Cars such as theand prove that funky works. The 2010 Nissan Cube follows that design theme, but treads too close to ugly. Where the xB and Soul can be seen as sporty, the Cube, with its porthole windows and asymmetric rearview, defies any notion of hooliganism.
Likewise, with its economy car power train, it doesn't lend itself to doing doughnuts in the parking lot (not that the xB or the Soul do, either). Rather, Nissan touts the car's practical nature by tagging it a "Mobile Device," as near to calling it an appliance as possible without using that word.
Even with the rear seats up, the Cube has ample cargo space.
As with other boxy cars, we like the Cube's accessibility; the seats are easy to get into and the cargo area, with its wide, side-hinged door, ingests luggage, groceries, and anything else you need to carry. The rear seats fold down without issue, maximizing cargo space.
Transportation over driving
Under the snub-nosed hood is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, a modest powerplant making 122 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. Although these specs are meager, the Cube's secret weapon is Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is the best we've tested.
The small four-cylinder engine doesn't produce much power, making the Cube more at home in the city.
During our time with the Cube, we attempted one fast launch, drove many freeway miles over rolling hills, and tackled San Francisco's steep urban streets. Although the Cube wasn't fast, it always felt like it had some power, with the CVT constantly finding the engine's sweet spot.
At our one attempt to set a land speed record with the Cube, we mashed the gas pedal and the Cube moved smartly forward with no hesitation, but no dramatics, either. The acceleration fell short of pinning us to the seats, but it was steady, and didn't wheeze out at 60 mph. On the freeway, we never felt the Cube had trouble holding 65 to 70 mph speeds, although it doesn't have much left for fast passing maneuvers at that speed.
The Cube can also be had with a six-speed manual, but the CVT gets better fuel economy, at 27 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, according to EPA tests. We saw 28.9 mpg in our mixed freeway and city driving.
The CVT offers only a Low setting as an alternative to Drive.
The CVT, offering one Low setting only and lacking any virtual shift points, emphasizes that the Cube isn't so much about driving as getting to a destination. The steering is reasonably tight and responsive--very appropriately tuned for the size of the car.
To keep the price low, Nissan used drum brakes on the rear wheels, with discs at the fronts. Following the same pattern, the front uses an independent MacPherson strut suspension and a torsion beam at the rear, resulting in a typically stiff economy car ride, although plush seats serve to cushion the blow. Nissan also fits the Cube with stabilizer bars front and rear, which, rather than making the car a canyon carver, give it a solid feel on the road.
The underpinnings of the Cube are pretty much the same no matter which trim you get, but we had the Krom (pronounced "chrome") special edition, making a huge difference in the cabin. In fact, having earlier looked at the , we have to say that either a well-equipped SL model or the Krom edition is the only way to go with the Cube.
The Krom edition piles on the tech options, including Bluetooth and iPod integration.
First of all, the Krom edition comes standard with a 4.3-inch color radio display, also an option in the SL. We expect to see more cars come with this type of display in the next few years in lieu of monochrome, single-line radio displays. Although not unheard of as an option in this price range, navigation is not available in any version of the Cube.
Instead, the 4.3-inch LCD serves as a good display for the Krom edition's standard iPod and Bluetooth phone integration, also available in the SL trim. We paired an iPhone to the car using the voice command system. Although the LCD showed feedback for the phone system, we couldn't use any of the physical controls to place calls; it is voice command only.
We quickly found that the voice command system extended to placing calls by saying the name of anyone in our phone's contact list. So far, we've seen this functionality only in cars from Ford and Kia, so Nissan is close to the front of the pack. One note, with the iPhone we had to pronounce contacts last name first because of the way the system reads the contact database.
Steering wheel buttons control the stereo and phone system.
We always like to see iPod integration, especially in cars aimed at a younger demographic. The Cube Krom edition has a USB port low on the dashboard, good for either a USB thumb drive or an iPod cable. Nissan designed a well into the dashboard that can be optionally fitted with a circle of shag carpet, ostensibly for holding phones and iPods in place. We found the triple cup holder at the base of the dashboard a much more convenient and secure place for our iPod.
The LCD works well for showing the iPod library, with the usual options for browsing music by album, artist, and genre. But we particularly liked the top-level menu option for shuffling all tracks. It's much safer to just hit that item than it is to dig through the menus for a particular artist, especially as the selection knob required a pretty long reach from the driver's seat.
Of course, the single-CD slot also works for playing MP3 CDs, and satellite radio is an option.
We were also delighted that the Krom edition of the Cube included a Rockford Fosgate audio system, with a subwoofer set into the rear gate enhancing the sound from the six cabin speakers. When we tested the Rockford Fosgate audio system in the, we found the sound bass-heavy and unrefined. But in the Cube, Rockford Fosgate toned down the thumpiness, balancing out the sound for a wider range of music. We liked the clear definition the system leant to guitar riffs. The system wasn't particularly good at low volumes, but shone more as we pumped up the output.
The rear-view camera is an unexpected feature in the Cube.
The Cube Krom edition comes with other tech car goodies, including a smart key and interior accent lighting that can be set to 20 different colors. More useful is the rear-view camera, which shows in the dashboard LCD.
Although we rushed to tell people in parking lots that we didn't actually own this 2010 Nissan Cube Krom edition, some will appreciate its unique look. The interior offers plenty of practicality--all points in favor of its design. The cabin tech interface also looks good and works well, but we knocked it for requiring such a reach to the stereo controls.
The Cube's driving performance is fine, but leans toward the practical side. You won't be rushing to get behind the wheel of the Cube for the driving experience. That said, we can always get behind good fuel economy, and the CVT is well built.
The lack of a navigation option hurts the Cube's cabin tech a little, as the 4.3-inch LCD would be adequate for turn-by-turn directions. We do like the advanced Bluetooth phone system. The iPod integration and audio system also work in the Cube's favor, as do the other tech niceties, like the smart key and accent lights.
|Model||2010 Nissan Cube|
|Power train||1.8-liter four cylinder|
|EPA fuel economy||27 mpg city/31 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||28.9 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB thumb drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Rockford-Fosgate seven speaker|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$21,070|