2009 Nissan Cube Expert Review:Autoblog

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.

New vehicle blends design, practicality, frugality.


The Nissan Cube is a new entry to the U.S., a small crossover SUV sporting a boxy, whimsical body design housing a practical cabin. Small on the outside, it's easy to maneuver, easy to park, and it's EPA-rated at 30 miles per gallon Highway. Yet it's big on the inside. It seats five people, with miles of headroom and acres of cargo space. 

Nissan refers to the Cube as a mobile hub, instead of a car, because it is meant as an affordable, moveable gathering place for young people, their friends, and their music. Its back seat reclines for comfort or can be deleted for van-like cargo space. Nissan markets its cube in fashionable lower case, like iPhone and smart fortwo. 

The Cube is a newcomer to the U.S. market, but it has been on sale for 10 years in Japan, and this version is actually the third generation of this product. The Cube predates the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Scion xB, Kia Soul, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit, all of which Nissan counts as the Cube's direct competitors. The Cube is built on the same Nissan B platform as the Versa, a roomy subcompact that also competes with those cars. 

The Nissan Cube is powered by a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the same engine that powers the Nissan Versa in this market. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or the Nissan-built Xtronic continuously variable transmission, or CVT. 

We found the Cube perky in the big city and able to keep up with the traffic on the highway. Easy to park, it can make a U-turn in the tiniest of spaces. It made us smile, it's cute, it holds a lot of people and cargo, it's zippy, and it can be easily customized with accessories. 

The Cube is the latest addition to an increasingly crowded segment of cute little cars aimed at younger drivers, but it can certainly be appreciated by older drivers who need a second car as a runabout or weekender, or those in between who are looking to downsize their car payment and fuel bills. 

Nissan says its designers had in mind a bulldog wearing sunglasses when they were working on the Cube. Whereas most four-door cars have four visible pillars to hold up the roof, the Cube's deliberately asymmetrical design has only three visible pillars, the fourth one at the right rear covered by dark glass. That feature plus the concave, rounded corners on each of the four side windows, short windows in the front doors and longer windows in the rear give the Cube a unique appearance. 


The 2009 Nissan Cube comes in a choice of four models: Cube ($13,990), Cube S ($14,690), Cube SL ($16,790), and Cube Krom ($19,630). 

The Cube comes standard with manual air conditioning, cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, power windows, power mirrors and locks, an AM/FM/CD sound system with AUX plug and four speakers. Cube and Cube S come with a six-speed manual or optional CVT ($1000). 

The Cube S upgrades from the base model with premium grade fabric, body-colored outside mirrors, cruise control, and a cargo area cover, among other features. 

The Cube SL comes standard with the CVT, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, auto on/off headlights, automatic temperature control A/C, the interface system for the Apple iPod, and six speakers. 

The Cube Krom includes an exclusive integrated body design, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a sporty interior treatment, Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, and the Xtronic CVT. 

Options include XM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, an iPod interface system, and an intelligent key system with starter button. More than 40 accessory items are available from the factory or installed at the Nissan dealership, everything from plush pile carpet to bungee cords for storage to a navigation system and an interior illumination system that offers a choice of 20 colors or a display mode that changes colors continuously. 

Safety equipment standard on all models includes six front, side and curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, yaw control. 


The Cube's deliberately asymmetrical design has only three visible pillars, the fourth one at the right rear covered by dark glass. That feature plus the concave, rounded corners on each of the four side windows, short windows in the front doors and longer windows in the rear give the Cube a design that is unique, to say the least. 

The Cube's exterior features three different front grille areas, top, middle and bottom, four sets of front lamps, a long, flat roof with built-in ridges for strength and quietness, a tall windshield, tall side windows and large doors, including the left-hinged, right-opening refrigerator rear cargo door. 

The Krom version features its own chrome grille design, side sills, a different rear roof spoiler, and a rear diffuser under the bumper. 

The Cube is built close to the ground, so it is very easy to get into and out of, and the cargo sill is low enough for a child to load groceries over. 


What the Cube has more than anything else remotely in its class is its huge interior size, just under 110 cubic feet overall, in a car that's only 157 inches long. 

We found a 6-foot, 4-inch driver has about eight inches of headroom, and leg, hip and shoulder room is equally generous. A six-way manual adjuster provides for all types of driver physiques. 

The reclining rear seat slides fore and aft more than six inches, enabling moms to deal with backseat kids or babies easily at arm's length or large adults to sit comfortably behind large adults in the front seat. An optional cargo package deletes the rear seats to provide enough space for a rock band's gear. Multi-functional hooks can be detached and moved around the car as needed, and there six cupholders. 

Although the Cube's design is quirky on the outside, it's all business and quite normal on the inside, with a conventional gauge package, a slightly stylized center area with the radio and environmental controls, and a large glovebox, with storage cubbies all over the doors and interior. 

Interior design licks include a ripple-effect headliner with concentric circles around the dome light, a theme repeated on the speaker cones (and on the Rockford Fosgate subwoofer when ordered). The waveform dashboard and instrument panel are delightful to look at and very easy to use. 

The Krom comes with that Rockford Fosgate six-speaker stereo system with the subwoofer mounted in the center of the cargo door. 

Driving Impression

Weighing just 2800 pounds in its basic form, the Cube doesn't tax the 122-horsepower engine at all, and it feels reasonably quick getting away from stoplights and stop signs in urban and suburban settings. 

The Cube SL test car we drove had the CVT transmission as standard equipment, and it worked very well with the engine's 127 foot-pounds of torque without a lot of waiting around for the revs to catch up to the ratios, a common problem with other CVTs that tend to make driving noisy and clunky. Not in the Cube CVT. It's not a rocket ship, but it more than keeps up with the traffic, and it isn't buzzy or whiny at freeway speeds. 

EPA-rated at 22/30 mpg City/Highway, Cube runs on Regular gas. 

The suspension under the Cube is entirely conventional, with MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front, and a torsion beam setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar at the rear, simple, cheap and effective, and a system that has tuned out almost all of the usual body roll in corners, so the Cube feels stable and planted on its relatively skinny, tall tires. 

The steering is light and easy, but not ropey, and the driver's seating position is nice and high, with really excellent outward vision in all directions. It rides on P195 16-inch tires and wheels, and there are no larger tire options. 

One of the driving dynamics that distinguishes the Cube is its 33.4-foot turning circle, the shortest in the class, and more than six feet shorter than some of its competitors, a factor that just makes the Cube more maneuverable in more tight places than the other cute little cars. 

We found the brakes worked just fine in the busy, crazy downtown Miami traffic, defending the Cube against tourists, pedestrians, scooters and cabbies, with good power and good pedal modulation, without the added expense of rear discs. The brakes are discs front and drums rear, but with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, Brake Assist, traction and yaw control built into the system. 


The Nissan Cube is cute, practical, and fuel-efficient, whether used as a primary car or as a runabout or weekender. It holds a lot of people and cargo, it's zippy, and it can be easily customized. 

Jim McCraw filed this report from Miami, Florida, after his test drive of the Cube. 

Model Lineup

Nissan Cube ($13,990), Cube S ($14,690), Cube SL ($16,790), Cube Krom ($19,370). 

Assembled In

Oppama, Japan. 

Options As Tested

Aero kit ($1180), 16-inch alloy wheels ($790). 

Model Tested

Nissan Cube SL ($16,790). 

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