REVIEWS: 2009 Nissan Cube S

July 9, 2009
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Gotta love this purplish-brown paint! Gotta love the asymmetrical, straight-from-Japan exterior styling! Gotta love this wacked-out interior! And these visors? The biggest I've ever seen in a production car.
0907 10 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+profile View
The modestly powered four-cylinder engine seems up to the task of propelling this brown box around, although I didn't go on the freeway, where I suspect that wind noise at the side mirrors might bother some people. The six-speed manual has light effort and a pleasing clutch take-up; I enjoyed using it. Body roll is pretty well in check; the Cube definitely does not come across as a tipsy box.
Love the side-hinged (left side) rear door, which means that, when the Cube is parked parallel at the curb, your access to the cargo compartment is from the curb side, not the street side. The lift-over is perhaps a little high, though; it's too bad the cargo floor isn't wider and more flat; it turns out that the bottom edge of the cargo door covers a large load lip. Oh, well. As for the passenger compartment, it's very roomy with, obviously, lots of headroom. Great view of the road from the driver's seat, with an expansive windshield and large door windows. Is it me, though, or does the driver's seat seem to be canted slightly toward the right? Central knob for radio volume is logical and good.
We're scheduled to get a Cube for a one-year, Four Seasons test, and I think we'll really enjoy it.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Despite its rather dull exterior color, the Nissan Cube attracts a lot of attention. A gaggle of teenage girls in a Ford Focus kept staring at the Cube after they passed me. An older man driving a full-size pickup gave the Cube a confused look at a red light. Perhaps it was the strange mix of hipster looks and loud Metallica coming from the CD player. I certainly had to do something to balance out the quirky lines of the Cube. There's no way I'm hip enough to own one of these.
0907 01 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+front Passenger Interior
I love the simple interior. You know all the materials are cheap, but they are supposed to be. This is a cheap car. The front bucket seats are about as close as you'll get to a bench seat on a modern car, but I still wish we could get an actual bench seat like the Japanese-market Cube. Be sure to look at the headliner and examine the funky water droplet pattern around the dome light.
I'd like to see a more interesting radio display - perhaps something with an equalizer always displayed because I get the feeling this car needs to be playing cool music all the time. It's also a pity this particular stereo isn't very good. It needs more power and some better-sounding speakers. Old Metallica sounds fine on substandard speakers, but music that's not supposed to be distorted didn't sound so hot when the volume was cranked. Our S test model has the base, four-speaker stereo; move up to the $16,790 SL, and you get six speakers and two tweeters.
The Cube is certainly not supposed to be an enthusiast's dream in the handling department, but it responded well when pushed. Don't expect any feedback from the steering, but the body control is quite good, perhaps even class-leading. I was pleased with the performance of the 1.8-liter four-cylinder, but it really needs to be revved to extract any significant acceleration. If you're just cruising around urban areas, it should be more than adequate.
I really, really hope a cultlike following for the Cube sprouts up in the U.S. I'd love to see owners import some of the wilder JDM Cube goodies and bolt them onto customized cars. The Cube is probably the coolest car I've ever driven that features hubcaps.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Dull exterior color?!? Phil, baby! That's Bitter Chocolate, and it is SO FINE. Though not quite as fine as Cardboard, which we don't get here. I would also add to Phil's comment about the cheap interior materials, that the sum of the parts is a whimsical, pleasing whole that has been carefully constructed.
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I like the feeling of riding in a shoulder-high Jacuzzi, and as Joe D. says, the window glass is huge and the sun visors super deep and useful. I am also very fond of the sun/moon gauges.
I have a freeway commute, and the Cube took it in stride--no excess wind noise from the giant side mirrors, steady 80 mph on cruise with no loss of acceleration, very reasonable ride quality. You must order it with the six-speed manual, though, to make the most of the don't-hold-dinner-for-me acceleration times.
