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2010 Design of the Year: 2010 Nissan Cube

Funky, fun, and futuristic.

Beauty? Nope. Not a trace. Elegance? Sorry, that was left out. Originality? Well, yes and no. This is the third coming of Nissan's Cube - even though it is the first iteration developed to accommodate left-hand drive for worldwide distribution - so its uncompromising shape is not exactly a surprise. And compared with the Honda Element and the Scion xB, it's a latecomer to the self-propelled packing-box category in this country. So why is it our 2010 Design of the Year? In a word, charm.

You'll probably start to smile as you approach the Cube. It's funny-looking, yes, but in an especially agreeable way. Its prognathous chin is not the least bit aggressive, each side window is inset from the nominal surface with a nice chamfer around it, and, of course, there is the startling asymmetrical rear with the side-hinged door for access to the minuscule luggage space. It's surprising that the trunk is so small, because the interior gives you a sense, if not the fact, of unlimited space. The amount of headroom, elbow room, and legroom makes the Cube feel more like a limo than the upmarket economy car it actually is.

Feng shui - the art of arranging interior environments to promote health, harmony, and general well-being - is an ancient Chinese conceit, but one can wonder whether Nissan consulted an expert in the art when it created the interior of the Cube. Sitting in it immediately gives one a sense of well-being, and that feeling does not go away as the miles accrue. The wave across the instrument panel (echoed in the carpet design), the concentric rings radiating out from the dome light in the molded headliner (mimicked in the door speakers), and the shaping of buttons and switches to please the hands that touch them all work together to make driver and passengers alike content to be in the Cube.

Many people dislike CVT gearboxes, but we think the Cube's optional transmission is just right for the car's mission: to be the thoroughly practical, no-nonsense urban vehicle of the early twenty-first century. The Cube isn't intended for high speeds, but it acquits itself surprisingly well during 75-mph highway drives, with less wind noise from its blunt shape than we have observed in cars with much more aerodynamic forms.

It's funky, fun, and just generally fine. Don't believe us? Just try it.