- 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
features & specs
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.
2009 Nissan Cube
The 2009 Nissan Cube is unapologetically aimed at the young and trendy.
Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com tend to compare the 2009 Nissan Cube to the Scion xB or Kia Soul, but the reality is that nothing really compares to the funky, rounded-box styling of the new Nissan Cube. For Nissan, 2009 marks the first time that the Nissan Cube will be available in the United States, although the first two generations have been sold in Japan for quite some time.
Let's get this out of the way—the Nissan Cube is not for everyone. Many people will fail to find the appeal in its wholly unorthodox styling, but Nissan is hoping that those in their 20s and 30s will take to the look. Unlike the previous-generation, Japanese-exclusive Nissan Cubes, the new 2009 Nissan Cube "attempts to soften the square edges, boosting both the design appeal and interior space," reports Jalopnik. ConsumerGuide says the 2009 Nissan Cube is "a subcompact 4-door hatchback" that "comes in three trim levels: base 1.8, mid-level 1.8 S, and top-line 1.8 SL." Automobile Magazine reviewers approve of the new styling, noting that the Nissan 2009 Cube "pegs the needle on the geek-chic meter." Autoblog attempts to describe some of the styling elements, pointing out the "sheetmetal around the side glass is beveled, so the windows themselves look recessed," while the asymmetry that is the Cube's hallmark is most evident out back, where there is "a pillar on the left side only. On the right, the glass just wraps around." Road & Track simply calls the look "Roger Rabbit styling," and Motor Trend reviewers feel the look is "polarizing." Overall, however, reviewers find it fresh and appealing, and Autoblog contends that the unique styling "sets the Cube apart from the rest of the (suddenly, increasingly crowded) box-wagon segment."
Unlike some vehicles that feature attention-getting exterior styling but boring interiors, the 2009 Nissan Cube carries its design theme into the cabin. Motor Trend says that it features "pronounced curvature in the front dashboard as well as more subtly arcing surfaces for rear passengers." Edmunds observes that the 2009 Nissan Cube's "basic cabin design has soft curves and shapes that are a bit different from the typical hard-edged style employed by most rivals." Most visible on the interior of the Nissan Cube is a "ripple effect" that Autoblog notes "dominates the headliner and is repeated in the bottoms of the cupholders and on the speaker grilles." In pictures, this element can seem a bit overbearing, but reviewers all reacted positively after seeing the physical manifestation of the "Jacuzzi lounge" theme.
2009 Nissan Cube
The 2009 Nissan Cube rides comfortably from point A to point B, but it won't get you there in a hurry.
Performance is definitely not the 2009 Nissan Cube's forte—for that, you should look more toward style and price. However, the Nissan 2009 Cube does offer decent fuel economy and good stopping power, as well as standard stability control to keep you out of trouble.
The 2009 Nissan Cube is available with just one engine, and thankfully it's not the skimpy 1.4-liter version that sits under the hood of the Japanese-spec Nissan Cube. It's still not large or powerful, though, as Autoblog states that the Nissan Cube comes with "the same 122-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder featured in the Nissan Versa" that they feel is "an able motivator for the 2,795-pound Cube." Other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree that the engine is capable enough, even though its pure acceleration numbers are far from spectacular. Road & Track calls the engine "peppy," while Motor Trend reports that, "on the freeway, it reaches highway speeds easily." In terms of acceleration from a stop, Motor Trend records "a 0-to-60 sprint of 9.3 sec" during its tests of the Nissan 2009 Cube.
The Nissan Cube's four-cylinder engine pairs up with "your choice of a 6-speed manual gearbox or CVT automatic transmission," according to Road & Track reviewers. Both transmissions rate surprisingly high with reviewers, especially considering that economy-car transmissions tend (appropriately) toward the low end. Autoblog attests that the "manual's shift action is easy, if a smudge on the notchy side, and the overall driving experience is free of drama." Edmunds offers even higher praise for the CVT, claiming that the Nissan Cube's CVT is "the best example of this gearless transmission technology fitted to an economy car."
Fuel economy tends to be a major concern for those shopping in the Nissan Cube's price range, and EPA ratings for the Cube probably won't scare away too many consumers. According to Motor Trend reviewers, "the EPA estimated fuel economy is 28 city/30 highway mpg," which doesn't match up to the class leaders but is still very respectable.
The Nissan Cube is designed as more of a social accessory than a fun runabout, and it certainly shows when you get behind the wheel. Jalopnik succinctly states that the 2009 Nissan Cube "just isn't at all enjoyable to drive," and Autoblog cautions not to "look for sportiness here—you're barking up the wrong tree." Edmunds adds that the "handling is rather lazy due to its soft, long-travel suspension." The steering draws quite a few complaints from reviewers, especially at Autoblog, where they report that the "steering effort is super-light and super-assisted, and steering feel is more a theoretical concept than it is an actual sensation." On the positive side, Motor Trend says, "from 60 mph, the Cube took 125 ft to reach a full stop—not bad considering the rear drum brakes."
2009 Nissan Cube
Comfort & Quality
The 2009 Nissan Cube offers plenty of space and reasonably comfortable seats but phones it in when it comes to materials quality.
Anyone who remembers their basic geometry class will recall that a cube is not the most efficient way to maximize volume with a given surface area (the sphere gets that distinction); geometry notwithstanding, the 2009 Nissan Cube is incredibly spacious inside. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com all bestow a significant amount of praise on the voluminous interior of the Nissan Cube.
