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2010 Nissan Cube Review

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2010 Nissan Cube

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyers Guide

"The Nissan Cube appeals to me, though I'm far from the targeted young demographic."

Cute as an Anime Puppy
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The Nissan Cube in my driveway is the 3RD generation of this cute-ute, but the first to come to the US. It’s a little 5-passenger front-wheel drive cool box designed to appeal to the youngest of car buyers and built from a shortened Versa platform. It appeals to me as well, though I’m far from that young demographic.

It’s a good thing opposites are complimentary, because my pretty blonde likes mild, and I like hot. She likes smooth. I like brash. She likes sunshine. I like shade. She thinks this Nissan Cube is ugly as a political debate. I think it’s cute as an Anime puppy. And that, of course, is one criteria of great design – that is, that it is polarizing.

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She thinks the Honda Element, Scion xB and Kia Soul, are homely as well. It’s something about the boxy, quirky design, I guess, that puts her off. But, that’s exactly what strikes my fancy. And, the Cube is probably the quirkiest of the bunch. I love that cartoonesque but utilitarian formula that underpins them all and I think the styling of this Nissan Cube is best in this oddball class. The asymmetry of the rear view is most distinctive. The glass wraps around the right side of the car incorporating a small window, but the traditional C-pillar adorns the left. The rear hatch door opens horizontally and is as wide as the car. And, while it’s an upright SUV, it has minimal ground clearance with visual queues drawing the eye to the lowest part of the body, making it resemble sort of a scooter. I would characterize the Cube’s styling as attractively incongruous.

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Unusual design continues inside and is meant to be functional, minimal and aesthetically interesting. A theme of concentric circles - like waves expanding from a stone-plunk in the pond - is evident in the details. The circular HVAC control in the center of the dash is simple and intuitive and, I thought, amazingly functional. Weird little colored bungees are integrated into the armrest/door pulls for holding maps, MP3s or whatever you need held. And in the glovebox you’ll find more bungees in different colors so you can change them according to mood, kind of like a young girl’s colored scrunchies. A handy cup holder is set into the dash to the left of the steering wheel, and a 1-foot-diameter piece of shag carpet is Velcroed onto the top center of the dash – a “shag dash topper” they call it. That, too, comes in colors other than the black and white one in our test car.

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Ingress and egress through the extra-large doors are easy with a low step-over resulting from the car’s squat profile. Seats are covered in a nice utilitarian fabric that resisted the coffee I sloshed onto it. In the back we find about 11 cubic-feet of cargo area behind the second seat row. The 60/40 split seat backs flop down, but the releases are not the most convenient. The seat bases do not tumble forward, but with the backs down we’re left with a good 58 cubic-feet of cargo area, and with that huge rear door it would be real easy to load with stuff. The overall interior volume is amazing, particularly in the headroom department. My 6’6” tall pal Jeff could get in easily and probably could have been wearing a Stetson without a problem.

Power comes from a tepid, 122-hp four-cylinder engine displacing just 1.8-liters. With 127 pound-feet of torque it’s adequate, but I’d like to see a bit more grunt available. A manual transmission is standard in the lesser trim levels but only a CVT (continuously variable transmission) comes in the higher levels. Our tester had the CVT and I found it wheezy and particularly unpleasant when pushed. It’s fine in normal driving but I’d go for the manual if I were buying the car.

The EPA rates the fuel mileage at 27-mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. With the 13.2-gallon tank we can expect a range of between 350 and 400 miles. That’s on regular fuel, of course.

Driving dynamics are pretty good – not great. Again, it’s fine in normal driving conditions but this is clearly not the car to push hard through the twisties. Because of its vertical profile the Cube is particularly vulnerable to buffeting in a crosswind. After all, it has the aerodynamic qualities of a brick. Wind noise is noticeable, though not particularly intrusive, at higher speeds.

By the way, your Nissan dealer and the aftermarket offer lots of stuff you can add onto the Cube to customize it and make it perform better. That’s part of the charm of this small car and the small SUV market that is focused on youngsters who love to dress up their rides.

The Cube comes in essentially four trim levels. The Base with manual transmission starts at just $13,990. Our tester is the upper mid-level SL that starts at $17,130. We can’t have the SL with manual trans but the S (next trim level down) with manual is only $15,030. Then there is a “Krom Edition” starting at $20,120. We have two pricey option packages with lots of trim (exterior and interior) along with audio upgrades, push-button ignition, intelligent key, satellite radio and lots of other stuff resulting in a bottom line of just over 22-grand.

Cube comes with plenty of airbags and all the expected safety equipment that is common on all cars these days. It has earned a 4-Star rating for front driver and passenger crash protection and 5-Stars (highest rating) for side protection. Rollover protection gets 4-Stars. Very few vehicles get more than 4-Stars for rollover and certainly the light, tiny front end of the car accounts for the front numbers.

CAR&DRIVER magazine colleague, John Philips, says the styling reminds him of a 1950s refrigerator. I guess I can see that reference. If you follow the Tokyo Motor Show you’ve seen the cartoonesque design language that is common for small car designs there. This one is reflective of that language and I find it charming.

So, if you’re out shopping for a small SUV with lots of utility, good economy and personality to spare, take a look at this Cube – even if you’re an old fellow like me.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved