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2009 Nissan Cube S – Click above for high-res image gallery

One of our favorite cars last year was a cream-colored, Japanese Domestic Market (JDM), second-generation Nissan Cube that the Japanese automaker loaned us for a few days of commuting and assorted daily driving duties. It was a fantastic car, with excellent styling, the ingenious e-4WD system, a practical interior, and – bless its heart – a front bench seat. Nissan was passing around the keys because it wanted to build up buzz for the arrival of the third-generation Cube, which would break free of the right-hand-drive market prison to which its predecessors were restricted. The JDM Cube was indeed a tasty appetizer, but now the main course has arrived. Once again, we were given the keys to a Nissan Cube for a few days. Only this time it was brown and, more importantly, you can actually buy it in the U.S.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

The 2009 Nissan Cube is the third iteration of the nameplate. The previous model is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "original" car, but it was preceded by the real first-gen Cube, which bowed back in 1998. That Cube wasn't much of a design statement (a pretty generic-looking hatch, really) compared to its successor, and is pretty forgettable unless you're a serious JDM nerd.

One of our primary concerns relating to a left-hand-drive Cube was whether Nissan would really go all the way and deliver market-specific asymmetric bodywork. After all, the asymmetry is the Cube's calling card. You see, doing this would have meant more than simply moving the steering wheel to the opposite side of the dashboard -- you'd need unique sheetmetal, too. Determined to make the Cube a true global vehicle, Nissan delivered the goods. All the signature elements have made the trip across the Pacific, and they're in the spots where they belong. For instance, the blackout panel ahead of the lone visible D-pillar is on the driver's side. An extra window and wraparound-look glass are on the passenger side. The big fridge-door rear hatch is hinged on the driver's side, so that it opens away from the curb. Put a new U.S.-market Nissan Cube next to its JDM counterpart and you'll see that they're mirror images of each other.

Styling-wise, Nissan sought to retain as much of the second-generation car's charm as it could while meeting all of the regulatory requirements in export regions like the United States. In the Cube's case, this concession to the global marketplace manifests itself in the form of more bulbous front and rear bumpers that add some Leno in front and Beyonce out back. The styling is still eye-catching, but the last Nissan Cube was the better looking car – a design classic, even. That said, most North American shoppers aren't car dorks, so they won't even be aware of the previous Cube's existence. Ignorance is bliss, and most people will be captivated with the new Cube's looks. We were stopped with compliments on the car by men and women, young and old alike. "It's neat!" was uttered on more than one occasion.

The 2009 Cube has narrow headlamps that arch up slightly at their inside lower corners where they're bridged by a simple, dark panel with grillework made up of twelve small slats – six on each side of the Nissan badge. A larger intake sits high on the bumper forming the Cube's "mouth."a Finally, there's a lower intake on the front bumper that's flanked by the fog lamps, or in the case of our base Cube S, blacked-out circles where those lamps would go on higher trims. Head-on, the Cube looks anthropomorphized, as if it were to strike up a conversation with neighboring vehicles at any moment.

The sheetmetal around the side glass is beveled, so the windows themselves look recessed. On the driver's side, the blackout panel aft of the passenger-door window features a ripple effect on the plastic – a recurring theme that's reinforced inside and out. Pronounced wheel arches echo the theme established by the softer, rounder bumpers. Out back, the tail-lamp strip echoes the shape of the headlamp/grill combo on the car's nose. The rear end is where the Cube's asymmetry is most evident, with a pillar on the left side only. On the right, the glass just wraps around. It sets the Cube apart from the rest of the (suddenly, increasingly crowded) box-wagon segment. Despite its curvier front and rear bumpers, the rest of the Cube's shape is straightforward, two-box stuff. Oh, and our Cube features a very tasty "Bitter Chocolate" finish. The more brown cars, the merrier!

