Beauty and the Box
Steve Schaefer, Fri, 18 Feb 2011 02:46:01 PST
If you want to carry your friends and your stuff around with style, a box on wheels is a great way to do it. The Cube is not the only one on the market, but it offers a surprisingly fun way to go.
I still think "Toon Town" when I see one zip by. The styling may be cube like, but it's not actually cubical. In fact, the car is quite rounded if you examine it closely. The tall profile means you sit higher than you do in a regular car, and with the windshield pushed out far ahead, the feeling is more of driving a tiny milk truck than a four-door sedan.
Now in its second year, the Cube still comes in four levels, from the base 1.8 to the 1.8S, 1.8SL and Krom at the pinnacle. My tester, a Pearl White Krom edition, sported the many advantages of the top model. These included-on the outside-exclusive front, rear and side lower body panels; a glistening chrome bar grille; a rear roof spoiler and special 16-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, you get stunning black and silver cloth seat upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an upgraded (and quite sufficient) audio system with a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer in the rear door, Bluetooth connection and aluminum pedals. My tester even had keyless entry with a start button. It's very handy to simply step out, close the door and touch the lock button. The key never leaves your pocket.
All Cubes use the same spunky 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. It runs either through a continuously-variable automatic transmission or a manual six-speed. All Krom and SL models come exclusively with the automatic; the base car comes only with the manual and the S goes either way. The automatic does a great job of keeping revs low on the freeway, which cuts noise levels while still pulling the car along briskly.
The automatic actually gets better gas mileage than the automatic-it shifts up sooner. I would like to sample the manual someday, but be aware that mileage for the six-speed drops by a couple of mpg. My automatic tester got EPA numbers of 27 City, 31 Highway, averaging 29. I averaged 29.4 mpg during the test week. Environmentally, the Cube is a good citizen, with 6 for Air Pollution and 8 for Greenhouse Gas. That 8 rating drops to a 7 when you shift for yourself, but both cars earn SmartWay status.
It's the sheer whimsy of this car that helps make it so special. The interior, available in light gray or graphite, is remarkably comfortable, but the real fun starts when you look up. The ceiling features a rippled design that looks like the water's surface when you drop in a pebble. It undulates. There are similar shapes on various other spots in the cabin, including the speaker vents and minor control knobs.
Only the Cube offers little colored bungee cords on the door armrests that are perfect for holding maps, a hair brush, or even your favorite miniature stuffed bear. This is a car in which a Hello Kitty would be welcome and appropriate. My tester had the 20-color interior accent lighting package, which put purple, green, and other shades onto my feet. And, of course, there's that circle of shag carpeting stuck with Velcro to the dash top-another part of the Interior Design Package, along with the bungees.
The panoramic view from the tall windows makes you feel in control while driving. To make climate control selections, press sections of the large centrally-mounted circle. The cargo area is huge, and when you fold the rear seats, it carries a multitude of items easily. The rear door opens to the side-refrigerator style, for easy access in tight quarters.
Pricing for Cubes starts at very reasonable and moves up to the middle of the market. The base car starts at $14,710, including shipping charges. An S model with the CVT would run you $16,750. My Krom edition was $21,070.
And you'll be in pretty good hands inside your Cube. There are the requisite seatbelts, airbags, crush zones, and anchor points for baby seats. The four-wheel anti-lock braking system is important, and standard.