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2008 Nissan Cube – Click above for high-res image gallery

You know that you have a disorder when you're as enthused about an econobox as you are to get seat time in something like a Rolls or Bentley. But that's me, and that's how I felt when I got the call at my desk telling me that my new media ride was downstairs waiting for me. I quietly walked out to the stairwell and then, when the door shut behind me, I bounded down them two at a time, like a kid running downstairs on Christmas day. I stepped out into the sunlight, and there it was in all its delightfully quirky, 100% JDM glory: a 2008 Nissan Cube. And for the next four days, it was mine.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

The Nissan Cube has that intangible 'thing" going for it that we last saw when Toyota put Scion branding on its boxy, home-market bB and shipped it across the Pacific as the original xB. The Cube is incontrovertible rolling evidence that basic transportation can indeed be interesting, fun and stylish. There's a timeless retro industrial design feel to some of the car's surfaces, particularly in the softened edges at the corners of the roof and hood. Think of a vintage-style toaster or refrigerator and you'll get my drift. That's not to say that the Cube is a retromobile. On balance, its design is clean and modern.

The Cube's signature, more than its boxy shape, is its bodywork's asymmetrical layout, which really gives the car car a lot of visual character. On the passenger side (that would be the left side, since this is a right-hand-drive vehicle), there's a window aft of the rear door that provides added visibility when the driver looks over his shoulder. On the driver's side, there is no corresponding window. Instead, a black trim piece after the rear door helps reduce the visual size of the substantial d-pillar. The apparent rationale behind this design choice is that the driver wouldn't be able see out of a window in that location anyway. Nissan then accentuates the asymmetry by tinting the glass and the rear window, then adding blackout trim that creates a wraparound effect from the passenger side to the rear of the car. The A-pillars are also blacked out, giving a similar visual feel to the front windows, as well.

The car's taillamps and brake lights are arranged in rectangular clusters integrated into the rear bunper. They actually drew a number of compliments to the effect of, "Those rear lights look really cool." Agreed. The front end of the car is a simple, clean design in which the grillework creates a pattern of -- what else -- squares. Round foglamps live in the front bumper, and fifteen-inch alloy wheels are pushed all the way out to the corners. This placement minimizes overhangs and maximizes usable interior space.

Like other Nissans, the Cube uses a smart key that you never need to take out of your pocket. Pull open the front door and slide into the front seat. If you're me, this is where you curse under your breath because you just got into the passenger side like a complete jackass. No worries. Lift the center armrest and just slide on over to the driver's perch. You can do this because the Cube has a flat floor and a bench seat in front. It's upholstered in tan cloth with flecks of red and blue mixed in, and despite its plain appearance, is actually quite comfy. The IP is finished in complimentary hues and plastic textures, and the material and build quality seemed to be high. If you're looking for any soft-touch surfaces on the instrument panel, you're put of luck.

Behind the simple 3-spoke steering wheel is an instrument cluster containing the bare essentials: speedo, tach, and fuel gauge. The column shifter and wiper controls jut out to the left of the column, while the turn signals and light controls are on a stalk to the right. I probably activated those windshield wipers instead of the turn signal around twice a day. Also to the right of the steering wheel, mounted somewhat out of the way, are switches for the e-4WD system, the headlamp angle adjuster, and power mirror controller. The center stack is topped by the audio system, or more accurately in the case of our tester, the dead space where the audio system would normally reside. Straightforward HVAC controls were mounted a little further down, with the ashtray and power outlet situated immediately below them. A netted area sat just above the floor, and that's where I stuck a small transistor radio. Hey, whatever works, right?

The front seat occupants have a total of four cupholders, and other storage areas include a small shelf on the passenger side, plus over/under gloveboxes. The top one is small, but the lower one easily swallowed a hardcover novel, two half-liter bottles of water, the owner's manual, and the case for my point-and-shoot camera. The center armrest (when in use) also contains a covered storage bin. The back seat is pretty much just like the front - a bench with a flip-down center armrest. Instead of a storage cubby, however, the rear armrest has a pair of molded-in cupholders. The back seat is mounted on tracks that allow it to be be moved fore and aft. The lever to do so is accessible only from the rear cargo area, though. We left the rear bench pushed all the way back to maximize rear legroom.