Climb into the Cube, look up and you'll see the new car's calling card – the ripple-effect. It dominates the headliner and is repeated in the bottoms of the cupholders and on the speaker grilles. We were a little concerned that the roof ripples would come off as gimmicky in person, but they add personality to the econobox interior. Our test car's dark, charcoal-hued cabin is not the one we'd choose for ourselves, however. It comes off as a little dour for a vehicle with such personality. If your tastes run similar to ours, go for the lighter interior – it's more cheery, makes the interior feel even more spacious and, on higher trim levels, can be ordered with a two-tone instrument panel.

That instrument panel is basic and functional with a Jacuzzi-inspired (seriously) wave motif that dovetails with the ripple-effect details mentioned earlier. The "crest" of the wave is in the center where our tester's AM/FM/CD head unit was stationed. The stereo's fine, but one small issue is that the AUX jack for an iPod or other digital music player is a fair distance away from the floor console where you'll rest the device, so expect to have a prominently dangling wire if you use a portable player for tunes.

The Cube S has standard A/C with exceedingly simple controls (the higher-level models get automatic A/C with a different interface). Drivers get simple and easy-to-read primary analog gauges with a digital multifunction display (fuel level, odo, etc.) shoehorned between them. The driver also gets a high-mounted cupholder just to the left of the gauge cluster, which is helpful because the secondary cupholders (arranged in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head) are a long reach away on the floor. Storage up front, however, is basically limited to the glove box, which is a good size, and door pockets. You can leave some stuff in the small console tray between the front seats, and Nissan offers accessory bungee cords that can be used as impromptu door-mounted map pockets in a pinch, but our tester wasn't equipped as such.

You'll notice that we mention a console between the seats. That's because unlike the previous (and current) Japanese-market Cube, the U.S. model is only available with a pair of front seats and not the wonderful front bench we experienced in last summer's JDM tester. Nissan told us this was due to some regulatory issue, which we have no trouble believing. As such, American drivers get a floor shifter, whether it's the CVT or the six-speed manual, the latter of which is what we got to play with. The stick is an easy reach from the cushy, cloth-covered driver's seat, which affords a good view outward. Headroom for all passengers is simply abundant. 42.7 inches in front and 40.2 inches in back. Put in practical terms, those numbers are better than what you'll find in a Tahoe. Rear seat comfort is good, too. The 60/40 split seat-backs recline, and the seat itself also slides fore and aft, allowing for increased legroom or rear cargo space depending on what you need at any given time.

Cargo space behind those seats is recessed (like a minivan, actually), and you can fold down the seat-backs if you need more room than that. Note that they merely fold – no tumbling forward or anything like that for additional room, so it's essentially bi-level storage back there. The non-mechanical cargo space privacy cover included with the tester was very simple to use – attach to the rear seat-backs with Velcro and hook the fixed panel to wall anchors with elastic loops. It does its job perfectly well and removes in seconds if you don't feel like using it.

Power for the Cube comes exclusively from the same 122-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder featured in the Nissan Versa. It's an able motivator for the 2,795-pound Cube, especially with the manual gearbox sending power up front (sorry, e-4WD is not available in the U.S.). There's ample juice on tap, so we never felt ourselves wanting more power, either on local roads or the highway. It's pretty easy on gas, too. We averaged north of 29 mpg over four days, with a healthy amount of highway driving built into that. In fact, we exceeded the EPA's 30 mpg highway rating on a weirdly traffic-free St. Patrick's Day commute into NYC, racking up 32 mpg on the round-trip (around 70 miles or so total). The manual's shift action is easy, if a smidge on the notchy side, and the overall driving experience is free of drama.

Don't look for sportiness here – you're barking up the wrong tree. The Nissan Cube moves well with the tools it's got, but it's clearly designed for comfort. Steering effort is super-light and super-assisted, and steering feel is more a theoretical concept than it is an actual sensation. The Cube is easy to maneuver, though, with a nice, tight turning circle. The suspension is dialed in to soak up potholes, not carve corners. Attempt the latter, and its body rolls heavily in protest. On the upside, while you're pounding the pavement in urban environs, the pavement doesn't pound you back nearly as hard.

