What is it?
This is the new Nissan Cube, which is clearly the ideal town car for fans of Japanese popular culture. For the rest of us, if you can embrace the unconventional looks, you’ll find that the new Note-based Nissan Cube is actually very effective urban transport.
From launch the Cube is only available with a 108bhp 1.6-litre engine and the choice of a five-speed manual or CVT auto ’box. A 1.5-litre turbodiesel is due to join the range in May 2010.
We’re testing the manual petrol model in limited LDN (or Lounge Design) trim, of which there will be 500 examples available. All get a questionable brown suede interior, panoramic glass roof (which is standard across all three trim levels), cruise control, climate control and automatic headlights and wipers.
What’s it like?
It is the interior as much as the boxy body of the Cube that makes it good urban transport. The upright seating position is comfortable and aids visibility, and the sculpted dashboard (though as quirky and interesting as the rest of the car) is easy to read and use.
Refinement at town speeds is very good, and thanks to generous amounts of head and elbow space the Cube is a relaxing place to be. Sliding and reclining rear seats are also a great standard addition, though the side-hinged rear door is less than practical, given the amount of room you need to open it fully.
The Cube drives in a conventional and predictable fashion. A well damped low-speed ride absorbs most severe intrusions in the road, although it can be noisy and a little firm at higher speeds, and all the driver’s immediate controls are light and direct.
The steering is consistent and the gearshift is slick and precise, though fourth to fifth was quite notchy in our test car. The 1.6-litre engine has its strengths in refinement and quite a free-revving nature, but it needs working through the gears outside of town, where the Cube fails to impress quite so much as it does inside the city limits.
Given that this is a spacious, 3.9-metre-long car, it could easily be expected to handle regular motorway miles despite Nissan’s classification of it as a city car, but here the bluff shape works against the Cube, resulting in reduced economy and intrusive wind noise at higher speeds.
The engine is also slightly out of its comfort zone at higher speeds, when it needs a lot of working through the gears if you want much acceleration.
The majority of these problems could well be solved by the arrival of the diesel-engined model, but until then don’t expect the Cube to be quite so refined and comfortable outside the city limits as it is inside them.
Should I buy one?
It only takes a brief glance at the Cube to see that it will be a niche purchase, and Nissan knows this; the Japanese maker hopes to sell 2000 units in the first year. But if the styling appeals, and you want space and comfort for mostly urban miles, the Cube is far more practical and justifiable than its extrovert appearance suggests.
So yes, if you’re that person, you should buy one. Not just because the Cube is a usable and fun car, but because this kind of novelty is a welcome and entertaining break from the norm.