For some people, boxy is cool. The Scion Xb introduced Americans to this phenomenon six years ago, and today you have a choice. But the Nissan Cube, recently brought to the U.S. after a popular run in Japan, is something special. Here are ten reasons I love it.
1. It's cute - The Cube is filled with amusing styling quirks, most notable the asymmetrical rear windows - pillar on the left, glass on the right. Inside, there's a ripple motif on the ceiling and speaker vents, and outside, on the rear window pillars.
There's a whimsical (optional) circle of shag carpet on the dash. The sill plates light up with block "C U B E" letters in blue. The seat upholstery and carpets wear a wave pattern that, combined with the curved dash indent on the passenger side, give the pleasant sensation of sitting in a Jacuzzi.
2. It's economical - I averaged 28.2 mpg in mixed driving - great for a nonhybrid. The EPA rates it 28 mpg City, 30 mpg Highway. A surprisingly peppy 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 122 horsepower and 127 lb.-ft. of torque. My tester's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) outscored the five-speed manual, which rates 24 City/29 Highway. CVTs use bands rather than gears, so they are always in the torque sweet spot.
3. It's green - The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the Cube a Smartway designation, reflecting its scores of 6 for Air Pollution and 8 for Greenhouse Gas with the CVT. The manual transmission version not only gets lower fuel economy scores, but drops to 6/7 on the Green scores. Manual transmissions may no longer be the best way to go for vehicles that aren't out-and-out sports cars.
4. It's inexpensive - Prices start at $14,710 for the base 1.8 model, including shipping. Even this car offers air conditioning, power windows and locks, an AM/FM/CD system and antilock brakes. Moving up to the 1.8 S ($15,410) brings cruise control and premium seat fabric, map lights, chrome inside door handles, steering wheel-mounted controls and body-color outside mirrors.
The 1.8 SL ($17,510), like my Caribbean Blue test car, has the CVT transmission, automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels and upgraded audio, among other things. The Krom model ($20,090) goes blingy with special wheels and body add-ons.
5. It carries my stuff - Drop the back seats and the upright bass slides in. I stashed my electric bass and amps under the soft fabric cargo cover, which attaches to the rear seats with Velcro. The rear hatch is hinged on the left and opens like a giant refrigerator door, which reminds me -the Cube's cargo area holds lots of groceries too.
6. It's roomy for folks - The back seat slides back for people, forward for added cargo. The split seatbacks recline individually and are nicely supportive. The light gray interior felt airy and open.
7. There's enormous headroom - The Cube's shape means a very different motoring experience. The upright windshield is way in front and curves back, giving the feel of a sensually styled delivery van. Big side windows eliminate claustrophobia. Wear your favorite Stetson! One minor issue - the deep sunvisors work great up front but cover only half of the side windows.
8. It's apparently well made - Considering the price point, the plastics and cloth feel substantial and look well assembled. I heard one plastic squeak in the dash somewhere, but it was only more noticeable because of the hushed sound as you drive the Cube. The leather-wrapped steering wheel, part of the SL Preferred Package ($1,600) conveyed an upscale flavor.
9. It's fun to drive - The car feels perky in town and stays stable in the corners, thanks in part to an independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. The CVT delivers maximum torque in all situations so you don't sense the car shifting gears-just steady power. Freeways at 70 mph are no sweat. The outward visibility and upright seating position impart a feeling of control.
10. It's got a nice sound system - Even the base car has one, and depending on model, it may include steering wheel controls, speaker upgrades with a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer in the tailgate and a USB port for your iPod. My test car was so quiet on the freeway that I got to enjoy my CDs, plugged-in iPod, broadcast AM/FM and Sirius XM satellite radio on my routine commute.
That's the top ten. Another consideration is safety-the Cube offers the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System, with front, side and roof-mounted curtain airbags. A Traction Control System and Vehicle Dynamic Control are standard, and security and immobilizer systems keep it safe from theft.
The Cube won Design of the Year from Automobile magazine (January 2010 issue). So it's not just me who's smitten.