Ultimately, we left the Cube liking it about as much as we liked the Japanese version last year, which is to say a lot. It's incredibly cool-looking, comfortable to be in and comfortable to drive. It's also reasonably-priced. Our Cube S with no options (power windows, the manual gearbox, four-speaker AM/FM/CD, air conditioning, and 15-inch steelies with plastic covers are all part of the standard package) stickered at $14,675. Taking a lesson from Scion, Nissan will gladly take more of your money should you care to accessorize with stuff like a shag-carpet dash-topper. The Cube goes on sale May 5th against competition from rival boxes like the Scion xB and brand new Kia Soul. Being square, it seems, is cool again.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      i think this is a nice car i well admit it is odd but it is nice atlest it doesnt blend in with the crowed it practical and it works thats good enough besides im confadent nissan knows what there doing this is the same company that gave ust the skyline and 350 z ans who knows the asymitrc desine may become the future look of the automoble i say dont be close minded to the cube if other countrys welcome it so should we
      • 6 Years Ago
      Here's my review:

      It's ugly.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Wow, thanks for your utterly original, never-before-stated comment. I'm really glad you took the time to share that.

        Tell me - did you also feel the vehicle looked more like a cardboard box than a car? I'm dying to know.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah, I agree. It's ghastly. They just one-upped GM in a big way -- until Aztek II, I suppose ;)
        • 6 Years Ago

        When you try too hard to be cool, the result is anything but cool.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Richard Simmons would look right at home behind the wheel of this thing.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Pontiac Aztek owners will be so disappointed. No longer will they own the most god-awful looking autos.

      Take heart, records are meant to be broken.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm sorry, but this car is just utterly ridiculous. Anyone who considers this as a serious option over something like...say the new Fiesta...honestly does deserve a severe beating for subjecting road users to this hideous sight.

      The 'swollen' wheel arches and bulging front and rear bumpers simply make it look as if somebody dropped an enormous clay block from a crane.

      "hmm...that'll do, stick some wheels on it, give it the interior from a mid-90's van and put it on sale"

      Sorry Datsun, but once again you've managed to put on sale a car so hideous that I'm going to have wear a bag on my face at the risk that I might actually see one of these sick inducing cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'd almost buy one just to get a rise out of you
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'd rather have a Fiesta too, but you are missing the (or at least a) point. The Cube is surely vastly more spacious and practical than a Fiesta, whatever you think of the Cube's looks. I lot of people are going to appreciate the function-over-form of this car, just as they did with the original Xb and with the Element. I personally like the looks of the Cube a lot for that reason, and I'm sort of fascinated by all the haters. It looks defiantly and unapologetically... Japanese. And I like that.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Where's my dash carpet?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Oh dear.
      • 6 Years Ago
      God Damn that's ugly
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sorry, but the Cube is a throwback to the days when people made Godzilla jokes about Japanese auto styling. It comes across as odd in person.

      BTW, I can't believe no one's mentioning how incredibly stupid it is to imbed the taillights in the rear bumper. A normally insignificant rear traffic bump in the Cube becomes an opportunity to test the limits of your insurance deductible.
      • 5 Years Ago
      i think this car is cool very deffernt looking but cool its good on gas and it practacal i well admit i didnt like it on frist glance but one you get use to it is a nice car and who knows the majority of cars may look like this in the future (the asmictrcal look i mean) i welcome the cube unlike some of the ppl i look at this car with a open mind its nice and it works
      • 6 Years Ago
      If you are male, age 18-26, your car has arrived. The only other reason to buy this car is if you need a cheap delivery vehicle. End.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Awesome, the amount of hate on here just goes to show that Nissan did a great job in bringing this over. They'll sell 40,000 of these each year to people who DON'T want to look like they're just another part of the unwashed American horde, and the amount of frothing at the mouth by some people about how horribly ugly it is totally confirms that. If you think it's ugly, great, go buy some trucklet like the HHR, Caliber, etc.
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