All you need to know about the 2009 Nissan Cube is that if they ever make a sequel to the film Pretty In Pink, Molly Ringwald's character will definitely be driving one. In the titular color. So, it's a total chick car, right?
Wrong, because if there was also a prequel to the Matrix we would learn that Neo owned a black one, with cool computer monitor-green graphics, back when he was nothing more than lonely hacker.
That is the brilliance of this marvelous little piece of nonsense. It is both awkward girl nerdy and awkward guy nerdy, making it totally cool for people who aspire to be a part of disaffected youth culture, even ones who aren't that young anymore.
Like a movie prop, the Cube goes to great lengths to hide what it truly is underneath. Namely, a Nissan Versa, with which it shares many parts. The Cube is a bit shorter in length, but compensates for this by being taller, with an odd array of shapes punctuating its boxy form, such as the use of squircles for windows.
There is even what from a distance appears to be an enormous blind-spot-eliminating pane of glass that wraps from the passenger side rear door, around the back corner, and across the tailgate. Unfortunately it is just an illusion, and conceals a collection of smaller windows and pillars which offer good visibility, but hardly the unobstructed view promised by its outward appearance.
The lengths we'll go to for asymmetry.
If Nissan was hoping for attention when it designed the Cube, it succeeded. While illegally parked in the course of shooting the photos for this article, a traffic cop pulled up next to the car. As I was digging for my press credentials in the hopes of ducking a citation, I realized that he was holding up his cell phone taking pictures of it himself. Then, for what looked like the first time in a long time, all 300 pounds of New York's Finest got out and proceeded to snap so many shots that I was about to ask him if he had a filming permit. Since he never reached for the ticket book, I refrained from doing so.
Needless to say he wasn't the only one that I had to give an on the spot review of the car to. I should have just recorded each of them and had the best one transcribed, rather than spend my time writing this when Matrix: Revolutions is on TNT...again.
Or I could've watched the film on my laptop while sitting in the Cube with four of my closest friends, which is apparently what the folks at Nissan intend for buyers to do. They describe the vehicle not as a car, but as a "third space" for socializing. The other two being school and your parents' basement.
In Japan, where cities are filled with apartments almost small enough to fit inside the Cube's 58 cubic foot cargo area, people actually think like this. On reflection, based on the amount of time that I've spent cruising around in cars over the years, I guess we do, too. The only difference is that while the Japanese hold small wheeled squares in the very highest of esteem, mini and microvans never achieved the same cache that a shag-carpeted Ford Econoline bathed in the light of miniature disco balls and quadraphonic sound did for one brief, but oh so uncomfortable moment in American history.
And that, like all good car reviews, brings us to shag carpet. It is an option in the Cube. Not for the floor, but as a topper for the dashboard, which happens to be designed to look like the rim of a Jacuzzi.
I honestly wish that I was clever enough to make things like that up, but it is all true.
In fact, even in its basic form, the interior of the Cube has an overwhelming aquatic theme, anchored by a pattern of concentric circles molded into the ceiling that give the impression that a drop of water hit it from above. The speakers carry the same design, as do a collection of removable hooks strewn about the cabin. The odd thing about these is that, when you remove them, the receptacles they fit into are useless for anything else, which makes one wonder why they aren't fixed permanently in place.
Such is life inside the looking glass.
Continuing the liquid motif, there are 11 cup and bottle holders in the Cube. I can't remember the last time I had that many cups and bottles filled with fluid in my home at the same time, let alone my car, but I guess that's the point. The Cube is now my primary venue for socializing and I need to be a better host.
Step one in achieving that goal is to be unselfish, or at least appear to care more about your guests than yourself. The Cube makes this easy. With a rear bench that slides fore and aft and reclines, and upright seating in front that makes the most out of the space provided there is room aplenty to go around. A suspension as cushy as one of those form fitting mattresses developed by NASA takes care of the rest, at the expense of handling.
If you are at A and you need to get to B, the Cube will do that. Not quickly, but comfortably, in a mobile college dorm room sort of way. If you need any more detail than that, read my review of the Versa , because I couldn't tell them apart blindfolded if I tried and, yes, I need to stop doing that.
Aside from all of the whimsical visual elements in the Cube the biggest surprise is that it comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission. An optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available, and both are geared - literally, figuratively, etc. - toward providing the highest fuel economy possible from the 122 horsepower 4-cylinder engine under the snub nose hood.
Sadly that ends up being only 30 miles per gallon highway with the CVT, and 28 mpg if you choose to shift for yourself. Since a Versa with the same engine gets 33 mpg, these figures are obviously the byproduct of pushing a 30-square-foot plane of glass and steel through the atmosphere. You can hear the effort it takes to do this by the constant and very loud rush of air battering the window frame that is situated a good yard in front of your head.
Otherwise, things are actually very sedate inside the cabin by economy car standards, and the Cube is above all else an economy car. At least it starts out that way.
Base price is $13,990, but, in keeping with the home improvement theme of the car, there is a long list of shag carpet-less options available. Everything from ambient lighting systems with 20 different hues of illumination, to faux carbon fiber trim, to the ‘Ginormous’ package with includes all of the things that you ever thought you wanted in a car and some you never dreamt of, like that dash topper. Jam a Cube full of a bunch of this stuff and the price quickly approaches $20,000.
One thing you won't find offered are performance upgrades. Unlike its equilateral crosstown rival, the Scion Xb, the Cube exhibits no aspirations of being either fast or furious. Neo kicked butt, but before he became 'The One,' I doubt that he was interested in the track team.
And before you write to tell us that the virtual world of the Matrix was set in the year 1999 so there is no way that Neo could have possibly owned a Cube, the model on sale now is actually the third generation of a car that was introduced in Japan in 1998.
Besides, do you really think that Keanu Reeves isn't capable of time travel? How else do you think Nissan got all of that shag carpet?
Base Price: $13,990
Type: Front-engine, front wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
Engine: 1.8L inline-4 cylinder
Power: 122 hp, 127 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual (CVT automatic also available)
MPG: 24 city/28 highway (manual), 28/30 (automatic)
What do you think of the Cube?
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