All 2012 Nissan Cube models feature a single engine choice, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder producing 122 horsepower that drives the front wheels. Buyers can opt for either a six-speed manual gearbox or Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT). Both options move the Cube along fairly quickly, but it's hardly a sports car to fling through corners, nor an explosively-accelerating muscle car. The driveability of Nissan's CVT continues to improve, and the company has largely eliminated the lurching feeling during moderate acceleration still found in other makers' CVTs. While the shift quality of the six-speed manual is pleasant, Nissan's electronic throttle mapping makes the engine slow to respond, discouraging any kind of spirited driving.
All the Cube's personality must have been focused on its styling, because it's surprisingly bland in on-road driving. It handles fine in regular daily driving, but while it's maneuverable, it's not all that nimble and the tall body leans and rolls a lot under hard cornering. The electric power steering is devoid of all road feel or feedback, and stays fingertip light not only at parking speeds but on highways too. Because the tall body is also susceptible to crosswinds, the light steering caused us to over-correct when we were pushed out of line.
The best duty for the Cube is in city driving, where its huge interior volume is practical and the soft suspension soaks up jarring potholes, broken roads, protruding grates, and all the rest of the big-city hazards that trip up small cars. On the highway, its acceleration is adequate, and it has enough power for passing on two-lane roads most of the time. The brakes are pleasantly firm, though one sign of cost-cutting to hit the $15,000 entry price is the presence of old-style drum brakes at the rear.