The Cube handled lunch hour with three friends without generating any major complaints from anyone. The only casualty was my 6-foot 4-inch buddy Jim's right knee, which took two solid blows from the bottom corner of the center stack as he got into the front passenger seat. Once settled, however, he was comfortable and held no grudge -- he wound up being a big fan of the car in general. Two additional colleagues of average size rode in back, and they were comfortable, as well.

The cargo area has a slightly recessed, flat load floor. You access it by swinging open the large rear cargo door, which is hinged on the right side. If you need more room, you can slide the rear bench forward and flip down the seatbacks to create an additional shelf. Nissan thoughtfully includes a coat hangar in a recessed cubby on the right, as well as some bag hooks on the opposite wall. In Japan, there's also an extended-wheelbase version called the Cube3 (or Cube Cubic) that adds a 3rd row of seating. Now that you know where everything is, let's go for a drive.

Twist the ignition switch and the Cube's 1.4L four-cylinder immediately buzzes to life. It's rated at 95 horsepower at 5,600rpm and 100 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm. This particular engine is paired with a 4-speed automatic (1.5L Cubes get a CVT), and our tester also had the e-4WD system. Instead of saddling the cube with the added weight and complexity of a traditional AWD setup, e-4WD uses an electric motor on the rear axle to drive those wheels when conditions call for added traction. Activating the system is simply a matter of pushing a dash-mounted button and the setup lets the Cube retain its flat cabin floor while still offering the security blanket of all-wheel-drive functionality. I had mostly dry weather, and unfortunately never had a need to bring e-4WD into the picture.

The four-speed auto has a 4.072 final drive ratio, which really makes it well-suited to local duty. As a grocery-getter, the Cube's a champ, with good low-end pickup and enough spunk to handle the rigors of suburbia. The price you pay for this low-speed adeptness becomes apparent when you take the Cube on the highway. Assuming that your route isn't clogged with traffic, you need to stand on the accelerator to get the Cube up to merging velocity. And get there it does... eventually. Once you're up to speed, maintaining it isn't a problem. I had no trouble cruising along between 60 and 75 mph, an act you can make more exciting by pretending that the '120' on the speedometer represents mph instead of kilometers per hour. On the downside, you're consistently running the engine between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm, so fuel economy is going out the window. Despite the car's relatively light weight (2,535 lbs) and little motor, we averaged just 22 mpg in mixed use.

The Cube's ride is pretty compliant, and at around-town speeds, it's a pleasure. Speed bumps and potholes are absorbed without drama. Again, there's a tradeoff for the comfortable ride. Give the Cube a little kick in the pants, try hustling it through some corners, and you'll acquaint yourself with some serious body roll. Go-kart-like handling is obviously not on the Cube's list of attributes. Exercise moderation at the wheel, and you'll be just fine.

So, what can we expect when the 3rd-generation Cube arrives here next year? More power is pretty much a lock. The JDM-spec engine is fine in town, but works too hard on the highway where many Americans spend a lot of time commuting. We'd also expect to see gearing that's more reflective of our market's needs, and that should help push the Cube's fuel economy higher. While we've seen one leaked photo of something purported to be the next Cube -- a more rounded take on the current vehicle -- we've also seen spy shots that show something similar in shape and proportion to the Denki Cube concept displayed at New York Auto Show. This gives hope to those, like myself, who would prefer something styled more in tune with the current car. The biggest question mark surrounds how exactly Nissan plans to handle the car's trademark asymmetric styling. Simply moving the steering wheel over would present drivers with a massive blind spot on the passenger side. Kudos to Nissan if it produces a LHD market-specific body that puts the extra window on the right side of the car, retaining both the asymmetry and the benefit it is supposed to give the driver. We'll have to wait and see what happens, and keep our fingers crossed. The U.S.-spec Nissan Cube will be unveiled at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show.

One of the benefits of driving a right-hand-drive vehicle, besides the ability to easily snoop in people's mailboxes (I kid, I kid... don't call the FBI), is that it's easy to answer other drivers' questions while waiting for a light to turn green. After "What is it?", the next most popular questions were, "Can I buy one?" and "How much?" If Nissan can deliver a U.S.-market Nissan Cube that's as nifty as the JDM car while keeping the price of entry in the teens, it's going to have a hit on its hands and the Scion xB will have good reason to look over its shoulder.

