2009 Nissan Cube - The Cars We Need Now

November 1, 2008
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The first time you see a Nissan Cube, it's hard to keep your mouth shut. A hundred lame (or is that square?) box-it-came-in jokes pop into your head, and resisting the urge to spit them out rapid-fire, like some coked-up Catskills comic, takes a will of steel. Especially if you find, as do most people, that the mere sight of a Cube makes you chuckle.
Laugh, you might ask? Of course-how could you not? The rolling refrigerator with the Hello Kitty face and the "Super Best Drive Potential" charm is as Japanese as deference and rice, and its cheery, two-box goofiness far out-cools the Scion xB and the Honda Element. The Cube is fun. It's practical. It doesn't take itself seriously. And happily, it's on its way here.
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Nissan developed the first-generation Cube in the late 1990s for the Japanese market, and although the second-generation Cube that you see here, introduced in 2002, isn't officially sold outside Japan, that hasn't kept it from developing a worldwide cult following. At ten inches shorter in length than a Mazda MX-5 and ten inches taller than a Mini Cooper, the Cube is roomy without being large, small without being tiny. The quirky little exterior touches-asymmetrical styling, a blind-spot window in the C-pillar, a rear door that opens like a 1950s Frigidaire-only serve to add to the offbeat vibe.
Speed? Not so much. A 95-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine drives the front wheels through a column-shifted four-speed automatic. An electronic motor assembly that can power the rear wheels for low-speed four-wheel drive lives under the rear floor. And 60 mph arrives in a brain-achingly slow fourteen seconds. It's not exactly the stuff of legend, and neither is the wallowy suspension or the front bench seat. But the Cube's charisma and haul-anything nature are unstoppable. Nissan's runabout trundles its way into your heart regardless of how hard you fight it.
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We won't get this Cube (it's both too old and too unfit for U.S. regulations), but we will get its successor. The blind-spot window, relocated depending on whether the car is right- or left-hand drive, will reappear, as will the four-speed automatic and the basic exterior theme. (Endear-ingly, Nissan's design director, Shiro Nakamura, has called the next Cube's styling approach "super evolution.") To borrow a tagline from Martha Stewart, that doyenne of small-car taste and refinement, these are all "good things."
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When the next Cube debuts at the L.A. auto show in November, a version of the Nissan Versa's 122-hp, 1.8-liter four will live under the hood, and the car's basic bones will come from Nissan's front-wheel-drive B platform, also used for the Versa. As for the box-car jokes, well, just try to bite your tongue and remember one thing: it's, er, hip to be square.
Why We Want It:
Home-market Japanese weirdness, tailored for the States.
Why We Need It:
Because occasionally, you have to haul things and be frugal.


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2009 Nissan Cube

Base FWD 4-Dr Hatchback I4
starting at (MSRP)
1.8L I4
Fuel Economy
24 City 29 Hwy
2009 Nissan Cube