With its new Cube model, Nissan seems intent on outdoing the Honda Element and Scion xB for polarizing style. Some people are going to hate the 2009 Nissan Cube's looks, and some people are going to love it. But nobody can deny the practicality of the massive amount of space inside and the large load area made possible by the side-hinging rear hatch.
Although it's not big on horsepower, it is zippy enough for running around town, and it's economical. Our biggest complaints deal with cabin tech--there isn't any in the S trim model we tested, nor in the base model. You have to get the top-of-the-line SL trim version to get anything tech-related from the factory.
On the road
We discovered the tech-less nature of the 2009 Nissan Cube S when we first got in, and saw that it lacked the expected iPod port. So we slipped an MP3 CD into the stereo and were extremely disappointed to find that it wouldn't play. We were beginning to doubt Nissan's advertising phrase, Mobile Device.
Plan C involved hooking up an MP3 player to the stereo's faceplate-mounted auxiliary audio input, but our patch cable was short, and the Cube has no convenient pockets in the dashboard for personal electronics. We eventually secured a 3-foot patch cable so the MP3 player could sit in the floor-mounted cup-holder.
It took some work getting to a comfortable seating position, largely because of the strange proportions of the car. Fortunately, the driver's seat has height adjustment, which helped the cause. But don't expect any power seat controls at this price level.
Finally, out on the road, the Cube proved very responsive to the gas pedal. For city streets, it works great, as the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine gives it lots of low-end push to make quick lane changes. The Cube also gets plenty of attention from passers-by. We even had someone leaning out of a convertible Mustang to get a photo.
Taking it around corners with a little speed, the Cube feels squirrely, like its tires are scrambling around trying to keep it from tipping over. Nissan throws its roster of road-holding electronics in the Cube, such as a stability program and traction control, so it seems like a pretty safe car. We didn't feel like it was in any real danger of going wheels-up.
Hammering the throttle for a freeway entrance, the initial thrust was good, but power seemed to top out around 35 mph. The trip up to 60 mph was leisurely, but once up at freeway speeds, the Cube maintained 65 to 75 mph easily, with enough push to handle hills.
In the cabin
With the S trim, the 2009 Nissan Cube isn't really a tech car. The best thing we can say for it is the double-DIN stereo should come out easily. Consider replacing it with an all-in-one navigation and stereo unit such as the Eclipse AVN6620.