Click here for translated Nissan Cube tech specs at Nissan Cube Life.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was a bit disappointed when I saw that leaked photo of the next one. Loses some of its charm; looking more like the aforementioned Daihatsu Materia. But I suppose being slightly less upright means (highway) MPG will improve; Bricklike aero seems to be what's to blame for some of the MINI's less-than-stellar numbers.

      Still, if it remains more its current size, and doesn't get overgrown like what Toyota did with the xB, I agree with the others who think it'll be a big hit in the US.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ugly, but I kinda like it-like the Honda Fit...I'm sensing Scion's xB's 'Ugly but Interesting' theory here.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Thank you for the review! If they continue to be this good I just might give up my auto-mag subscriptions!
      • 7 Years Ago
      Love the concept, hope the new one is cool too. The e part time AWD is just plain cool. Nissan, Don't lose the bench seat- Would love to buy domestic fuel efiicient box but where are they?
      Chevy- where is out beat?
      Ford how soon the new Fiesta?
      Chryslerebus- no, it doesn't have a hemi, want one anyway.
        • 7 Years Ago
        What are you bitching about re the domestic boxes?

        Chevy has the HHR - 22/30 mpg. PT Cruiser? Focus? Or maybe the Mazda5 (it's 15% Ford)?

        You are not looking hard enough.

        All this little car JDM loving for 22mpg! Haha.
        • 7 Years Ago
        'D' - Too bad the current domestic boxes look terrible. Like a monkey designed them. Or like a person didn't even try to.

        Poor proportions, a lack of unifying styling ques, cheap material choices and exterior treatments, and no consistent design language. Fuel mileagae or not, I'd take an xb or a cube over the failed domestic "designs" you mention here, which makes "looking harder" almost a non-issue IMO.

        I don't want a fuel efficient car that looks like garbage.
          • 7 Years Ago
          Maybe because domestics aren't putting in the effort. A lot of new doemstic car designs are finally getting better, but only right now. Imports have beein doing a decent job for awhile now at a lot of things, part of why they sell so well in the US. So maybe with greater perceived effort comes greater expectation and appreciation of the product. I think the Cube is designed better, and that more effort was put into it. The potential to capitalize on this by domestic manufacturers is there, and hopefully they'll catch on in this segment as they have already begun to in others.
          • 7 Years Ago
          "I don't want a fuel efficient car that looks like garbage"

          Well good thing for you the Cube gives you a car that looks like garbage AND is hardly fuel efficient.

          This car is no different in its craptasticness than the rest of the segment.

          I just love how any Japanese car gets reviews like this, while the same quality domestic version gets references like "cheap plasticky interior" and "inefficient" and so forth.

          Why is it that a piece of crap with a bowtie or blue oval is labeled as such, but a piece of crap with a "T", "H", or Nissan badge on it smells like roses?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Another ugly POS box to grace the roads with poor mileage to boot.

      A bench seat with a radio in your crotch? Great idea.

      Cool wheels? Sure if you like chex cereal.
      • 7 Years Ago
      When the hell did these things become cool? What is wrong with you guys? I am a huge auto enthusiast, and I can't stand this thing or the xB or xD or whatever. Yes, boxed-shaped cars have a lot of room inside. Like a box. They also look like...a box. Who the heck would want to be seen in one of these? It's the ultimate dork-mobile, with people thinking they are cool by being different and driving something this ugly.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think [real] muscle cars look awesome but they have ridiculous overhangs, too much weight, poor brakes, terrible handling, awful versatility, and so on. A Dodge Magnum looks like crap [subjective statement] but is quite a bit more versatile.

        This would be an excellent city car because it is a) short, b) fuel efficient at low speeds, c) cheap, and d) spacious [for the size].

        I don't understand why people would buy late 90s Ford Tauruses [other than the SHO] or the Dodge Neon but hey, not everyone is me. And not everyone is you.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "Because some of us don't need the penile extensions."

        So a good-looking, car is automatically a penis extension, while a box isn't? I never even mentioned status cars or anything. You can buy compact cars that also look good.

