When I hear the word "cube", thoughts of the geeky sort come to mind. Example: cube, as in dice, as in Dungeons and Dragons. Or cube as in Professor Erno Rubik, as in Rubik's Cube. A geometrical object, as far as shapes go, cubes weren't ever in vogue. Diamonds, stars and octagons have always stolen the show, while cubes, quite frankly, have always been square. And ever since the square peg first met the round hole, cubes have never been the same.
Introduced in the Japanese market in 1998, Nissan's very squarely shaped, yet oddly cute Cube quickly won the hearts of Japan. This is, after all, the country responsible for Pokemon, Sanrio products, Lynn Minmay, and almost everything else kawai. And calling the Cube a "cube" was a stroke of genius. Like "box truck", it ostensibly described the vehicle by its name alone. Shaped like a big cube, the Cube had all the utilitarian attributes associated with a mathematical object-roomy cabin, sensible mileage, front and rear bench seats, and affordable price. But there was one problem-the Cube wasn't available in the States. As it turns out, they were waiting for the third-generation Cube. A Cube to the cubed power, perhaps?
When it comes to the Cube, the first thing to keep in mind is its price. With a base MSRP of $13,995, for what you could easily blow on a bad weekend in Vegas, a meth habit, 8-pot big brake kits or a pair of Recaro SP-X carbon seats, you're getting what is essentially shelter from the elements for five full-sized adults (because of the three-point seat belt requirements, gone is the front bench seat), four wheels and tires, a running motor and drivetrain-one with excellent fuel economy, might I add-and a whole mess of other really cool options. Take for example the feng shui'd water effect. The vents, speaker covers, cup holders and the coup de grace, the seemingly vaulted ceiling, all have a ripple-in-a-pond design that soothes stress like a Zen garden. There's even an optional shag rug for the dash you can pet like a substitute puppy or ratty-haired girlfriend. All Nissan needs next is a gel-filled stress-ball shift knob option.
The theme of calming design carries over to the Cube's exterior. While still very cube-ish, its sheet metal edges have been softened-dare I say, "sculpted"? The side windows and head- and taillights have also been rounded, but a unique feature the new Cube retains from its older brother is the asymmetrical rear window. More than just a funky treatment, the wrap-around glass is an engineering cue for the rear door that swings open like a gate to the side, rather than up.
Driving the Cube is a pleasant surprise. A GT-R or 370Z, the Cube isn't, but again, in terms of its price and quirky shape, it feels remarkably solid on the road, and the 1.8L, 122 hp (127 lb-ft of torque) DOHC four is snappy. No 60-foot records here, but it's more than ample power to get up to freeway speeds, which is more than can be said about other cars in its league. Another rarity for a vehicle in its class is the six-speed manual transmission that helps the 2,700-plus-pound, aerodynamic-as-a-brick Cube eek out 29 miles per gallon on the highway and 24 around the city. The CVT version gets rid of the clutch and adds four miles to the city and one to the highway (28 mpg city, 30 hwy), but where's the fun in that?
Now I bet you're thinking: Sure, all of this sounds great, but the base Cube will probably come with about as many options as Sarah Palin's career, post-Alaska. Wrong. For the $14k price tag (not including destination and handling), it comes with A/C, a CD-equipped head unit, power windows and doors, six air bags and ABS. Trade in your mom's clunker for $4,500 and you're talking sub-$10k for a kooky but very cool square peg that's a perfect fit for our round but unstable world. With the Cube, it's suddenly hip to be square.
2009 Nissan Cube
Engine: 1.8L, 16-valve DOHC I-4
Power Rating: 122 hp, 127 lb-ft of torque
Configuration: front engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission: 6-speed manual; available CVT automatic
Curb Weight: 2,762 lbs (base)
Suspension: independent strut, anti-roll bar (front), torsion beam, anti-roll bar (rear)
Wheels: 15x6 steel wheels (base)
Brakes: 11-inch ventilated disc (front); 11-inch drum (rear)
EPA Fuel Economy (mpg): (mpg): 24 city, 29 highway (manual); 28 city, 30 highway (CVT)
Driving Impressions: Smooth and easy. Not particularly fast, but then again, that's not why you'd buy a Cube. If you're looking for speed, pray for another $10k in financing and get something else. If you're looking for something practical with a lot of cool, the Cube is for you.
Tunability: It shares the Versa platform so there ought to be some suspension carryover. But then again, how many fixed up Versas have you seen? The Cube's out in Japan so there's hope yet.