The 2009 Nissan Cube is the most polarizing vehicle we've driven this year, and maybe ever.
On one hand, you had people who gave the thumbs up as we rolled past them, and said stuff like "Cool car," or "That's so neat."
These people were mostly younger folks, who, one might surprise, like a vehicle that could be described as funky.
But on the other hand, there were people who, upon seeing the Cube, looked like they had just tasted anchovy ice cream. "What is that?" they asked with disdain. "Ewww," a few even said.
Well, the Cube is the latest in a new breed of wagonish, small SUVish, tiny minivanish-type vehicles that have hit the market over the past few years, touting their good fuel economy, functionality, reasonable sticker prices and, yes, their unconventional designs.
Some of the others in this lot include the Scion xB, Kia Soul, Mini Cooper Clubman and Honda Element.
They're supposed to appeal to young, hip, urban people, and in many cases they do. But they also have found a fan base among older folks who appreciate the functionality that doesn't come in as large a package as a bona fide minivan or SUV.
The Cube lives up to its name, with its nearly cubical shape. But Nissan threw in a few far out design details to make it even more distinctive.
The rear door opens at the side and is hinged on the left; the rear window wraps around the right rear corner and right side of the Cube.
Some people loved that. Others hated it.
The windows have a frame, and the B pillar on each side draws inward.
In the front, there are wide-set headlights and plenty of horizontal lines.
There are numerous rounded corners that blend with, or clash with, depending on your perspective, the straight lines.
The interior has its own individuality, but it's also functional, and whether you like how this car looks or not, you have to give it some major practicality points.
It's a pretty tall interior, with abundant headroom up front.
On the dash, you get a pair of scooped shelves, and other rounded shapes.
But perhaps the most unusual touch was the circular piece of shag carpeting on top of the dash.
I think it was designed to let you put something there like a cell phone or iPod or whatever, but when I tried that out, the items still shifted around and I had to end up fetching them from the corner of the dash, where it meets the windshield.
The Cube has a 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine linked to an Xtronic CVT automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
Our tester had the manual.
Gas mileage was good; we got about 31 mpg in mostly highway driving.
The driving dynamic was actually a bit more spirited than we expected from this type of car.
Maneuverability was pretty good and acceleration was solid.
At no point did the engine feel inadequately powered.
Braking was firm, and you didn't feel like you were riding in a little economy box that jarred you on each bump in the road.
The engine is easygoing, and while not library quiet, didn't make you shout over it to be heard by your fellow riders.
As for comfort, the front seats are supportive and the back seat was quite roomy and had a center armrest.
It also can be moved forward or back and reclines slightly.
Cargo capacity is pretty good. The backseats fold down.
You also get little storage areas like door pockets, dash cubbies on both sides of the steering wheel and cup holder.
Visibility is great -- no surprise when you consider the ample greenhouse. The larger corner window helps when parking.
There is good forward visibility for the driver, too.
The Cube gives you each of the safety features that come on more expensive wagons, including six airbags - front side airbags and side-curtain bags for front and rear occupants - and front-seat active head restraints. Add in electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, all standard.
The Cube has four models: base 1.8, 1.8 S, 1.8 SL, and 1.8 Krom.
The base is well-equipped - remote keyless entry, power windows, air conditioning, a trip computer, and a sound system with auxiliary input. The 1.8 S has 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 Krom has 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.
The only factory option is the SL Preferred, which has push-button ignition, Intelligent Key, fog lamps, rear parking sensors, XM Satellite Radio, an upgrade to Clarion speakers, and the subwoofer.
This category of vehicles loves to tout its customization capability, and the Cube is no exception with more than 40 dealer-installed accessories to customize.
At $13,990 for the base model, the Cube offers a compelling value. Love it or hate it.