2011 Nissan Cube

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The Joker’s famous line, “why so serious?” could be directed at new cars – or a lot of them, anyhow. $200 a piece tires on 18, 19 and even 20 inch rims, 300 horsepower engines, 150 mph top speeds – and $40,000 (and up) MSRPs.

The Nissan Cube is a sanity check; an antidote to all that.

Not that there’s anything wrong with 150 mph top speeds and all the rest of it. It’s just that it’s a lot like professional bodybuilding: There’s lots of flexing and strutting going on but it’s almost entirely for show.

When was the last time you drove 150 MPH? Or even 100? Just asking… .

The Cube, meanwhile, makes sense. And it makes you feel good, too.

WHAT IT IS

The Cube is a stubby, tall and low to the ground box on wheels with five oversized doors and lots of useable room inside.

It is a type of vehicle that’s common in Japan, where everything’s crowded and space – including parking space – is scarce. As the United States – especially urban and suburban areas of the United States – becomes more like crowded Japan, we’ll probably see more vehicles like the Cube.

Prices for the 2011 Cube start at $14, 290 for the base 1.8 model with manual transmission and top out at $21,190 for a 1.8 S Krom Edition with CVT automatic.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011

The ’11 Cube gets an updated GPS system with Secure Digital card technology and 5 inch color LCD screen and integrated XM Traffic- plus a new optional color, Golden Ginger.

WHAT’S GOOD

Easy price, outsized personality.

Fun retro touches – including a shag carpet dashpad option. Oh, behave!

Surprisingly good power; very good gas mileage.

Big box inside can cart around a lot of stuff.

Small box outside means it’ll fit easily in tight parking spots and take up less room in your garage.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

It took this long to get vehicles like this here.

Six-speed manual isn’t available in top-of-the-line SL and Krom versions – even though Conan The Barbarian probably likes to shift gears himself.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Cube comes standard with a 1.8 liter, 122 hp engine – the same powerplant used in the Nissan Versa and some other Nissan models.

A six-speed manual is the standard transmission in all but the higher trim models, which come standard with a Continuously Variable (CVT) automatic. The CVT is optional on lower trim Cubes.

The six-speed Cube gets to 60 mph in about 9.4 seconds. Far from speedy, but adequate for just trundling around.

Gas mileage for the manual/FWD version is 24 city, 29 highway.

The optional CVT transmission bumps this up a bit to 28 city and 31 highway.

ON THE ROAD

The first thing you notice – after taking in the groovy looking exterior, with its asymmetrical side glass and bulldog-like nose – is the way the windshield bulges outward and extends to the sides, giving you a fantastic forward (and to the side) view. It’s like sitting in a fishbowl.

The A-pillars are more forward than in most cars, too – which eliminates the natural blind spot that can make pulling out from a side street a leap of faith.

Glance up and you’ll see a psychedelic “ripple effect” headliner; it looks like a pool of still water after someone dropped a pebble in. Ahead of you is a happy-looking little gauge pod with all the important readouts, including tachometer, speedo, fuel and temp gauges.  There’s a button on the console for the multi-function mood lighting – which has 20 different shades of ’70s.

My test car was finished in a color I haven’t seen since circa 1978 – chocolate brown metallic, with hints of purple.

My parents had a ‘fridge painted this same color when I was a kid.

Very cool!

Acceleration is decent, too.

The Cube is based on the Versa compact sedan and shares the same basic powertrain. Its standard 122 hp engine is stronger than competitors like the (much more expensive) Honda Fit’s 1.5 liter engine (117 hp).

The Kia Soul matches the Cube’s horsepower (122 from its standard 1.6 liter engine – and 142 hp from its optional 2.0 liter engine) and beats its acceleration (0-60 in about 8.7 seconds) by dint of being about 200 pounds lighter.

The Cube does have two drivetrain-related advantages over the Soul, though. The first is that the Kia’s manual transmission is a five speed, not a six speed as in the Nissan. The second is that the Soul’s optional automatic is a conventional automatic, not a CVT. It’s also a four-speed automatic – which is Betamax equipment for a 2011 model vehicle.

