Cars such as the Scion xB and Kia Soul prove that funky works. The 2010 Nissan Cube follows that design theme, but treads too close to ugly. Where the xB and Soul can be seen as sporty, the Cube, with its porthole windows and asymmetric rearview, defies any notion of hooliganism.
Likewise, with its economy car power train, it doesn't lend itself to doing doughnuts in the parking lot (not that the xB or the Soul do, either). Rather, Nissan touts the car's practical nature by tagging it a "Mobile Device," as near to calling it an appliance as possible without using that word.
As with other boxy cars, we like the Cube's accessibility; the seats are easy to get into and the cargo area, with its wide, side-hinged door, ingests luggage, groceries, and anything else you need to carry. The rear seats fold down without issue, maximizing cargo space.
Transportation over driving
Under the snub-nosed hood is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, a modest powerplant making 122 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. Although these specs are meager, the Cube's secret weapon is Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is the best we've tested.
During our time with the Cube, we attempted one fast launch, drove many freeway miles over rolling hills, and tackled San Francisco's steep urban streets. Although the Cube wasn't fast, it always felt like it had some power, with the CVT constantly finding the engine's sweet spot.
At our one attempt to set a land speed record with the Cube, we mashed the gas pedal and the Cube moved smartly forward with no hesitation, but no dramatics, either. The acceleration fell short of pinning us to the seats, but it was steady, and didn't wheeze out at 60 mph. On the freeway, we never felt the Cube had trouble holding 65 to 70 mph speeds, although it doesn't have much left for fast passing maneuvers at that speed.
The Cube can also be had with a six-speed manual, but the CVT gets better fuel economy, at 27 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, according to EPA tests. We saw 28.9 mpg in our mixed freeway and city driving.
The CVT, offering one Low setting only and lacking any virtual shift points, emphasizes that the Cube isn't so much about driving as getting to a destination. The steering is reasonably tight and responsive--very appropriately tuned for the size of the car.
To keep the price low, Nissan used drum brakes on the rear wheels, with discs at the fronts. Following the same pattern, the front uses an independent MacPherson strut suspension and a torsion beam at the rear, resulting in a typically stiff economy car ride, although plush seats serve to cushion the blow. Nissan also fits the Cube with stabilizer bars front and rear, which, rather than making the car a canyon carver, give it a solid feel on the road.
The underpinnings of the Cube are pretty much the same no matter which trim you get, but we had the Krom (pronounced "chrome") special edition, making a huge difference in the cabin. In fact, having earlier looked at the 2009 Nissan Cube S, we have to say that either a well-equipped SL model or the Krom edition is the only way to go with the Cube.