First Drive: 2009 Nissan Cube

Hirohiko Mochizuki

Our Love Wavy Sofa - a.k.a. the front bench seat - was upholstered in a thick brown suede-ish material, with a keyhole slot in the middle that could accommodate a cup and a phone. The U.S. version won't be getting the cushy bench because the controls for our two transmissions - the new CVT from the Altima and the Maxima and an optional six-speed manual - are both floor-mounted. We won't get the four-wheel-drive model. We also won't get the charming but delicate light-diffusing, translucent shoji-style screen that covers the large skylight above the front seats, most likely because the typical American will rip it from its moorings the first time he or she gives it a jerk. There are so many other little optional clips, hooks, nets, rubber bands, colors, materials, and body parts, it's hard to say what will make it across the pond come spring. Chief product planner Yosuke Iwasa knows that accessories are a big deal, but wants to "keep variations low for inventory control."

The new interior is significantly more refined and bigger than the last Cube's. Said Sahs, "Hayakawa-san had the idea to shape the interior so it looks from above like what we call the Jacuzzi curve. The two-tone interior developed for the U.S. shows that concept better." (Imagine a large oval nipped in at the waist.) "Then the circles on the headliner are like a drop of water. They ripple out and carry through to the speakers and inside the cupholders." Sounds silly, but there is something organically peaceful about those crop circles everywhere. Or maybe that design wacky-talk is just infectious.

The instruments are supersharp, with white light around the tach and blue around the speedo, and in a pod separate from the curved dash, adding to the airy feeling. Stadium-style rear seats hold three, adjust fore and aft, and recline. Air bags, belt pretensioners, and active head restraints protect front passengers. Headrests and shoulder harnesses protect those in the back, along with side curtain air bags. The rear seats flop down, increasing cargo space, but even when up, there's still room behind for a small human.

The last Cube didn't feel all that tiny, but using the Versa to underpin the 2009 model and moving the wheels right out to the four corners added stretch in every direction - a few inches of wheelbase, a smidgen of elbow room, a tiny bit of headroom. (The Versa also provides the 122-hp, 1.8-liter in-line four that will power the U.S.-spec Cube, a big bump over the 107 hp in the Japanese Cube.) Still, snap a photo next to a six-footer, and the Cube looks like the little box it really is - actually it's more than a foot shorter than the compact Versa.

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