The Nissan Cube, the original little mass-market boxy car, has been running around Japan for 10 years. While it has stubbornly stayed put on its home soil, competitors with a similar “hip to be square” design philosophy—like the Scion xB, Honda Element, and Kia Soul—have carved out a sizeable US market. The Cube, now in its third generation, has finally reached American shores.

Compare the Cube!

If you’re thinking about buying a Nissan Cube, you might also consider a Scion xB or Kia Soul. Compare these vehicles.

The front-drive Cube is powered by a 122-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine tied to either a six-speed manual or an Xtronic CVT automatic. Built on a subcompact platform, it comes in four trim levels: standard, S, SL, and Krom, each model piling on more options. We had a chance to drive the uplevel Krom with CVT.

The Drive

Nissan Cube Grill

The Cube has EPA ratings of 28 in the city and 30 on the highway with the CVT, and 24 city/ 29 highway with the manual gearbox. We did our usual 112-mile mixed driving loop two times in order to see a range in fuel economy. The first drive was slow, conservative, and light-footed, while the second trip was much more ambitious, with harder acceleration and frequent passing. Our first drive yielded a thrifty 32.4 miles per gallon, and the second gave us just 22.9 miles per gallon. In normal, everyday driving, we would expect combined fuel economy of 28 to 29 miles per gallon.

The Cube is not particularly powerful or sporty. It struggles to get up to higher speeds, but once there, it cruises steadily. Left-lane passing and interstate merges are not this car’s forte. But if you put the accelerator to the floor and keep it there, you’ll find some power in the higher end of the rev band—but not without a level of engine buzz beyond our liking.

The ride was comfortable and smooth. Passengers enjoy a nice buffer from the road. The Cube does well over potholes and broken pavement, commonplace in most urban landscapes. But the plush ride takes a toll on handling. The Cube is neither agile, nor precise. Rather, the car feels disconnected from the roadway. And there’s quite a bit of body roll when cornering, somewhat expected considering the car’s tall profile.

In tight, slow-moving situations, like parking lots and narrow streets, the Cube maneuvers very well. A small footprint, light steering, and a short turning radius make it ideal for many urban situations.

Cubism

The Cube’s styling is an entirely different matter. It is defined by squared off angles, wide body panels, a tall silhouette, and an expressionless front-end. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Nissan Cube Badge

The biggest criticism of the Cube’s styling is its purposeful asymmetry. The car’s right and left profiles distinctively differ from one another. To some, this imbalance is bothersome to the eye; to others, it’s art on wheels. In an era in which controversial car designs—the Toyota Prius and Scion xB for example have found a devoted following—the Cube should have no trouble building its own fan base.

At 156.7 inches long, it is the smallest of the boxy wagons. It is almost a foot shorter than the Scion xB, but don’t let that fool you. The inside is incredibly roomy. The efficiency of the cube shape provides an abundance of headroom due to the car’s high roofline. For this reason, it can comfortably accommodate occupants well over six feet tall—a claim most compacts and subcompacts cannot make.

Beyond passenger room, visibility in all directions is excellent. This is the result of well-positioned seats and expansive windows. And the seats themselves are supportive and firm—good for daily commuting and longer travel.

The Nissan Cube Side View
The Nissan Cube Interior

Interior styling reflects the quirky outer shell. It is not over-the-top, but it has its own flare. The sculpted, upright dash, and long, oval air vents give the Cube a unique character. Our Krom tester brought features such as Bluetooth, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, and a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer.

Nissan Cube Console

Cargo room is another major highlight. With rear seats down, the Cube can hold almost as much luggage or gear as some small to midsize crossover vehicles. Again, the height and shape of the car really come into play.

Whimsical, quirky, fun, citified, hip, roomy, tall, efficient, practical, affordable, youthful, odd. These are all words to describe the new 2009 Nissan Cube. And with a base price of $14,000, it’s a welcome addition to the small economy class.