Executive wheels: Nissan Cube—it’s hip to be square
2009 NISSAN CUBE 1.85
When I first saw the Nissan Cube a couple of years ago, I thought, “Now that’s a cute car.” There are a couple of these boxy-type vehicles on the road – the Scion xB, the Honda Element – and you could see right off the bat that the schtick is that the rear window wraps around to the passenger side, giving the whole thing a space-age look.
But let’s be honest: this is just packaging. The Cube, I thought, was just another way to market an inexpensive, smaller car and relate to some different niche in the market. Indeed, the Cube shares the same engine as Nissan’s Versa Hatchback, and it’s priced in the same territory. The Versa is for someone looking for the small, economical car; the Cube should then appeal to the same buyer with a little more edgy sense of style.
Now I have drive the Versa and liked it; it stacks right up there with the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris, the Chevy Aveo, the Scions (from Toyota). But nothing special. No knock, mind you, but it’s just another of the very nice little cars that have come into the market over the last several years.
The Cube, however, is different. It does have more style. It is edgier. And two weeks behind the wheel, in many different road conditions, have shown me a couple of strengths: First, it is a great snow car (traction control, ABS, six-speed manual transmission); and, second, while no one really says anything about the Yaris, et al, everyone asks about the Cube, wants to drive it or simply ride in it. It’s intriguing.
It can also be a bit underwhelming, as I suspect people were thinking that it was more than it is, that perhaps it is Nissan’s answer to the Honda Element, tricked out for all kinds of activities and with the ability to hose out the interior. That’s not the Cube, although it should be noted that the Element costs one heck of a lot more. The Cube is more of a conversation piece.
But it’s a good conversation. It drives beautifully and is very fun to drive. The shape, I guess, gives the car an interesting center of gravity that makes it seem very stable – just riding along, or hitting the big curve or whatever. I felt very in control. Also, it is a very zippy car – I wouldn’t call it powerful or fast – and I have rarely ever driven a vehicle in city traffic with as much maneuverability or ease of shifting, driving, parking. I really enjoyed that aspect of the car. The 1.8-liter four-banger with 122 hp is plenty of power. I took it on the highway, up into the hills, all around town and never felt as though I need more muscle. I didn’t, and couldn’t, race anyone with muscle, but this car held its own and more.
One of my biggest disappointments over the last several years for Nissan and its luxury division Infiniti is that the cars are noisy; road noise, even in luxury models, to the extent that it is, well, disquieting. Not the Cube. Nissan may finally be getting a handle on road noise, as this little car is among the most quiet on the road.
Another problem for the smaller cars is that if you are tall – and I have several very tall friends – then the Yaris simply won’t work; it’s a car for 6-feet tall max. Again, not the Cube. The roof, or rather ceiling, is very tall and there is so much room in the back seats that the front seats can go back a long way. A 6’6″ friend of mine was very impressed; he said the car felt like it was made for the taller person in mind. Not being a taller person myself, I can add that it is also made for the shorter person in mind.
Because of this height, and the overall shape, the Cube has a rather large windshield, which makes for great visibility, but to accommodate that during a drive into the sun, they have put in the largest set of sun visors I have ever seen. They look like life-sized maps of Nebraska, and they work well too.
The aforementioned back seats are another plus. The back door open wide, and the rear seat, which can easily handle three full-sized adults, can be moved, unlike a lot of back seats, so you can adjust the rear seating legroom, which is quite a plus. There are also 18 cup holder strategically located all over the place, so if you like a lot of refreshments, the Cube is for you.
There are a couple of downsides, however, and a couple of quirks, one giant. On the downside, there is no console or console storage in the Cube, so you have to stuff things in the door pockets. And in the way-back, the space is rather limited for storage; I did like the rear gate that swings from the side, however.
On the quirk meter, though, things get weird, although not in a bad way. Under your feet in the front, all the way across and inside the three cupholders under the dash, Nissan has put in neon lights that change color. I didn’t dislike that, but it doesn’t exactly add value. They don’t pulsate to the music, like the very similar Kia Soul, but I just don’t get the interior lighting thing.
Then there’s the shag carpet. No, not on the floor, but rather a piece of shag carpet, about 10″ round, in the center of the dashboard, called the Shag Dash Topper. I searched everywhere – the Nissan site, the Internet at large – and couldn’t come up with a purpose. It won’t hold your cell phone (it would slide off) or anything else. It’s just there. No one, not even Nissan apparently, seems to know why, and perhaps that it is the point: it’s pointless. I wish I could add that it is fun, but in reality, it is just, well, pointless.
Anyway, I loved the car. Bluetooth, iPod connections, great stereo, excellent heater and easy-to-use climate control, halogen headlamops, power outlets all around, cruise control, steering wheel mounted controls – lots of nice standards. The base price on the “S” is $15.030 (the 2010 model is the same as 2009, only $500 more on base) – and they added about another grand for floor mats and the interior lighting, so the bottom line, with destination, on the 2009 model was $16,310, so still a little under $17k this year. The base model, with the same engine, sells for $13,990 MSRP, and the Krom, with some beefed up wheels and chrome, carries a MSRP of $20,120.
I’d skip the extras and just get a great little, edgy car for around $16k. Fun, and it’s shag-edelic!
RATING: FOUR WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)