The social-minded Nissan 2009 Cube offers "spacious accommodation for five with a surprising amount of legroom," according to reviewers at Jalopnik. Those five passengers are split two-three front-to-back, as Autoblog is disappointed to note that the "U.S. model is only available with a pair of front seats and not the wonderful front bench we experienced in last summer's JDM tester." The back features "stadium-style rear seats [that] hold three, adjust fore and aft, and recline," notes the Automobile Magazine review. Autoblog reports that "headroom for all passengers is simply abundant," with "42.7 inches in front and 40.2 inches in back," which they say is significantly "better than what you'll find in a Tahoe." Despite the abundance of room, Motor Trend warns that the front seats "are reminiscent of college futon mattresses—comfortable for short stays, but questionable for long periods of time." For those riding in the rear of the 2009 Nissan Cube, Autoblog comments that "rear seat comfort is good."
The 2009 Nissan Cube features quite a bit of storage space to go along with its abundant passenger space. Jalopnik reviewers find that "cubby holes, shelves and places to hang your man bag abound," while the Los Angeles Times notices "trays and flat surfaces carved into the doors and dash." Behind the rear seats is a useful cargo area, but Motor Trend reviewers discover that, "when the rear seats are folded forward, they don't result in a flat load area because of the deep well behind the seats." They still manage to create a storage section that provides 58.1 cubic feet of space, but Edmunds notes that the Nissan 2009 Cube's "seats-up cargo capacity [is] not as big as a few rivals."
With a base price hovering around $13,000, Nissan obviously had to skimp somewhere on the 2009 Nissan Cube, and it appears that they decided to forego high-end interior materials. One of the most common complaints in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is that the interior is subpar, even at this price range. Jalopnik observes that the interior is coated in "cheap plastics," while Edmunds reviewers note the "disappointing interior materials" that are "below average for this class."
As you might expect, the poor interior materials and boxy, highly unaerodynamic shape lead to significant wind noise when driving the Nissan Cube. Motor Trend points out that "interior noise rises with speed," while Edmunds reviewers lament the "intrusive wind noise" that finds its way into the cabin. Jalopnik adds that "the wind noise created by the body and the windshield's 90-degree opposition to the air" is a major concern for long-term driving comfort when piloting the Nissan Cube.
2009 Nissan Cube
Once you compare the 2009 Nissan Cube to its competitors—or other small cars—the Nissan's safety advantage becomes clear, as all major features come standard.
Unlike many budget vehicles, which tend to skimp on standard safety features, the 2009 Nissan Cube is a safety standout and one of the most impressively equipped vehicles in its price range.
The Nissan 2009 Cube hasn't yet been crash tested by either NHTSA or the IIHS, but it's possible to determine the relative safety of this subcompact. As TheCarConnection.com's editors point out, the 2009 Nissan Cube boasts all the safety features a shopper would get on most crossover SUVs that cost twice as much. Automobile Magazine lists some of those standard features as "air bags, belt pretensioners, and active head restraints [that] protect front passengers," while "side curtain air bags" work to keep the Nissan Cube's rear occupants safe. Other safety features on the 2009 Nissan Cube include "Vehicle Dynamic Control (with Traction Control) ABS and Brake Assist," according to reviewers at Road & Track. Edmunds simply points out that the Nissan Cube features "a full complement of safety features," and certainly more than you'll find on any of its competitors.
Visibility can be a sore spot for some of the upright, box-like vehicles, but TheCarConnection.com's research and driving impressions show this isn't much of a problem on the Nissan 2009 Cube. Reviewers at USA Today report that visibility is good from the driver's seat of the Nissan Cube, and TheCarConnection.com agrees. Editors here find that overall visibility is surprisingly good thanks to the large side mirrors and expanded corner window on the 2009 Nissan Cube.
2009 Nissan Cube
The Nissan Cube doesn’t quite match the xB for standard features, but factor in the accessories and it has plenty of appeal to the millennial set.
With the 2009 Nissan Cube, Nissan is trying to match the appeal of the Scion xB by making it very easy to personalize your Nissan Cube. To that end, over 40 options are available, including both visual and technological enhancements.
The base features for the 2009 Nissan Cube found on the 1.8 model include "air conditioning...full power accessories and a four-speaker stereo with CD player," according to Edmunds reviewers. Edmunds adds that the Nissan 2009 Cube 1.8 S ups the ante with "color-keyed sideview mirrors, cruise control, upgraded upholstery...two more speakers and a rear cargo cover." Finally, Edmunds reports the top-of-the-line Nissan Cube 1.8 SL brings "automatic climate control, a pair of tweeters, iPod integration, MP3 playback capability and automatic on/off headlights." Prices for the 2009 Nissan Cube are very competitive, with the Los Angeles Times stating that you can find a Nissan Cube "nicely equipped for $13,990, including stability control."
If you've got a little money to burn, TheCarConnection.com's research uncovers some appealing optional features for the Nissan Cube—many of them sold as dealer-installed accessories. USA Today reviewers find that "options are plentiful" on the Nissan 2009 Cube, "including a circle of shag carpeting atop the center of the dashboard" and a package "that lets you choose among 20 hues for the interior lighting." Edmunds reviewers also point out that the Nissan Cube features optional "rear park assist, keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth, the Rockford Fosgate audio system, [and] satellite radio," along with several "dealer-installed customization features."