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Nissan packages its Cube for U.S. delivery later this year

Wed, 28 Jan 2009

Nissan's quirkily styled Cube has just been released in Japan and will be coming stateside this year.

We drove the all-new model and came away impressed with the improvement Nissan made for its U.S. introduction. The angular exterior design has evolved with a slightly bigger body and cleaner, rounder lines. This can be easily seen around the front and rear edges, as well as the side windows, which have been softened up with a more circular shape. The wheels have been pushed farther out to increase wheelbase by four inches (the Cube is built on the Versa platform), while the overall dimensions of the car have grown in every direction. In fact, to fit the larger, 1.8-liter engine for the States, the nose has been extended slightly, giving it more grown-up proportions.

The Cube's refrigeratorlike side-hinged rear door remains but will be flipped over for the U.S. models so it swings open from the left. Nissan designers tried very hard to keep every detail as clean and as minimalistic as possible, taking inspiration from the simplicity of Apple's iPod. The tall greenhouse frees up tons of headroom inside, and the Cube has impressive seating arrangement and overall functionality.

On the Japanese model we drove, the front seat is a bench, with the center portion of the backrest folding down into an armrest between the passenger and the driver. The U.S. model will have instead a small transmission tunnel on which the gear selector will be found.

The rear bench seat offers ample room for three adults and slides fore and aft to make use of the available space. The rear backrests fold flat and also recline slightly.

Overall build quality is great, and the plastics, though hard, are an improvement over the previous model. Our test car came with the more boring gray-on-light-gray interior, but some wacky color combinations are available, such as cream plastics combined with a '70s-themed brown suedelike seat fabric. We loved the ripple effect given to the headliner, which was also carried through to the speaker covers. The concentric wave effect comes only on the non-sunroof-equipped models, but those get a very cool shoji-style sliding cover, which diffuses light rather than blocking it.

Our test car had a great air-conditioning system, which not only purified the air but also closed the circulation when it detected pollution, something that happened ever other minute on the smog-infested streets of Tokyo.

The instrumentation, like the rest of the Cube, is simple and easy to read, and we took full advantage of the real-time fuel-economy readout to try to use the new Xtronic CVT efficiently. The gearbox offered decent acceleration from stoplights and fast pickup when a burst of power was required. Mind you, the power isn't anything to write home about, but the 1.8-liter engine offered for the States will be much better. U.S. models will get the CVT, but a manual transmission will also be offered.

The Cube had surprising handling capabilities, allowing it to be thrown around town with ease and not doing too badly on faster, more demanding corners. The suspension soaks up imperfections well, but the steering let us down, with a very artificial, overassisted feel, great for parking and maneuvering but not for much else.

With an affordable, innovatively styled package that offers great economy and tons of practicality, Nissan's Cube will likely gain a healthy piece of the growing market for boxy cars in the United States.


ON SALE: Early 2009 in U.S.

BASE PRICE: $18,800 (est)

DRIVETRAIN: 1.5-liter, 106-hp, 109-lb-ft, I4; FWD, CVT

CURB WEIGHT: 2,596 lb

0-60 MPH: 10 sec (mfr)


By Dino Dalle Carbonare