In the parking structure, it takes a three-point turn to straight park. But this is a minor nuisance. In all, I love the exterior shape with its wide base and asymmetrical doors, I love the feel behind the wheel and the view out, and the whole experience of being relaxed behind the wheel rather than exhilarated. Can't wait for our 4 Seasons test Cube.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
I really enjoyed the last Cube we had (a high-trim SL), but I feared a lot of the design-centric features I admired would be lost on a lower trim level. To some extent, that's true, but the 1.8 S's $15,410 sticker price is attractive enough to distract you from the missing goodies.
0907 09 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+front Three Quarters View
Admittedly, you're not losing a whole lot in stepping down from an SL to an S, unless your life circles around a factory-installed iPod connector, Bluetooth system, and Rockford Fosgate subwoofer. The S still sports the same swanky cloth fabric inside, although I'd be remiss to order it in charcoal - it turns the Cube into a verifiable cave. The SL still provides things like cruise control, A/C, and power windows, so it's not as if you're accepting Paleozoic-era technologies in order to save a few bucks.
Still, I'd be even happier if I could simply spring for those neat aluminum wheels and a better sound system (this four-speaker setup is rather flat and uninspiring) without jumping to a different trim model. Kudos to Nissan for offering some neat accessories, but it needs to take a page out of Scion's book and make more premium content available to all Cube buyers, even as dealer-installed accessories.
I still adore how this box scoots about town. The Cube is much more tolerable in urban drive cycles than the Scion xB - it feels more nimble, more responsive, and the giant windows make spotting oddly placed signs and signals a breeze. The Cube is predictably a bit top heavy, but it stays planted and exhibits little body roll unless you push it to the limit. Oddly, the manual transmission leaves me cold - it's easy enough to row, mind you, but Nissan's CVT is one of the better units I've sampled, and it makes the Cube even easier to slog in rush-hour traffic.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I was constantly surprised to get out of this car and look back at its tiny dimensions. From the inside, the Cube feels huge. The seats keep you sitting upright, with your knees almost at a 90-degree angle. The huge front windshield and excessive headroom work with the minivan seating position to make you feel like you're driving something much larger. But when you go to get out, there's no step down.
0907 04 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+front Three Quarters View
The 122-hp, 1.8-liter engine is sufficient around town. As Jean mentioned, this is a car that's about relaxing. Don't bother revving the engine to 6500 rpm in search of a performance-minded alter ego. You won't find anything. Just loaf along with traffic and you'll learn to love the Cube for its personality. Still, I was pretty disappointed by the steering. Turning the wheel has the tactile feedback of an original Nintendo controller. At the very least, Nissan needs to add some weight to the steering effort.
Our 1.8S is definitely a good value, making it a great car for young drivers. For $15,410, you get everything that you need and nothing else. Keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, CD player and aux input, and air-conditioning. Mom and dad will appreciate that there's not enough power to get into too much trouble, plus ABS and six air bags are standard. All Cubes also come with stability control, which is rarely standard in this class. I'm also impressed that Nissan will allow you to choose the CVT for your 1.8S at no cost.
With something as quirky as the Cube, I did feel like our 1.8S was missing some interior novelties. The wave-ripple headliner is a good start, but it's not something you regularly look at or touch. Fortunately, Nissan offers a number of options to liven the Cube's cabin. The 20-color interior illumination package and interior designer package that adds a patch of shag carpeting to the dash would be high on my list. Frivolous? Maybe. But also fun, and that's what the Cube is all about.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Call me Oscar the Grouch, but I'm not as blown away by the Cube as most of the other folks in the office seem to be. Don't get me wrong, this is one funky small car. It looks adorable and the seating position, which Jean perfectly described as Jacuzzi-like, is something that must be experienced. But in other ways, this particular Cube felt suspiciously like a de-contented compact car - slow and numb, with an interior made up of lots of hard, black plastic. Of course, it's hard to find any new car for $15,500 that doesn't suffer from these maladies. More concerning is the relative lack of utility. One would think a vehicle named after the most volume-efficient of shapes would excel at carrying lots of goodies, but the somewhat high, thick rear bumper obstructs what is only a decent storage area. Anyone who has spent time with a Honda Fit will be disappointed.
