2012 Nissan Cube Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 26, 2012

For those motivated by style and fashion—yet still needing a healthy dose of practicality—the Cube hits the right buttons; practical types might find it hard to get past some packaging issues, though.

The 2012 Nissan Cube remains a bit of an oddity in the U.S. market—not quite a van, but almost; not quite a crossover wagon, but almost; but through and through, a quirky vehicle that's unrivaled in style and packaging. 

Simply put, the Cube is a box on wheels, but the details really make the design. Its rounded corners can make the Cube's look seem a little appliance-like; then look closer at the asymmetry of its windows, and the flared sheetmetal for the wheel wells and rear fascia, and it gains a gravitas that the Scion xB lacks. Inside, the Cube's design sounds weird, with a "Casual Lounge" theme in the cabin that gives 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.

Adequate but far from exciting is how we'd sum up the Cube's driving experience. With its 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, powering the front wheels, the Cube can move rapidly—especially at low city speeds—but especially with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), it can feel a little sluggish on the highway. The available six-speed manual gearbox has a nice linkage and tends to make the engine feel perkier, but a slow throttle calibration works against any quick-and-nimble impression. So do a very softly sprung suspension and extremely light steering feel. The Cube is also a bit susceptible to crosswinds, so we've 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.

Inside, the Cube is actually even more spacious for passengers than the exterior design suggests. Front seats are soft, wide, and supportive, and a step up from those offered in the Nissan Versa and Sentra models, while the bench in back can easily accommodate two tall adults and has 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). The trade-off for the great back seat—and probably why it's so comfortable—is that it doesn't fold flat into the floor as in most other crossovers, hatches, and minivans. Cargo versatility is, in fact, a sore point, and it might be hard to get past why you can't easily fit that coffee table, or other boxy item, into the boxy vehicle.

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Ride quality and refinement are Cube strengths; it's quieter and more sophisticated-feeling than most shoppers in this price class will expect. Road noise is well muted, the engine is luxury-car smooth at idle, and while it's no surprise there's some wind noise, we didn't sense any of the boomy resonance that's common in other small-car models at high cruising speeds. And while short-wheelbase vehicles like this can be pitchy at highway speeds, this isn't the case here. About the only down side of the cabin is that up close, the materials and plastics can look a little cut-rate in places—around edges and such.

The 2012 Cube hasn't been tested by the federal government, but with a solid set of safety features and IIHS Top Safety Pick status, it's looking like one of the reasons to favor this vehicle over one of its rivals.

Value is another big plus. Considering the 2012 Nissan Cube will likely maintain its base price of about $15k, it's impressive that it includes air conditioning, keyless entry, full power accessories, and an auxiliary audio input, all standard. Moving up to S models gets you Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, and other upgrades, while the SL is the starting point for a loaded Cube. Fog lamps, rear parking sensors, XM Satellite Radio, a Clarion speaker upgrade, and a subwoofer are all part of an SL upgrade package, and the nav system is SD-card-based, with a five-inch color screen plus XM NavTraffic capability. And for the shopper wanting a more customized look, Nissan offers more than 40 dealer-installed accessories.

For 2012, in addition to five new exterior colors, the Intelligent Key entry system is newly standard on top SL models, and S and SL models get a passenger-seat armrest in addition to the driver's seat one. There's also a new package offered for the 1.8 S CVT model that adds navigation, the rearview monitor, Intelligent Key, Rockford Fosgate audio, and 15-inch alloy wheels. The Krom model has been discontinued.

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