There's something different about the Nissan Cube, and it's not because it's square or has asymmetrical windows. I'm in the driver's seat, and I can't seem to adjust the rear-view mirror to fit the entire rear windshield. Is the mirror smaller than usual? Is the offset window throwing me off? Or am I just not used to driving a car with good rear visibility?
The feature of large asymmetrical windows is one of the Cube's differentiators in the crowded crossover SUV segment. Although they've been doing it for 10 years in Japan, Nissan is a relative latecomer to the box-on-wheels trend in the U.S. with the Scion xB and the Kia Soul already in the mix. To stand out in the square car market, the company seems to have made "quirkiness" their signature on the Cube. A byproduct of this design is that you finally have a car with a rear window big enough that short people can see out of.
Compared to the other box-shaped cars, the Cube has the "edgiest" design. The strong styling is expected to appeal to a decidedly young audience. Marketed as a sort of "apartment on wheels" since much of their demographic is still living with their parents, it's tempting to make the comparison. Although it's shorter and narrower than its direct competitors, the Cube offers a voluminous interior and a decent range of accessories that encourage personalization.
Interior mood lighting is optional, and you can even spring for a shag rug to sit atop the dash. But a home away from home it is not.
The Cube is equipped with versatile 60/40 fold-flat and three-position sliding rear seats, but the vehicle's relatively short length makes it an improbable place to crash for more than a quick nap, unlike other cars such as the Honda Element, which can fit a double mattress. That said, the Cube offers a lot of headroom--more than the Scion xB and the Soul in the front and as much as the Soul in the rear--giving the car a roomy, open feeling.
Or maybe it's the large wraparound windows on the right side.
But the Cube could stand a bit more purposeful function. There's only one 12-volt charger, and it's in the front. I hate having to decide which of my perpetually low-battery-level devices to charge on a trip. The dash-topping shag rug may serve as a conversation piece, as one Nissan spokesperson explained it, but there probably would be even more to talk about if the rug were able to grip the personal electronics that don't really have a home, like cell phones, iPods, and those keyless keys that are still required for push-button ignition.
They may not have executed so well on the apartment-on-wheels concept, but unexpected compartments and accessories definitely inspire the idea of car-as-storage-unit. The Cube sports a built-in pillar storage (read: stash box) and Nissan is selling a lockbox for the well of the truck to store items out of sight.
Bungee cords affixed to the doors can be used to hold small items such as maps, and knobs protrude from the center stack and doors on which you can hang things (up to 1.5 kilograms). Finally there's a good place to hang a garbage bag.
Electronics, Nissan marketers say, are important to their targeted buyers. The upgraded stereo system on the SL interfaces with iPods and iPhones. However, I would have preferred actual iPod integration that's easier to use. Nissan explains that their setup is more modular; that it's easier to accommodate the next big thing, which may or may not be iPod-centric. But in the meantime, I couldn't figure out how to select different playlists. In Nissan's defense, I didn't have the manual. The Cube offers an optional navigation system that I didn't get to try. I'm hoping the iPod interfaces better with a screen.
Rolling on the streets, the car didn't turn as many heads as I expected, but I got a few quizzical looks at stop lights with drivers peering down from their SUVs into the smaller ute. Parked and from a distance, I sometimes confused first-generation xBs for the Cube.
Nissan marketers admit the success of the cube will not be achieved through performance. Zipping around streets? Yes. Racing down them? No. The handling isn't as responsive as that of other Nissan vehicles, but it's not designed for that. And with a 1.8L 4-cylinder, 122-horsepower engine, neither is the Cube designed for speed. But it's enough power for tooling around the city, and it's paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). On the upside, the short wheelbase and tight turning radius makes it easy to turn around midstreet (not typically legal) to snag an open parking spot.
At $13,990 for the base model, it's almost a couple thousand less than the xB ($15,750), but more expensive than the Soul ($13,300). The competitive price-point also puts it in competition with the other starter cars on the market, such as the Honda Fit ($14,750) or the Toyota Yaris ($12,205). Given the affordable entry price, good mileage (Nissan expects 30 mpg on the highway), forward styling, and spaciousness, the Cube is a great first-time-buyer car, but without the starter car feel.