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As Eric noted, the interior extras are sorely missed here. The absurd, wonderful things you can buy for the Cube are a huge part of the car's charm. This pared-down model is still a fine, fun compact, but there are other options I'd consider first.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
When the folks from Nissan first visited us with a Cube, they regrettably told us that many of the Cube's coolest features - shag dash patch, front door bungees, lighted sill plates - likely wouldn't be available with the six-speed manual transmission, which is offered only on 1.8 and 1.8S models. Fortunately, according to nissanusa.com, these features ARE available as options on the 1.8S spec. Hopefully, our pending Four Seasons Cube will come with these features and more, because like some of my colleagues have mentioned, the cabin of this particular Cube fell slightly flat in the funk department, particularly when you consider this car's superquirky exterior. [Yes, Rusty, we've ordered the shag patch and the lighted sill plates---Ed.] Still, I can't disagree with Phil about the paint: this dark brown sometimes almost makes the J-cool Cube blend in with normal traffic. Even in this color, though, I love the assymetrical styling, although my wife and my dad think it's ugly.
0907 02 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+cup Holder
For its shape and center of gravity, the Cube drives pretty well, but it's certainly no sports car. The boxy Nissan is extremely susceptible to crosswinds, and it's surprisingly bouncy and jouncy on the highway, as if the rear dampers are too stiff. The driving position is very nice, and even though the six-speed manual is stirred via a tall shifter, it helps make the Cube an enjoyable city car.
I agree that the interior features some clearly inexpensive materials, but like those in the Jeep Wrangler, they seem well-assembled and somehow perfectly inoffensive in this application. One exception is the chromey Nissan badge on the steering wheel, which rattled frequently during my weekend with the Cube. But I really dig the opaque white fan-speed control knob, which looks especially cool at night. Jean and Joe aren't kidding about those sun visors, either: they're almost half the height of the windshield!
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I have to disagree with Rusty about the Cube blending in with traffic. A couple days ago I found myself two cars behind the Cube on a freeway off-ramp, and it definitely got my attention. Even with the proliferation of squarish vehicles (Honda Element, Scion xB, even the Ford Flex), the Nissan Cube stands out as something different. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is---the assymeticral rear window, the huge expanses of glass, or just its basic dimensions---but it's a car that has a certain presence.
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The driving experience, on the other hand, doesn't really distinguish itself. Sure, the engine has enough power for its purpose, but driving the Cube isn't exactly going to get your heart pumping. I have to agree with Eric Tingwall about the steering---at low speeds it feels particularly light, although it does firms up a little once you get up to speed.
The large glass areas are great for visibility (although I noticed some odd reflections when the light hit at certain angles, which can be quite distracting), the upright seating position gives a feeling of command, and the high roof would allow you to wear a stovepipe hat, if you were so inclined. The interior isn't exactly sumptuous, but it's about what you expect from a $15,500 car---I particularly like the metal door handles, they feel quite substantial, unlike the cheap plastic that isn't uncommon in other cars in this class.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I'm a big fan of the Cube, but I'm not particularly in love with this model. Every time I get into it, I feel like I just entered the world's biggest cave. The car feels exceptionally large inside for how small it really is. I much prefer the lighter interior color of the Cube we had previously.
0907 05 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+rear Passenger Window
The six-speed manual on this car is great, but it means that several features are unavailable. Most notably, the cool circular HVAC control that comes with the auto-air option is not available to 1.8S buyers. As Rusty noted, many options are actually available and the auto-air isn't a deal breaker.
I was impressed with how the Cube handled. It exhibited very little body roll for how short its wheelbase is and how tall it is. The steering is quite vague, but feels better than the Cube's Scion competitor. The transmission also feels much better than the manual in the Scion xB.
Andrew Peterson, Intern
2009 Nissan Cube S
0907 08 Z+2009 Nissan Cube S+front Three Quarters View
Base price (with destination): $15,410
Price as tested: $15,410
Options: No extra options
Fuel Economy:
24 / 29 / 27 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Engine:
Size: 1.8L DOHC 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 122 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 127 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 2795 lb
Wheels/Tires:
15 x 6 in steel wheels with plastic covers
195/60HR15 Toyo all-season tires

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