First Drive: 2009 Nissan Cube

Hirohiko Mochizuki

But it's a box with loads of presence, and you can't help but be reminded of that when you see it in Japanese television ads with a little bulldog wearing sunglasses. It's the dog that John Sahs and the design team envisioned as they sketched the new Cube: "The bulldog is a great way to connect with people. Our first real ID with the Cube face was the bulldog with sunglasses. The Cube's stance is the image of the bulldog: squat, confident, and relaxed."

Says his boss, Shiro Nakamura, "It's a very nice dog. We love it."

All of the designer nuttiness was the perfect preamble to actually driving the Cube with the Japanese automotive press corps in Yokohama, home of Nissan's new headquarters. In the mid-nineteenth century, Yokohama was the first Japanese port opened to the outside world. Restored century-old brick warehouses share space with Japan's largest Chinatown and acres of shining new buildings rising from reclaimed land. A note from Wikitravel.org: "Yokohama is not a very automobile-friendly place."

Playing right into the Cube's My Lounge theme.

With Nissan's crack PR team in the persons of Shotaro Ogawa and Yasuko Inoue acting as translators, tour guides, and traffic stoppers for photography, we could concentrate on the Cube's stiffer chassis, improved suspension (struts in front and torsion-beam rear with upgraded dampers and stiffer antiroll bars), and its tighter 30.2-foot turning circle. For about a minute.

Hopeless. Traffic was so bad, we were left to creep mindlessly along, enjoying an occasional hundred-yard burst of acceleration, and to wonder how to get our very own Love Wavy Sofa shipped home to Michigan for the Automobile Magazine conference room. It will be a nice place to lounge around while waiting for spring and our very own Cube to arrive.

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