First Drive: 2009 Nissan Cube

After a long wait, America is finally getting the Nissan Cube. The first version launched in Japan in 1998 and stayed around until 2002. It lacked the unique design of the second-generation Cube that was sold from 2002 through 2008. We had a Japan-spec version of that car in the office last year and loved the funky styling, small size, and tight turning circle. The latest Cube keeps most of the cute styling of the last version but loses some of the odd features such as the column-shift automatic transmission and an electrically powered rear axle that gave the Cube four-wheel drive at low speeds.

EXTERIOR DESIGN

The Nissan Cube is the new king of the box-on-wheels segment, at least with regards to exterior styling. The latest Scion xB lost quite a bit of character compared to the previous version and the Cube fills this void with impressive overall looks and some lovely details. The optional X-design wheels are a trademark feature of the square Nissan, as is the asymmetrical rear door design. The right-rear corner of the Cube has an additional window, which both looks cool and aids rear vision. Nissan claims a bulldog wearing sunglasses inspired the overall styling. Running around Ann Arbor, the Nissan got lots of looks and many people were eager to know its story.

INTERIOR DESIGN

The interior continues the funky exterior design. Nissan claims to have followed a lounge theme, giving occupants a relaxed driving/riding experience. The seats are comfortable and inspired by a sofa. The rear seat can slide six inches forward and back to allow owners to juggle cargo and passengers needs. Luggage space is a bit on the tight side with the rear seat in the upright position but the seat does fold for more room. Still, it would be nice if that rear seat either tumbled or was removable for even more cargo space. Headroom is massive. Even an NBA star wearing a ten-gallon hat would fit. There are some great details inside as well. The headliner and door speakers are rippled to resemble a water drop and there are cutouts in the doors for using bungee cords to attach items such as MP3 players or mobile phones. There are also hooks that are reconfigurable using the receptacles placed around the car. Comfort and convenience items such as iPod integration, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, premium audio, steering wheel controls, rear parking sensors, and cruise control are available on certain Cube models.

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