- Very distinctive styling inside and out
- Perky and economical powertrain
- Overall refinement
- Space for four tall adults
- Bargain base price
- Rear seats don't tumble forward
- Light, disconnected steering feel
- Susceptible to crosswinds
- Unimpressive highway fuel economy
The spacious, refined 2009 Nissan Cube makes a whole lot of sense for city dwellers, and it'll get you more attention than many sport coupes.
Is the 2009 Nissan Cube a new kind of utility vehicle, a city-friendly microvan, or an especially tall compact wagon? It's tough to say; the quirky new Nissan Cube fits into several existing categories but ends up being the odd one out—in a positive sense.
The previous-generation Scion xB—sold in the United States from 2004 through 2006—turned into a cult hit for urbanites for its sharp, boxy look. But the newer, larger model introduced for 2008 hasn't been received quite as well, partly because its new styling just wasn't as crisp and distinctive. Shoppers are fickle in the area, but TheCarConnection.com thinks that the new 2009 Nissan Cube will hit the right buttons for those motivated by styling and fashion, as well as those who need a healthy dose of practicality in their next vehicle.
Snout aside, the Cube is almost cubical, but the details make the design feel special. Perhaps what makes the 2009 Cube stand out so prominently is that it has one of the most overtly asymmetrical vehicle designs seen in recent years. The rear hatch opens at the side and is hinged at the left; the rear window curves continuously—almost uninterrupted—around the right rear corner and right side of the vehicle. The windows are bordered all around by a beveled "frame," and the middle pillar on either side tapers at the middle. Yet especially from the front, the Cube has a surprisingly macho stance, enhanced by the wide-set headlights and strong horizontal themes in front and in back; designers call the inspiration "Bulldog in Sunglasses." The overall design has rounded corners everywhere, but with the asymmetry and flared sheetmetal for the wheel wells and rear fascia, it's far more distinctive than the xB.
The 2009 Nissan Cube is just as distinctive inside, but a lot more functional than the weird exterior might suggest; designers follow a "Casual Lounge" theme in the cabin and give it the curves of a Jacuzzi tub—with a rounded, recessed instrument panel running through to the door panels and carving out areas for the front occupants, along with water-ripple styling cues that echo throughout. The dash has two scooped shelf areas, and trim pieces and other styling cues show off prominent oval designs.
A 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine powers the front-wheel-drive Cube, and it's offered with either Nissan's Xtronic CVT automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Nissan continues to improve the CVT's calibration and drivability, so it's smooth going and there's none of the lurching feeling on moderate acceleration that we still observe on other CVTs. At the time of writing, Nissan expects EPA ratings of 28 mpg city, 30 highway with the CVT—the low highway rating probably the consequence of the tall, boxy design. In especially rapid stop-and-go on a short driving loop, TheCarConnection.com saw 24 and 25 mpg in two different CVT Cubes. The six-speed manual has a nice linkage, but the slow-to-react electronic throttle doesn't encourage spirited driving.
While the Cube displays tremendous personality in terms of styling, design, and function, it doesn't exhibit much of a driving personality. The Cube handles decently in ordinary driving, and it feels maneuverable but not especially nimble. Because it has such a short wheelbase, there's more fore-and-aft pitching over bumpy sections of road than there is for longer vehicles. The steering wheel brings no feel of the road, and it stays almost fingertip light whether parking or cruising at expressway speeds. It's a bit susceptible to crosswinds, so we found ourselves overcorrecting sometimes when thrown off course. That said, the Cube accelerates adequately, with enough reserve power for passing on two-laners, and brakes have a nice, firm feel, even though under it they're just drums in back. The soft suspension is a smart setup for most city driving, as it soaks up jarring expansion strips and even modest potholes without drama.
Refinement in the 2009 Nissan Cube is way beyond what most buyers in this price class will expect. The engine is luxury-car smooth at idle and has none of the roughness or vibration transmitted through to the floor or pedals while accelerating as we've observed on some competing models. Wind and road noise are also notably muted, and we didn't sense any of the boomy resonance that's common in other small-car models at high cruising speeds.
The Cube's interior feels more spacious for passengers than the exterior design suggests. Front seats are soft and supportive, and they're a step up from those offered in Nissan's Versa and Sentra models, while the bench in back has plenty of space for two tall adults, with a pull-down center armrest. In a pinch, three can fit across, and the rear bench not only slides fore and aft but the backrest reclines somewhat (though not flat).
Cargo-wise, the Nissan Cube isn't quite as stellar. The backseats fold forward, but they don't provide a flat, continuous cargo floor by flipping forward. There are, however, plenty of places to put smaller items, including door pockets, dash cubbies on either side of the steering wheel, and cup holders up high and down low. The side doors even have bungee hooks.
Visibility is surprisingly good through the large side mirrors—and the expanded corner window when parking. What the 2009 Nissan Cube lacks, due to a seating space that's so far back from the windshield header, is good upward visibility from the driver's seat. It's not a safety issue but a minor annoyance; you'll find yourself bowing down and craning your neck upward to see street signs and to watch stoplights turn green—although shorter drivers won't be as affected.
Most small cars skimp on standard safety equipment to some degree—whether it means not offering electronic stability control or making anti-lock brakes optional—but the 2009 Cube comes with all the safety features that a shopper gets on most crossover SUVs costing twice as much. Six airbags are standard—including front side airbags and side-curtain bags for front and rear occupants—along with front-seat active head restraints. And in the way of accident avoidance, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist are standard, even on the base S model.
The 2009 Nissan Cube is offered in four different models: base 1.8, 1.8 S, 1.8 SL, and 1.8 Krōm. Even the base model is better equipped than most vehicles in its low price range; it includes remote keyless entry, power windows, air conditioning, a trip computer, and a sound system with auxiliary input. The 1.8 S gets cruise control, map lights, and a host of upgraded interior appointments, while the 1.8 SL is only offered with the CVT and includes alloy wheels, automatic climate control, and an upgraded sound system with iPod connectivity. The Krōm model gives the Cube a dressed-up appearance—including a roof spoiler, a chrome grille with horizontal bars, bright painted alloy wheels, interior accent lighting, aluminum pedals, and a different front and rear fascia, plus various extras, such as Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, and a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer. There's only one factory option package, the SL Preferred, which brings push-button ignition, Intelligent Key, fog lamps, rear parking sensors, XM Satellite Radio, an upgrade to Clarion speakers, and the subwoofer.
Like Toyota with its Scion models, Nissan offers more than 40 dealer-installed accessories to customize the 2009 Cube. They're not all appearance-related; the list includes several cargo-organizing options, and a Garmin nav system.