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  • 2010 Nissan Cube 1.8 SL

    Posted on June 3rd, 2010 ninarussin

    Is Nissan’s “mobile device” the right tool for active lifestyles?

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Nissan Cube

    2010 Nissan Cube

    I have to wonder why the company which designed the iconic Z sports car produces something as deliberately homely as the Cube. Granted, the Nissan Cube isn’t the first box-on-wheels to roll out stateside. But at least two of the cars that preceded it- the Honda Element and Scion xB- have an internal logic that the Cube lacks.

    The Element’s form-follows-function Honda-ness gives it a certain cache within its intended audience. The Scion xB evolved from a Japan market car called the bB. The compact box-on-wheels was a logical solution for carrying cargo in dense urban areas. The original car’s compact dimensions made sense on crowded roads with low speed limits, and fit in public parking spaces too small to hold most of what we drive in the US.

    The Nissan Cube follows in the box-on-wheels tradition, without improving it in a meaningful way. Thoughtful ergonomic features are countered by design errors which essentially negate their benefit.

    Here are a couple of examples: the cargo area’s low lift-over height and refrigerator-style door should make the Cube ideal for bicycle owners. However, with the rear seats in place, the cargo area is too small to hold much besides a couple bags of groceries. The rear seats fold flat, but do not create an uninterrupted cargo floor. To get a bicycle in the car, the owner has to lift the frame over the bump created by the seat cushions.

    The Cube’s large windows bring an abundance of ambient light inside: an appealing feature. Unfortunately, the extreme verticality of the windshield makes it a target for every insect within range. After twenty miles, I could barely see out the front of the car for the bug splats covering the glass. In addition, wide A-pillars dissect the driver’s sight-line when cornering to the left or right.

    Three available grades

    The Cube comes in three trim levels: base, S and upscale SL. Base price on the SL (tested) is $17,130, not including a $720 destination charge. Changes for the 2010 models include a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls and Bluetooth compatibility.

    A Krom edition adds custom body panels to the 1.8S CVT grade, as well as special wheels, a custom interior, audio upgrade and audio upgrade.

    A “ginormous package” on the test car includes an exterior aero kit, custom grille, chrome front fascia accent, 20-color interior accent lighting, cargo area protector and interior trim. An aero kit on a cube-shaped car seems like a contradiction in terms, and unfortunately, looks like one as well.

    The custom grille combines some geometric shapes that relate to the car’s profile and give the front end more visual appeal. The interior accent lighting is cool as well, though I’m not sure it’s cool enough to warrant the $2550 option price tag.

    Fuel efficient engine

    The Cube’s biggest asset is its fuel-efficient 1.8-liter engine. The engine, which delivers 29 mile-per-gallon fuel economy, has ample power and torque to meet the needs of urban commuters. Peak torque of 127 foot-pounds gives the engine good low-end acceleration for merging into high-speed traffic. Peak horsepower is 122: adequate for passing slower vehicles on the highway.

    The continuously variable automatic transmission works smoothly at all speeds. Standard 16-inch wheels are large enough to keep the Cube fairly stable. The four-wheel independent suspension has stabilizer bars on both axles to help in the corners.

    Speed sensitive electric power steering provides ample assist for low-speed maneuvering. However on-center response at high speeds is poor. Taking the Cube over a challenging rural road outside of Phoenix, the steering felt disconnected from the chassis.

    With the exception of the A pillars, visibility around the car is pretty good. I had no problem with over-the-shoulder visibility to either side, and didn’t find blind spots to the rear to be much of a problem. The rear glass is larger and offers better visibility than the current Scion xB.

    Standard front disc and rear drum brakes stop the car in a linear fashion on dry pavement. Drums tend to collect moisture, which can cause performance problems in wet weather. Four-wheel antilock braking is standard. I didn’t have the opportunity to test the Cube’s braking in rain or snow.

    The Cube’s relatively small footprint and high profile can impact its stability at speed. Low curb weight doesn’t help. When a gust of wind hit the car from the side, I had to fight the steering wheel to keep from changing lanes.

    Spacious interior

    Nissan Cube Interior

    Nissan Cube Interior

    Its tall roofline makes the Cube interior seem quite spacious. There’s an abundance of head, leg and hip room around both rows of seats.

    Manual adjustments on the driver’s and front passenger seats are easy to use. A dead pedal minimizes leg fatigue on long trips. The driver’s seat is comfortable for an extended road trip, with adequate lower lumbar support.

    Push-button ignition is part of an option package that also adds an audio upgrade, rear view monitor and fog lights ($1600). Other options include an interior design package which includes floor mats, the shag topper on the dashboard and bungee cords on the front doors. I’m sure the bungee cords have a purpose, but it escapes me.

    Both rows of passengers have ample access to bottle holders, something I appreciate as a driver in the hot southwestern summers. I also like the large front vents. There are no air vents in the rear of the cabin, which could be a problem mid-summer.

    A standard 12-volt outlet recharges portable electronic devices. The audio upgrade includes a USB port for plugging in flash drives or MP3 players.

    A simple gauge cluster is pleasantly austere and easy to read. Controls in the center stack are logically arranged and easy to reach from either front seating position.

    The HVAC system quickly cooled the car down in 100-plus degree temperatures. A standard micro-filter keeps the interior pollen-free for allergy sufferers.

    Standard safety

    All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, front active head restraints, antilock brakes, traction and electronic stability control.

    The 2010 Cube is on display at Nissan dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: An affordable crossover vehicle with a spacious, versatile interior.

    Dislikes: Unsightly exterior styling, poor steering response, lack of stability at highway speeds. The cargo area is too small to be practical with the rear seats in place. When folded flat, the rear seats do not create an uninterrupted cargo floor.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Nissan
    Model: Cube 1.8 SL
    Year: 2010
    Base price: $17,130
    As tested: $22,330
    Horsepower: 122 Hp @ 5200 rpm
    Torque: 127 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    Bicycle-friendly: Yes
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 27/31 mpg city/highway.

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