2009 Nissan Cube - The Cars We Need Now

Sam Smith
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Brian Konoske

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.

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.

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."

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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