When Toyota introduced the Scion brand to the United States back in 2003, the division was highlighted by a box-shaped vehicle that many consumers had never seen, the Scion xB. Soon after the xB, the boxy Honda Element joined the party and now Nissan is finishing off the trifecta of boxy Japanese vehicles with its all-new 2009 cube (Nissan uses lowercasing on purpose similar to the Smart fortwo). Like the GT-R, Nissan has offered the cube in its home market for some time, but is just now bringing its funky compact box to our shores for U.S. enjoyment. In addition to making the third-generation of the cube available in the U.S., Nissan also hinted at a possible future all-electric version of the car as shown by 2008 Denki Cube Concept.
For its inaugural trip across the Pacific, the 2009 Nissan cube will be available in four trim levels (base, S, SL and KrÅ?m) with prices starting at $13,990. With that kind of base pricing, the cube not only competes against obvious cars such as the Scion xB and Kia Soul, but it also aims to be a more stylish alternative to compact hatchbacks including the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. Our test model was a tricked-out cube KrÅ?m which starts at $19,370 and had an as-tested price of just over $20,000 including destination.
2009 Nissan cube KrÅ?m Exterior
Like the Scion xB, the Nissan cube gives us a taste of vehicle designs from Japan which in this case offers a uniquely asymmetrical design. Where the bloated second-generation xB failed to recapture the spirit of the original by becoming more 'Americanized,'? the cube should attract Scion defectors with a healthy dose of unique, identifiable styling. Looking to avoid any hatchback labeling, Nissan designed the small cube to offer a look not associated with your standard five-door. From the round window surrounds to the widely arched wheel openings, the cube defies its namesake to provide a mostly rounded overall design. Even having the rear wheels pushed back to the extreme limits, undoubtedly a measure to improve rear passenger space, the cube seems to be too small for its wheelbase as the lower portion juts out to accommodate the rear wheels. This design also helped house the taillights which mimic the shape of theÂ headlights and front grille.
As if the exterior design wasn't polarizing enough, though, the most unique design element of the 2009 cube is by far the placement, styling and design of the rear windows and the vanishing rear body pillars. As if the driver's side of the cube didn't look creative enough with a rear window that seemingly cuts into the C-pillar, the passenger side is where the asymmetric look really takes shape as the rear door and side door window seems to wrap around the car uninhibited. In reality, the passenger side features a blacked out C- and D-pillar making the D-pillar invisible. Helping to allow this unique design feature, the rear door is side-hinged like a refrigerator door that helps break the cube free from any 'hatchback'? labels.
For those interested in more of a tuner theme to their new cube, Nissan offers the KrÅ?m trim level as the top-of-the-line model. Besides a badge on the rear door, this phonetically spelled trim level is distinguishable by the large amounts of chrome on the exterior as well as more aggressive front and rear fascias. The base model's cheese-grater grille is replaced by a trio of chrome bars with a matching pair mounted in the large opening of the front fascia. To give the car a sportier stance and finish off the tuner look, the cube KrÅ?m rides on a stylish set of 18-inch, eight-spoke alloy wheels and adds a larger rear spoiler.
2009 Nissan cube KrÅ?m Interior
Once inside the cube, two things are immediately obvious: there is a surprising amount of interior space and the car's designers were pretty fond of waves and ripples. The most creative use of the cube's ripple effect was on the headliner, but the trend carried over to the speaker grilles, the exterior trim on the left side C-pillar and even the cupholders. Speaking of cupholders, the cube's cabin holds up to seven beverages for the front seat occupants alone including one for the driver that looks tailored specifically to a Red Bull can. As for the layout, the waves in the instruments panel help form the compact center stack with the circular HVAC control unit. The KrÅ?m package comes standard with changeable ambient lights and trim resembling carbon fiber to the shift lever and A/C vents, but the circular piece of shag carpeting atop the dash and nifty little bungee cords on the door are part of a $230 option. Thankfully, the bungee cords are removable because we found they can be close to the driver's left knee when driving and can cause discomfort.
With a direct focus toward younger consumers, we were surprised at a few interior design elements that detract from the overall usefulness of the cube. In an age where navigation systems, smart phones and portable music devices are commonplace inside a car, we don't understand why Nissan chose to equip the car with only a single power outlet and an auxiliary jack mounted so far away from everything that it would take a long extension cord to reach any device. As usual, though, iPod users are catered to with an iPod-specific jack mounted at the lower edge of the center stack.
2009 Nissan cube KrÅ?m Performance & Handling
All cube models share a basic powertrain with the Nissan Versa including the 122-horsepower 1.8-liter and an option of either a six-speed manual transmission or Nissan's Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). Both the cube SL and the cube KrÅ?m come standard with the latter which may not be the sportiest transmission in the world, but it does return an impressive fuel economy gain over the manual transmission. In base form, the cube gets an EPA estimated 24 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, but equipped with the Xtronic CVT, fuel economy numbers jump up to 28 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
The gains in fuel economy come at the expense of driving enjoyment in the city as the CVT feels slippery and quirky, but this is a driving characteristic of the fuel-sipping transmission. On the highway, the quirkiness of the CVT relinquishes only to be replaced by an abundance of wind noise created from the almost-vertical windshield. The brick-shaped design is almost certainly what is attributed to the small car's relatively dismal highway fuel economy, but running at highway speed requires the full use of the audio system to drown out the excessive wind noise. Other than the wind noise, the cube's chassis (based on the Nissan Versa) provides a smooth and comfortable ride and handling thanks in large part to the four-wheel independent suspension and electric power steering.
2009 Nissan cube KrÅ?m Safety
As of August 2009, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash tested the new Nissan cube. That being said, the 2009 Nissan cube comes with standard safety devices such as six airbags, active head restraints, traction control and four-wheel ABS (front disc and rear drum).
Once you get past the unique, boxy styling of the Nissan cube, it is actually a very practical and spacious hatchback similar to Nissan's own Versa. Toss in the top-of-the-line KrÅ?m trim level and the cube gets an even more unique appearance thanks to a stylish body kit and chrome wheels. Although this car will generally be marketed toward drivers fresh out of high school, the 2009 Nissan cube KrÅ?m got plenty of looks and comments from 5-year-old kids still playing with Matchbox cars up to 50-year-old 'kids'? looking to be hip again.