The Nissan cube turns heads

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by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on September 17, 2009 at 11:44 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving NW: The well-rounded Nissan cube

If you weren't on the automotive page, chances are you'd think the phrase "cube Mobile Device" described a cell phone. Maybe a gadget from a Transformers movie. It's not. It's a car, or perhaps a clubhouse.

After 10 years of strong sales in Japan, Nissan has brought this automobile/dorm room/conversation piece to the United States. The cube (no capitol letters thank you very much) appears to be taking on Scion xB and Kia Soul, but it speaks with a much thicker Japanese accent. It not just Tokyo, it's edgy Harajuku. Don't like the way it looks? Maybe you're too old. cube isn't meant to appeal to buyers over ... say 19.

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Don't cubes have straight sides?

The name may describe the silhouette, but just about every line within it swerves and curves. Cubes (the geometric shape) have equal sides. Nissan cubes are asymmetrical, with the passenger side being different from the driver's. Where Corollas are chameleons, people point and stare at the extrovert cube. It's a grin or grimace proposition. Hello Kitty just has to drive one of these.

If she does there's a good amount of room for four of her Sanrio friends. Being a box, cube is fairly roomy for your posse too. The curvy instrument panel continues the wave theme as does the floor mats and upholstery. At $19,930 this loaded SL models equipment list impresses: auto climate control, a decent sound system with CD, XM and Rockford/Fosgate subwoofer, dedicated iPod interface, Bluetooth phone connection, continuously variable transmission, auto headlights and keyless entry and ignition. There's even a backup sensor. The spendy Illumination Package ($490!) means door sills are backlit plus foot wells and cupholder get bathed in the color of your choice. Indecisive? Let the hues cycle for your own personal Ginza.

Those features are all so mainstream. cube throws in a few new tricks. The headliner looks like ripples in a pond. Slots and removable knobs accept a rainbow of bungee cords (thrown in at no extra cost). Use them to hold plush toys, sunglasses or shopping lists. That small pizza on the instrument panel is actually shag carpeting. It does a good job of holding small items like cell phones in place since you will not be cornering hard in this car. More on that in a sec.

A dorm on wheels.

For those who are interested in this kind of things, this third generation cube is on the same platform as Versa. Most buyers could care less. Nissan says cube is equal parts transportation and social den and in that regard the interior ambience is much different than Soul or xB. The windshield is bolt upright and pushed forward giving a driver the overwhelming feeling they're driving a room - or a hot tub. Big windows mean good visibility. The chairs with little side support are soft and comfy.

Under the hood there's a 1.8-liter 122 horse 4-cylinder. Zero-to-60 happens in 9.5 seconds. Let's call acceleration "relaxed." The front-wheel drive cube is peppy off the line but eventually loses its spunk, so laid back city duty suits it best. Highway speeds produce wind noise; crosswinds affect it too. There's nothing for the enthusiast in the handling department. The suspension has all the firmness of a bowl of fresh ramen. Comfort is cube's mission. Modern stability and traction controls are here including good anti-lock brakes (discs up front, drums in the rear).

The continuously variable tranny sounds best with a light throttle foot. Floor the throttle and the engine spools up and hangs there while the car's velocity catches up with the RPMs. This is classic CVT behavior. Buyers bothered by its gliding nature can opt for a 6-speed manual. EPA rates gas mileage at 28 city/30 highway.

While cube has a comfortable ride, my American frame hasn't found a comfortable driving position. It's not the fault of the seats. If the legs are feeling fine the arms feel crowded against the steering wheel. Adding a telescope adjustment to the tilt wheel would help a lot. Other gripes? The dedicated iPod connector doesn't charge an iPhone. Huge forward mounted visors are quite a reach to adjust and if the sun's right off to your side they don't slide back on the rod to block old sol. The hard to see fuel door release is right next to the identically shaped hood release. Let the hijinks begin.

Hatchback vs. door

In this contest, hatchbacks are heavily favored. The urban hipster that parallel parks a cube downtown may have a hassle getting stuff out of the trunk if a car's behind him. The cargo door is wide and needs a lot of room to swing back. Also, an upward rising hatch can protect people from rain and snow. Thankfully Nissan hinged the door on the driver's side, making loading from the curb easier. Toyota's RAV4 door literally blocks your way.

The rear seat (complete with folding arm rest but no center headrest) slides fore and aft. For the TP trunk test I've diplomatically set it at the halfway point. The cargo hold isn't huge. Six packs appear to fit but if the cargo door is going to close that seat's got to side a forward a little more. Hello Kitty's friends all have short legs so it's not a huge deal … for them.

Starting at just $14,700 with destination, cube Mobile Device is a square deal. Those who want attention will certainly get it in this ride. With its looks and price, it could be sold at IKEA, near the trendy lighting section I reckon. I overheard a woman walking by dismiss it as "silly." Exactly. There are plenty of conservative cars on the road, thank goodness this whimsical Nissan exists. Want to meet unique people? Show up in the well rounded cube. And say hi to Hello for me.

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