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The Nissan Cube is hard to pigeonhole. As part city-friendly microvan, part tall compact wagon, and part utility vehicle, it's unrivaled in style and packaging. The 2011 Nissan Cube is an oddity, no doubt. But for those motivated by style and fashion—yet still needing a healthy dose of practicality—the Cube hits the right buttons.
Rounded snout aside, the Cube is quite boxlike, but the details make the design feel special. Like the Scion xB, the Cube has a boxy design with rounded corners everywhere, but with its asymmetry and flared sheetmetal for the wheel wells and rear fascia, the Cube is far more distinctive than the xB. The Cube also stands out inside, where it's also 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.
All Cube models come with a 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, powering the front wheels. The engine is offered with either Nissan's Xtronic CVT automatic or six-speed manual transmission, and in either configuration it's enough to move the Cube quickly, but not with the verve of a performance car. Between the two transmissions, it's a tossup; 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. The six-speed manual has a nice linkage, but the slow-to-react electronic throttle doesn't encourage spirited driving.
Surprisingly, while the Cube has quite the personality in terms of styling, design, and function, it doesn't possess much of a driving personality. The Cube is maneuverable but not particularly nimble, handling well in ordinary driving but demonstrating lots of roll and lean in hard cornering. 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. The soft suspension is a smart setup for most city driving, as it soaks up jarring expansion strips and even modest potholes without drama.
The Cube's interior is actually more spacious for passengers than the exterior design suggests. Front seats are soft and supportive, and a step up from those offered in the Nissan 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—though it's quite narrow—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. Inside, though, it's far quieter and more sophisticated-feeling than most shoppers in this price class will expect. Road noise is well muted, and we didn't sense any of the boomy resonance that's common in other small-car models at high cruising speeds. 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. What's more, the ride is on the soft side but never pitchy, as short-wheelbase vehicles can be.
Considering the Cube's almost shockingly low base price—$15,040 for 2011, including destination—Nissan had to skimp somewhere, and it appears that up close, materials and plastics is where. There's also significant wind noise at highway speeds, which isn't all that surprising. The top Kr?m model gives the 2011 Nissan 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.
Factory options are very limited. An SL Preferred Package brings push-button ignition, Intelligent Key, fog lamps, rear parking sensors, XM Satellite Radio, an upgrade to Clarion speakers, and the subwoofer. New for 2011, and also available on the SL, is an SD card-based navigation system with five-inch color screen, plus XM NavTraffic capability and USB connectivity. Nissan is also offering more than 40 dealer-installed accessories that allow the buyer to customize his or her Cube; some are appearance related, while other possibilities include cargo organizers, wheels, and decals.
- Distinctive styling
- Perky, economical powertrain
- Quiet, refined interior
- Space for four tall adults
- Bargain base price
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- Light, disconnected steering feel
- Rear seats don't tumble forward
- Susceptible to crosswinds
- Unimpressive highway fuel economy