package is the only available factory option for the cube. It packs in numerous techno-conveniences, including parking sonar and intelligent key.

Think of the top-line Krōm (pronounced chrome) model as a prepackaged custom cube. With features including aggressive front and rear fascias, unique 16-inch alloy wheels, a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, multicolor interior illumination and a host of interior accents, the Krōm enhances the cube’s expressive and youthful spirit.

Under the Hood
Built on the front-wheel-drive Nissan Versa platform, the cube is equipped with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, the same one used by the Versa. Spinning out 122 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 127 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm, the cube is only midclass, but it is noticeably stronger than its predecessor sold only in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Buyers have their choice of two transmissions: a 6-speed manual that is standard on the base and S trims, or an Xtronic CVT that is optional on the S and standard on the SL and Krōm versions. Either choice nets miserly gas mileage, estimated to be just short of the 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway achieved by the less vertical Versa. All models come standard with traction control and Nissan’s stability control (VDC).

Inner Space
For the trendy 18- to 25-year-old crowd that Nissan hopes to attract, the cube’s interior is more than a place to sit while heading to a destination: it is a secondary living and social space. The cube’s “Jacuzzi lounge” concept embraces this need both visually and functionally. Funky water-themed cues are found all around, such as the water-drop headliner and speaker grilles. The dash forms a wraparound wave design, peaking at the center stereo controls. A clear and simple gauge cluster floats in front of the driver, and an optional interior lighting package sets the mood with 20 different color choices. Seats have the cushioning of a dorm room sofa and offer about as much lateral support. Although materials are mostly cheap and hollow, even for the price point, the overall ambiance remains bubbly and inviting.

Thanks to a tall profile and vertical walls, the aptly named cube packs in heaps of space relative to its diminutive size. The plentiful headroom and legroom could accommodate a Yeti, aided by a sliding and reclining rear seat — a unique feature in this class. Around back, a large refrigerator-like rear door conveniently opens away from the curb to reveal a disappointingly shallow 11.4 cubic feet of storage space. Drop the 60/40 split folding rear seats, and space improves significantly to 58.1 cubic feet, although the bi-level arrangement can transform packing into a game of Tetris. While the cube does not have dozens of storage nooks sprinkled throughout, it does offer some innovative solutions, such as extra-high cupholders in the front dash and bungee straps on the doors.

On the Road
Unlike much of the competition, the cube makes no sporty pretense in any of its four forms. It focuses clearly on delivering a simple, comfortable driving experience in a fashionable package. The 1.8-liter engine moves this lounge-on-wheels easily through its native urban environment, but without urgency. Similarly, steering is comfortable and light, with a 33.4-foot turning radius, but lacks any hint of sharpness. Soft spring rates complement the easygoing mentality. Performance from the front disc/rear drum brake combination is equally inoffensive, putting down reliable stop after stop. And when it is time to get out, parking around town is a breeze, zipping into spots only a (larger) Miata would dare to try.

Although both transmission choices maximize use of the buzzy 4-cylinder engine almost flawlessly, the CVT truly shines. Most CVTs promise to maximize acceleration by holding the engine at peak power output, but this is one of the few that deliver, and it seems perfectly matched to the cube experience.

Overall, the driving experience is a relative side note. The cube is something you enjoy while driving, not for the drive itself.

Right for You?
With prices ranging from $13,990 up to nearly $20,000, the Nissan cube slots itself competitively into the entry-level compact market. It is not a class leader in any rational category, but what the cube does have is an overtly unique style and lighthearted nature that sets it apart from the crowd. For those who dig it, we suspect that an emotional connection will be enough to seal the deal. Nissan’s Web site now allows fans to build and reserve their own “cube Mobile Device.”

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate isusually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB05 - 4/22/2014 11:45:37 PM