        Nice assumption.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Because some of us don't need the penile extensions.
      • 7 Years Ago
      This car only manages a very disappointing 22mpg in real-world American driving. What makes anyone think a four cylinder Camaro (that weighs more) will do any better than 20 overall? The myth that four cylinders are magically fuel-misers and V8s are fuel-guzzlers is just that.

      Browse Edmunds.com Full-Tests or Long-Term tests and read what various vehicles return in the real world for fuel economy. You will be appalled at the figures of many four and six cylinder vehicles.

      Real fuel efficency is the amount of power produced per unit of fuel burned. You'll find that many powerful engines are actually more efficient than weaker ones.

      If you want the ultimate in fuel economy you will seek out the smallest, lightest, most aerodynamic vehicle money can buy setup with fuel economy in mind.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The original Scion xB was rated for over 30mpg on the highway, and it's just as 'square' as Nissan's Cube.

        Aerodymanics matters, except when it doesn't.
        • 7 Years Ago
        If this were geared better and more aerodynamic, it could conceivably get 30mpg mixed. An overdrive would probably net a 10 to 15% gain by itself. I agree regarding turbo 4s, but this isn't a turbo and should be doing, and will likely be able to do higher than 22mpg.

        • 7 Years Ago
        Gearing and aerodynamics. The Corvette gets mid to high 20s while being a heavier car with a more powerful engine. It also has a ridiculous top gear and is quite slippery.
      • 7 Years Ago
      For a nearly 7 year old design with the technology to match, it's done pretty well.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Thanks for the review Alex.

      You indicated, "Despite the car's relatively light weight (2,535 lbs) and little motor, we averaged just 22 mpg in mixed use."

      Would you happen to have (or be willing to hazard a guess at) mileage estimates for city/highway as opposed to the single combined figure?

        • 7 Years Ago
        Do they have a variant with a 6-speed manual?
        An auto transmission is not good for a car that has less than 100hp.

        That's why Toyota put a bigger engine in the second generation xB.
        • 7 Years Ago

        Honestly, I wouldn't begin to know how to guess at it. The only official fuel economy stat I have for it is that it gets 16 km/L (around 37 mpg US) according to the Japanese 10-15 test cycle.

        (10-15 explanation here:

        I don't know what the US equivalent to that methodology would be. I can tell you that that 22 mpg is a real figure I got after topping off the tank, driving the car for four days, and then filling it up at the end.
        • 7 Years Ago
        That 22mpg figure is absolutely pitiful. My 3.4l 2000 Impala - which was a freakin' tank - would get 30mpg combined. what's the deal with all the new dinky cars with dinky engines that can't break 30mpg?

        • 7 Years Ago
        Thanks for the follow-up Alex. I was wondering what the disparity was between the Japanese reported fuel-economy estimates and your test-drive experience. But, as you stated in your review, "The four-speed auto has a 4.072 final drive ratio..." so driving the Cube on US highways may exceed the original engineering expectations for this blocky little city car. Either way, I'm looking forward to some version of this car coming stateside sooner than later. Thanks again.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm dissapointed in everyone comlaining about the 22mpg. How many times in the article is it pointed out that this is a JDM vehicle, made for never leaving the city, and was running 3000 to 4000rpm on the highway?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Everyone harps on 22mpg because these small cars are supposed to be the end to our oil problems. Yet you drive a 4-banger at full throttle and it gets worse gas mileage than a V8.

        Sorry, stuff like this won't cut it. I get better (25MPG) highway gas mileage in my 04 G35 and it will blow the doors of most cars on the road.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It should be running higher than that on the highway. My tC with 5sp turns 3000rpm at just 65mph. So if I'm trying to cruise at 75 or so, it's only up up up from there. But I still aver 27mpg in and out of town.

        If this thing is averaging just 22mpg, it's got to be turning 4000+rpm on the highway easily. Or it is doing really awful in the city as well.

        But it's irrelevant anyway since we likely won't have that engine and/or transmission here in the US when it gets here. So it'll hopefully be geared better and a little more powerful and it better average 25mpg or better (do I hear 30+?).
      • 7 Years Ago
      Its a very nice car...
      By www.autoskt.com team
      • 7 Years Ago
      Dude, 22mpg defeats the whole purpose of this Devo mobile. The HHR SS that was so unfairly criticized achieves way better avg MPG and it has turbo charged 4 with over 200hp...oh yeah it looks way cooler and has more utility.
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