What's New for 2009
The aptly named 2009 Nissan Cube makes its U.S. debut, giving consumers another urban-friendly, space-efficient subcompact to consider.
A box is the most space-efficient vehicular architecture, and perhaps nothing since the first Scion xB expresses that school of design more effectively than the 2009 Nissan Cube. Popular in Japan for decades, tiny-but-tall cars like the Cube offer an impressive amount of passenger and cargo space relative to their modest exterior footprint. The Cube is the latest to invade the United States.
With its styling compared to everything from an aquarium to a washing machine, the Nissan Cube shares much of its underpinnings with its Versa sibling. That sharing of DNA means the Cube's handling is rather lazy due to its soft, long-travel suspension. But it also means that the Cube has a comfortable ride, a peppy 122-horsepower engine and an available CVT (continuously variable transmission) that's the best example of this gearless transmission technology fitted to an economy car.
As you might expect from the Cube's space-efficient design, passenger space is plentiful. The tall roof and multi-adjustable backseat (it slides fore and aft and reclines) create more than enough headroom and legroom for two tall adults in back. Nissan has also taken care to fill this box with plenty of features, with optional luxuries such as keyless entry/ignition, Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration all available. Even the bargain-priced base version comes with air-conditioning, full power accessories, a CD player and a full complement of safety features including stability control and side curtain airbags.
Given its non-athletic handling and comfy ride, the 2009 Nissan Cube is probably not a good choice for small hatchback shoppers looking for some added driving excitement. They'd be better served by Honda's fully redesigned Fit, which also offers a more cavernous and versatile interior. If you're into style, Kia's upcoming 2010 Soul is another funky and inexpensive hatchback worth considering. But overall Nissan has done well here -- those looking for a comfortable, surprisingly well-equipped economy hatchback with a healthy dose of cheeky styling may want to think inside the box.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The compact 2009 Nissan Cube is a four-door hatchback that's offered in base, S, SL and Krom trim levels. Even the base Cube comes well stocked, with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a 60/40-split folding-and-sliding rear seat, full power accessories and a four-speaker stereo with CD player. The S adds color-keyed sideview mirrors, cruise control, upgraded upholstery, dual-visor vanity mirrors, two more speakers and a rear cargo cover. The SL adds 16-inch alloy wheels, the CVT, automatic climate control, a pair of tweeters, iPod integration, MP3 playback capability and automatic on/off headlights. The Krom adds unique body styling enhancements (including a chrome three-bar grille that rivals the Ford Flex for best razor-inspired grille design), polished 16-inch wheels, two-tone upholstery, special interior accent lighting, Bluetooth, iPod integration, an upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
Options include a Preferred Package for the SL that includes rear park assist, keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth, the Rockford Fosgate audio system, satellite radio and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. There's also a Ginormous Package for the SL (make your own joke), which includes an exterior aero kit, the interior accent lighting kit, illuminated sill plates and other interior and exterior mods. Some of these items can be added separately. There are also dealer-installed customization features, including multicolor interior trim pieces, a choice of 20 mood lighting colors and even an available shag carpet dash-topper.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Nissan Cube comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 122 hp and 127 pound-feet of torque. The base Cube and Cube S come standard with a six-speed manual. Optional on the S and standard on the SL and Krom is a CVT.
Acceleration is better than most rivals, with the CVT-equipped Cube's 0-60-mph performance taking 9.7 seconds. (Anything under 10 seconds is respectable in this segment.) Official fuel economy numbers weren't available at the time of this writing, but the mechanically identical Versa checks in at 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined for CVT-equipped models. Cubes with the six-speed should come in about 1 mpg less.
The 2009 Nissan Cube comes standard with front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags as well as stability control and antilock brakes.
Interior Design and Special Features
To go along with its head-turning cubist exterior, the Cube's basic cabin design has soft curves and shapes that are a bit different from the typical hard-edged style employed by most rivals. A "dropped pebble in a pond" effect on the headliner and speaker grilles adds some visual interest, as does the optional color illumination package. Add the toupee-like shag carpet dash-topper, hit the lights and you'll think you've timed-warped back to 1977.
Simple control layouts mark the Nissan Cube's cabin. The standard climate control is the old-school-but-proven three-knob style (the optional automatic system is more complicated), the no-frills stereo has large preset buttons and the cruise control has easy-to-thumb buttons on the wheel. The overstuffed front seats are comfortable during hour-long commutes, but support fades on longer drives. Unfortunately, the brownish gray plastics used to construct the interior are below average for this class.
In back, there's plenty of room for two adults -- the tall roof and multi-adjustable backseat (it slides fore and aft and reclines) allows ample headroom and legroom for 6-footers in back. As with most subcompacts, though, trying to add a fifth person is ill-advised. Unlike Honda's more commodious Fit, the Cube hatchback's split rear seat doesn't fold even with the cargo floor, but lowering it reveals more than 50 cubic feet of space.
In the cut-and-thrust of city traffic or when merging and passing, the 2009 Nissan Cube is rarely caught flat-footed. Much of the credit goes to its superb CVT that makes the most of the engine's available power, rather than sucking the life out of it like most other CVTs that are paired with four-cylinder engines.
Though the Cube is pleasant enough around town and on the highway (save for some wind ruffle at higher speeds), a few rapid turns reveal its chief downfall – mediocre handling. Running through quick transitions, the too-light steering is slow and the soft, long-travel suspension tuning that provides the plush ride also allows more body roll than we'd like, making the Cube feel like a dancer who's a beat or two behind the music.