2009 Nissan Cube 1.8 SL Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Nissan Cube

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Nissan Cube 1.8 SL

Want to be the center of attention as you drive, but don't want to spend exotic car megabucks? Get a Nissan Cube.

I've been driving one for the past week, and a most entertaining week it has been. Any seat inside a Cube is a people-watcher's paradise - watch them watching you. Or trying to pretend that they aren't looking. For more entertainment, park the car, take a seat nearby, and watch people walk up and check it out.

The 2009 Nissan Cube is not the only, or even the first, tall and boxy car to come out of the Far East, but it still makes almost anything else on wheels look look dull -- and at a very reasonable price. Even better, it's not merely a whimsical-looking toy, or even, as Nissan calls it in promotional literature, a "mobile device". A Cube is a fully-functional example of space efficiency at its best, and a fine car for everyday use. Underneath its unique, asymmetric styling lies Nissan's "B" platform, also used for the Versa. Although it shares its 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower four-cylinder engine with the upper-level Versas, the Cube has a considerably different demeanor. In looks, the Versa is a conventional sedan or hatchback; the Cube is anything but conventional.

Inside, it's spacious and as uniquely-styled as outside, but looks don't compromise function. The rear bench can be moved fore and aft and features reclining seatbacks, so rear passengers are not merely an afterthought. And the Cube is anything but basic transportation. All trim levels, even the base-model Cube 1.8, come with power windows, micro-filtration air conditioning, CD and auxiliary jack audio systems, and antilock brakes as standard equipment -- and the manual in the base and S is a six-speed. The S adds fancier exterior and interior trim and the availability of Nissan's "Xtronic" continuously-variable transmission in place of the stick. The SL adds alloy wheels, automatic temperature control, and an upgraded audio system with iPod® connectivity. At the top of the range in most markets is the Krom (with a squiggly line over the "o"), which comes with special trim and pretty much everything optional on lesser models.

My test car was an SL equipped with the "SL Preferred Package", which replaced the standard keyless fob with Nissan's truly keyless "Intelligent Key"™ and push-button start/stop, a leather-rimmed steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, Bluetooth® phone connectivity, rear parking sonar, and an upgraded Rockford-Fosgate audio system with XM satellite radio. Add in the "Interior Designer Package" with carpeted floor mats and dash topper and bungee cords on the front door handles and the "Interior Illumination Package"'s 20-color interior mood lighting and illuminated stainless steel kick plates, and the result was a rather upscale small car for under $20,000. And a spacious small car - no laws of physics were violated but it does seem that there is more inside to the Cube than it's small exterior dimensions would allow. It's quick enough and quiet around town, although the boxy shape makes for wind noise on the highway. In mien it's meant for everyday comfort, not performance, and the soft suspension works well on poor pavement. Fuel economy, EPA 28/30 and real-world 27, works well, too. The Cube is not going to be a car for everyone, but isn't that part of its' charm?

APPEARANCE: Forget about Picasso and early 20th Century avant-garde European art. This Cube is so Japanese that I expect to see the Peanuts, Mothra's two female sidekicks in the Godzilla movies, appear over the shag carpet piece on the top of the dash... It will do just fine for a burger run, but somehow seems more appropriate in front of a sushi bar. Note that despite the overall cubic impression, a more detailed look shows no really flat surfaces. All edges are radiused, and the only sharp corners are at the top of the large, near-vertical windshield. The wheels, 16-inch alloys on the SL, are pushed out to the extreme corners, and look tiny due to the Cube's 65-inch height, nearly the same as its 66.7-inch width. The hood is short, and the front bumper's bulge is counterbalanced in side view by the rounded lower rear section. The windows are huge rounded rectangles, and yes there really is an off-side C-pillar, hidden under the glass of the asymmetrical wrap-around window, the Cube's most notable styling trick. The grille's shape and materials are echoed at the rear. The Nissan Cube is a happy, unintimidating little car.

COMFORT: Welcome to the lounge... well, that's Nissan's theme. With the overstuffed-sofa ambiance of both the front buckets and rear bench, and the standard "Water Drop" looks-like-ripples-in-a-pond headliner and optional interior lighting package, it could be an alcove in some trendy club. Just put the appropriate music on the audio system, simple enough since all models come with at least a CD player and auxiliary input jack. For all passengers, headroom will absolutely not be a problem, ever. And unless both front passengers are seven feet tall and the cargo area is so full that the rear bench is forced to be in the most forward of its three positions, legroom is also a non-issue. For the driver, visibility is very good, helped a bit by the off-side C-pillar window. Interior styling is as entertaining as the exterior, but not at the expense of usefulness or comfort. The flowing style and two-tone color motif make it seem roomier, not that it needs help there. Electroluminescent instruments are a plus, audio and climate controls are simple, as are the vents. There should be enough cup and bottle holders for the passenger capacity of a minivan. While there is no console box, the glove box is gigantic. Rear-seat passengers are not second-class citizens here. The side-hinged rear door is easier for short people to use than a pop-up tailgate.

SAFETY: No skimping on safety - all Cubes come with antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control electronic stability enhancement, traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, front, front-seat side, and side-curtain airbags, and active head restraints.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Cube was never meant to be any sort of high-performance machine. It is, at heart, a quirkily-styled and spacious small people-mover. The height and boxy styling that give it its character and interior space work against it at speed on the highway or in overly-spirited driving. Physics 1A... Its suspension design is shared with the Versa, a standard-issue (for small, inexpensive cars) system with independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam rear axle. Spring and damper rates are soft for comfort, and the ride quality is very good around town -- even on poor pavement. No complaints there. It's a great car in the city, or even on a country road at a moderate speed. The Cube is quiet around town, but there is plenty of wind noise on the highway, and wind effects are noticeable. The high center of gravity due to its height, and the soft suspension mean that it's no Sentra SE-R. That should matter not a bit to its intended audience.

PERFORMANCE: A 2800-pound curb weight and a 1.8-liter engine with 122 horsepower (at 5200 rpm) and 127 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm) may not be the recipe for blistering acceleration, but the Cube's CVT transmission makes the best of that power by keeping the engine in its sweet spot. I never had any difficulties in traffic, or highway merging situations. It works best around town, with surprisingly quick acceleration under 40 mph. At higher speeds, it's quicker than some hybrids and small crossovers I've driven recently. Fuel economy was reasonable at 27 overall for the week.

CONCLUSIONS: The Nissan Cube combines unique style and character with excellent space utilization.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price			$ 16,790
Price As Tested			$ 19,930
Engine Type			dohc inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			1.8 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			122 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			127 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			CVT
Wheelbase / Length		99.6 in. / 156.7 in.
Curb Weight			2844 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		23.3
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P195/55R16 86V Toyo A20
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		28 / 30 / 27
0 to 60 mph				9.0  sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
SL Preferred Package - includes:
  Nissan Intelligent Key™, push-button ignition,
  steering wheel audio controls, leather-wrapped 
  steering wheel, fog lights, Bluetooth® hands-free
  phone system, rear sonar system, XM satellite radio,
  6 upgraded speakers with Rockford Fosgate
  subwoofer						$ 1,600
Interior Designer Package - includes:
  carpeted floor and cargo mats, shag dash topper,
  front door bungees					$   230
Vehicle alarm impact sensor				$   100
Interior Illumination Package - includes:
  20-color interior accent lighting, illuminated
  stainless steel kick plates				$   490
Destination charge					$   720

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