It is important when evaluating the Nissan Cube to place it in proper context and comparison to other vehicles. And not just against its most obvious competitors in the Kia Soul and Scion xB, but perhaps even more appropriately alongside other bottom-feeder, entry commuter cars. Because it is easy to be distracted by the distinctive exterior into thinking that the Cube is something (either good or bad) that it just isn’t.
What it is, is small. And even if you think it is ugly, the styling that is it’s most obvious characteristic is still based more on utility than attractiveness. Which means that even if you don’t like it, the 2010 Nissan Cube may be what you need.
Without immediately jumping to conclusions, keep in mind that the Cube sits on a shortened platform that is shared with the Versa. Shortened……Versa…..Let that sink in. It is on this miniature architecture that each of the four front-wheel drive versions (1.8, 1.8S, 1.8SL and KROM) relies on the same 122 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine. Performance differences between models are minor between trim levels and limited to the addition of a CVT system on the SL and KROM versions which also comes with a larger set of wheels. That is significant if only to remind buyers that the $6,000 difference between base and KROM models is almost entirely centered on audio, and stylistic elements that may be better satisfied through aftermarket choices. Two upsides with the Cube that are unexpected in this class is the refined sound of the small engine that responds well to being pressed into highway duty, and the use of a 6th gear with the manual transmission that also helps the Cube be a better cruiser than comparable econo-boxes.
Whatever expectations you may have for a Versa-based rolling box, sixty mph arrives in a casual 9.1 seconds, which is seems oddly quick under the circumstances. Although comparatively, the Kia Soul accomplishes this same goal in 7.9 seconds. Handling of the high-riding Cube isn’t as responsive as that of other Nissan vehicles, but like power, that hardly seems relevant in this sort of car. When confronted with these complaints, Nissan responds by explaining that the noticeable body roll and suspension travel is a concession to typical city street conditions which are mostly riddled with cracks, bumps and potholes. A positive attribute of the Cube’s short wheelbase and tight turning radius is that it makes an excellent candidate for scouting and snagging tight city parking spots. As a cost-cutting measure, drum brakes are used in the rear, though overall stopping power is not especially weak as a result. Towing? Out of the question.
Mileage is ok at 28 and 30 mpg in city and highway driving. An unavoidable consequence of its aerodynamically challenged profile.
The Cube is clearly the most angular (not just in name) of the trio of choices from Nissan, Scion and Kia. The xB has continued to be smoothed out after its introduction, and the Soul was only vaguely square-shaped to begin with. The design-by-ruler exterior is punctuated by large asymmetrical windows that wrap around the Cube that are actually a benefit to visibility and not just a quirky aesthetic. Situated low on the bumpers, both tail and headlights accentuate the already upright Cube. Without getting wrapped up too deeply into whether its appearance is attractive or unappealing, potential buyers of the Versa may be better served by the Cube whose exterior proportions conceal a very useful interior capacity.
Inside, Nissan does a little distraction dance with a rippled headliner and interesting lighting features that attempt to compensate for the cheap materials. Given the price, no one really expects more than what is delivered on this front, though how the interior holds up under typical “youthful” abuse only time will tell. Seating is flat and comfortable, though without much in the way of lateral support. In the rear, two full sized individuals can be stowed in relative comfort because of the vehicle’s substantial headroom.
The base model comes with a few standard items including air conditioning with in-cabin microfilter, AM/FM/CD audio system with auxiliary audio input jack, power windows and door locks, 6 standard air bags, anti-lock brakes, vehicle dynamic control, traction control system, and tire pressure monitoring system. S versions add body-color outside mirrors, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, premium cloth seat trim, driver’s seat armrest, visor vanity mirrors, dual overhead map lights, front passenger seatback pocket, chrome-plated inside door handles, cargo cover, and 2 additional speakers. SL models utilize the aforementioned Xtronic CVT, 16″ aluminum-alloy wheels, automatic temperature control with outside temperature display, interface system for iPod, 2 additional tweeters, MP3/WMA CD playback capability, automatic on/off headlights, and driver’s seatback pocket. The top-of-the line KROM includes 16″ aluminum-alloy wheels, a slightly altered body design, KROM-specific black/gray seat cloth, 20-color interior accent lighting, aluminum-trimmed pedals, titanium-tone interior accents, Rockford Fosgate sub-woofer and amplifier, 6 upgraded speakers, including two tweeters, an interface system for iPod, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and automatic Temperature Control with outside temperature display.
Ergonomically, the Cube is laid out well with easy to reach and operate controls. The odd shag carpet option for the dash is mostly an annoyance for testers who would have preferred that it be capable of providing a place to actually place items while driving, though we can’t imagine recommending that drivers start using the dashboard for storage, even of flat items.
With the rear seats in place, the Cube offers a smallish 11 cubic feet of storage, which places it in third behind the Kia Soul’s 19 cubic feet and the Scion xB’s 22. However, with the rear seat folded the Cube shoots ahead to second with 58 cubic feet versus the Soul’s 53, with both trailing the xB’s 70. Facilitating those numbers is a versatile 60/40 fold-flat and three-position sliding rear seats. Nissan placed a great deal of emphasis on the ability to haul a collection of smaller items with a total 19 locations inside in the cabin in which to hang or store stuff, including in the C-pillars and via lockbox in the well of the trunk. The large rear cargo door swings out, from right to left to benefit curb-side loading. Especially in comparison to compact cars, hauling capabilities are exceptional with the Cube
At $13,990 for the base model, the Cube is situated between the Soul’s $13,300 and the xb’s $15,750 price tag. Pricing extends northward to $14,690 for the S, $16,790 for the SL, and to a rather pricey $19,370 for the KROM. Undeniably affordable, whether the Cube is the true value leader of this segment depends on your opinion of Kia (ours tends to be pretty favorable these days) or whether you need the added utility of the xB.