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Icebox: 2009 Nissan Cube review


2009 Nissan Cube Review by Dan Roth

Self-amused - it means you laugh at your own jokes

On the dinner party that is the open road, it means the 2009 Nissan Cube is THAT GUY. And we've all been warned about that. Well, so what? In your head, you're the funniest person you know - if the jokes make you happy, what's wrong with that? Rather than feel very clever and call the Cube a punchline in search of a joke, or say the trite "it goes beyond face value," here's the scoop: the Cube wears its face value as its badge. The whole point of this car is the packaging and the adornment. Why else would they deliver it with a shag-rug placemat in the middle of the dashboard?

2009 Nissan Cube has asymmetrical styling as its schtickIndeed, underneath the Coolerator styling lies a Versa. The whole point of the Nissan Cube is its styling. It also happens to be quite useful if you need something with a small footprint and a spacious interior. It doesn't get much better than a box on wheels in terms of cargo, though we'll come back to that disappointment later. Toss in some whimsy and there you have it.

Looking past the deliberately oddball detailing like the rippled headliner, multicolored ambient lighting, and that rug on the dashboard kittens would adore, the 2009 Nissan Cube is thoughtfully designed and packed with enough utility to satisfy like an automotive Snickers bar.

The obvious comparison is to the Scion xB, and in the United States, the Cube's arrival lags years behind the first xB to rock perpendicularity on our roads. The truth is that the Cube predates the xB in the Japanese market; this may be the first tiime we've seen it, but the Cube started it all.

Nissan Cube six speed manual transmissionOne nice touch is that the Cube comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, with a constantly variable transmission filling the role of automatic transmission, but which should be avoided at all costs. In all Cubes, the engine is a 1.8 liter that's pretty smooth, if a bit loud, but doesn't impart much speed. Power isn't where the Cube's square head is at.

The Cube is fine to drive - the shifter moves smoothly, the pedals are all where they should be, and the clutch is progressive. You could do worse than the powertrain of the Cube. It may have six speeds, but the gearing is short, so you're still spinning the engine at 3,000 rpm on the highway, which leads to the impression of loudness from the engine room.

The rest of the driving experience has its drawbacks. The engine noise, combined with all the wind that big, flat windshield is shoving out of the way, plus a loud blower fan and a muddy-sounding audio system, all add up to a cacaphonous cabin on the highway. Electric power steering is numb and light, and the ride is tuned for plush compliance.

2009 Nissan Cube seats are reasonably comfortableOkay, so it's not sporty, at least it's comfortable. The front seats have armrests and are covered in a nondescript fuzz. Plastics inside both look and feel like the cost-saving measure they are. Hey, this car's sticker did not break $20,000, so something's got to give.

The big wide-swing rear door would make the Cube a useful vehicle for businesses that find vans larger than necessary, and the fuel economy savings and distinctive bodywork are check marks in the plus column. Unfortunately, getting a tiered wedding cake out of the back of the Cube when parallel parked in Copley might be a challenge, and the load space isn't shaped well enough to make getting it in any easier. That door needs room to swing out to the left - room that may not be there in a tight parking situation. With rear seats that fold down but don't flop to clear more floor space, there's a trench in the back and then the flat-folded seats, which are easily a foot higher. The liftover height to get items down into the deepest part of the cargo area isn't terrible, but you'll get your pants dirty on the rear bumper in these salt-laden winter months. What you want is as wide and flat a load floor as possible. What you get is bested by even many hatchbacks, which are far more engaging, though the Cube's got more vertical height. Big whoop.

refrigerator-style rear door on 2009 Nissan CubeIn terms of use as a commercial vehicle, the Cube will work well for a lot of businesses, though the Ford Transit Connect is a better choice all around. Of course, there's not as much playfulness in the design of the Transit Connect.

Overall, the Cube called to mind VW Transporters of the 1970s. There's kitsch and charm to the driving experience that's otherwise Sentra-nondescript. Rather than cruise around on the edge of innocuous anonymity, the Cube takes plebian running gear and dresses it up in an entertaining fashion. It's better suited to around town, moderate speed runs, where the blocky frontal area doesn't anger the wind. It will do highways withouth complaint, indeed, the ride is very smooth and you could drive clear across the U.S. with the Cube. You likely wouldn't make it past the Charlton rest stop on I-90 before stopping for ear plugs, though.


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