Gonzo Was My Favorite Muppet: 2010 Nissan Cube SL

Let’s address the obvious first: The Nissan Cube is pretty eccentric looking. If cars attended middle school, the Cube would be mercilessly teased of its foreign appearance and ousted from any association by the cool cars. It would be forced to hang out with the other misshapen outcasts. The Cube would have lunch with the Aztek.

But out in the real world, it’s a different story: The Cube has many fans. Those that have gotten to know the Cube have found out how interesting it is. The Cube is “unconventionally attractive” and, unlike the Aztek (who, sadly, truly had some birth defect), people want to party with the Cube.

You’ll often hear people describe the Nissan Cube as very “Japanese,” or have someone qualify its appearance by saying it’s from Japan, to which the audience nods in understanding, which is obtuse and dismissive . An Evo is equally Japanese, as is the Mazda Furai. What I imagine people are attempting to convey is that there is an appealing quirkiness to the 5-door hatch that we may recognize but not fully “get” culturally. That said, the round windows, asymmetrical wrap-around rear window, and tiny wheels pushed seemingly as far out to the corners of the car as possible will be the first thing to catch the eye of someone looking to differentiate themselves from the pack.

While using the Cube around town, I couldn’t help but feel slightly self-conscious. In the light of day, this oblong oddity sticks out to the general populous as if they’ve seen a rock star in sweatpants buying groceries. When it’s all said and done, under all the interesting features and talk surrounding the looks, the Cube is another 4-cylinder hatch with an unusual amount of space that takes you from point to point without much drama, neither good nor bad.

However one feels about the outside, the interior of the cube is the most intriguing part about it. The surprisingly spacious interior is replete with odd shapes and colors and something to discover at every angle. The dash sports a rounded climate control interface with an LCD displaying the setting in the middle and the audio system above. The model Cube I tested, the SL, included the color display & USB connectivity, as well as the AM/FM/CD functions that go without saying. Six speakers flood the car with your music of choice, while the Rockford-Frostgate subwoofer satisfyingly enhances the bass. The Cube is Bluetooth enabled, and pairing the phone to the speaker system is relatively easy. Using the voice commands, however, can be a little tedious since there are several levels of menus you have to wade through vocally to make a call, even if it’s a contact stored in the address book. After awhile, I just didn’t bother, choosing to simply grab the phone and dial away, the one thing I was hoping to avoid doing. Communicating works very well in this system otherwise, as the stereo makes incoming calls extremely clear, and, with the microphone directly above the driver’s position, you can converse at a pretty casual tone. One small annoyance is that the stereo doesn’t pause the MP3 player when the phone is in use. If I was connected via the auxiliary port, I would understand, but since it was connected by USB, I expected it to stop a podcast or song while I answered a phone call

The gauge cluster contrasts the orange illuminations of the other screens by glowing blue, while you can find all the interface buttons and cruise control settings on the steering wheel. The driving position feels odd and forces a 6-foot tall guy like myself to sit bolt upright in order to reach both the pedals and the wheel. Sitting at a comfortable distance also resulted in my view to the left being all B-pillar, making clicking forward a couple notches necessary. The rear seats have four adjustable points and can slide back into the rear storage area while still leaving enough room to fit plenty of cargo like bags, groceries, and the like. Design oddities are abundant in here as well. Looking up, you’ll see that the headliner is ribbed with concentric circles that emanate from the lamp, a design shared by the speaker caps as well. Colorful bungee straps are connected across the dash and doors, giving you interesting methods to wrangle accessory cables. They’re interchangeable, but attaching one to the slot on, say, the door is easier said than done. I popped one out for the heck of it, and replacing it took a few minutes of mumbled cursing.

The Cube will certainly get you where you want to go, and in a hurry, too, if you push it. The 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine, capable of 122 hp, when coaxed, will rev with impunity for a frightening amount of time until you let up. It’s refreshing to have that much influence with an automatic transmission and over an engine that you want to squeeze every ounce of performance out of to get where you need to go at a decent pace. Of course, all this lead-foot stamping wrecks any advantages of fuel economy with the diminutive engine. The effect is also felt with a substantial cargo load. The ample room available might encourage you to pack the Cube with passengers and things, and while you certainly can, there is a noticeable effect on engine performance and fuel consumption. Driving in a hurry for a week, I may have barely squeezed 20 mpg out of the 13-gallon tank before a fill-up was needed.

Strangely, it’s at night when the Nissan Cube slides into its groove. Taking to the evening and pulling up to a hot spot gives a sense that all who have arrived in the Cube will be having a good time, no matter what goes down. And it’s inside where the party begins. With the right music, the Cube becomes a hip lounge for the driver and his accompaniment. The foot wells are illuminated with colored mood lighting that can be set to one color or free to cycle the 20-color spectrum, while rear passengers lose themselves staring at the concentric ripples of the headliner. Large cup holders are conveniently placed throughout as passengers will likely want to have water handy while they languish in the atmosphere, moving only to stroke the dash rug, an extra accessory that sits on top of the dashboard and serves no particular function. Things slide off it, and when there’s excessive glare during the day, its reflection blurs the fantastic, IMAX-like visibility from the front windshield. The SL model also provides a rear-view camera for backing up, and thankfully displays static guides on the display.

Visibility out the rear isn’t as epic, although Nissan states that the off-center rear window is such to give you substantially better vision from the rear right. But it’s not true, since there’s still a huge section of the car that needs to be there.

Apart from the seating, there’s a load of comfort to derive from the Cube. Its ride is soft and doesn’t bang around as much as you might think, although there’s a good amount of body lean that may cause the driver’s heart to skip a beat. Looking at the deceptively tiny-looking wheels, it’s not surprising, but they decently cradle the Cube’s structure and grip well. Parts of the interior feature shelving along with the previously mentioned good cup holder placement. Picnics or other outings where the car is converted into a sort of dwelling suit the Cube since it’s easy to find a spot to set down food, room to pull a quick change of clothes without smashing your elbows, or even ample space to lay the back down and grab some sleep.

Base MSRP for the Nissan Cube is $17,130, and for the SL package, an additional $1,600 nets you keyless entry, push button ignition, the aforementioned audio system with XM satellite radio connectivity, upgraded speakers, rear view camera, and fog lights. Many of the fun interior party supplies, like the accent lighting and shag dash topper, can up the price further. My test unit totaled up to $20,170.

I was on the receiving end of a surprising amount of criticism from friends and strangers alike for my choice of rolling about in the Cube. Many of them cited the similarities between cars like the Honda Element or Scion Xb, but apart from being generally square shaped, I didn’t see a connection at all. Unlike those cars, the Nissan Cube has that extra stretch of personality that, although you may have to defend it every once in awhile, it’s ultimately what makes it memorable and sets it apart from the other blocky runabouts. The Cube is different and a little weird. I like that.

Words By – Alex Kalogiannis

Photos By – Jon Rouzier


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