The standard six-speed transmission is also an unexpected bonus given the Cube’s lowball MSRP. And Nissan’s CVTs are quite possibly the best such transmissions on the market, perfectly matching gearing at any given moment to engine speed and how deep you’re into the throttle – without the shift-shock lurching between gear changes that characterizes most conventional automatic transmissions.

The Cube may have the aerodynamics of a cinder block propped upright on a roller skate but it has no trouble comfortably maintaining speeds as high as 75 or 80 mph – which means it’s absolutely highway-friendly and road trip-ready. You might think it would be tipsy in the curves given the short (99.6 inch) wheelbase and tall profile (65 inches) but it’s not. I hustled my tester up Bent Mountain (posted 35 mph) at 50-plus with no fuss or muss.

The only weak point I discovered was wind noise intrusion at higher highway speeds of 70 MPH or more. It’s higher than normal but not obnoxiously so.

AT THE CURB

The Kia Soul is the Cube’s most obvious competitor as far as price  range and hipster look/layout – though it’s much more angular and seems to be intended to be at least semi-sporty where the Cube is kind of melty-looking and openly goofy.

It’s also taller-roofed, which results in about two inches more front seat headroom (42.6 inches for the Nissan vs. 40.2 for the Kia). Front leg room in both vehicles is almost exactly the same at 24.2 for the Cube and 42.1 for the Soul. The Cube is also significantly more stubby than the Soul – with an overall length of 156.7 inches compared with 161.6 for the Soul. This is why there’s less room for cargo in the Nissan – with the second row seats up, anyhow (11.4 cubic feet vs. 19.3 cubic feet).

However, with the second row seats folded, the Cube’s total cargo capacity is greater – 58 cubic feet vs. 53 cubic feet. And because of its stubbiness, the Cube can fit into Moped-sized parking spaces, too.

Another big difference between the Cube and its main rival, the Soul, is the layout of the rear gate, which is a one-piece door that opens wide to the side – not up and down as is usual for liftgates. This maximizes access to the rear cargo area. Meanwhile, the extra-tall roofline (and low step-in height) also make the Cube well-suited to carrying objects like refrigerators and other boxes within boxes.

In addition to the jolly mood lighting and funky headliner, the Cube has many thoughtful design touches inside – including a large cup holder molded into the dashboard, to the left of the steering column. This gives you better access to your drink – and helps keep you from spilling it all over the console. Also, the rear seats can be moved back and forth to increase legroom for passengers or space for cargo.

THE REST

With a base price of just over $14k, the Cube’s only real challenger is the slightly less expensive Soul, which starts at $13,300 and which also comes with a better standard warranty – five years/60,000 miles on the whole car vs. three years/36,000 miles.

Both cars come standard with major options such as AC, power windows and door locks – and offer similar kicky upgrades such as high-contrast trim, body kits, mood lighting – and “price track” similarly when options are added. Nissan offers 40 different accessories to customize/individualize the Cube, too.

But as mentioned above, the Soul has a sportier, well… soul.  The Cube is just a Forrest Gumpian happy dude, not looking to race.

The Scion xB ($16,000 to start) and Honda Fit ($15,100) are both more expensive to start and they have less standard power and not as much useable interior space. Arguably, too, the Scion lost its clown car charm when it was redesigned and upsized – while the more mainstream-looking Fit hasn’t got close to the stage presence of either the Cube or the Soul.

As far as safety: Modern structural enhancements and the inclusion of side-impact/curtain air bags, stability control, etc. have made even very small cars like the Cube much safer places to be in than the small cars of the past. Just keep in mind that even perfect “5 Star” crash ratings are defined in relation to other cars in that class, not relative to all cars (including larger, heavier cars).

While a car like the Cube will do well in a crash if the other car happens to be of similar size/weight, it is still at a disadvantage if it’s hit by a large SUV or truck.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Cube makes driving – and buying – a new car fun again.

Throw it in the Woods?

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Clover is not only ideologically stupid, but also just factually ignorant. Optimizing the aerodynamic profile of a 3D object moving through space does not necessarily require curvature on only one plane. When viewed from above, the Scion’s windshield and front-end (while nearly vertical from the side) actually bends from side to side in a nice, smooth arc that lets air move around it with minimal turbulence and noise, as well as letting that little 1.5 liter engine achieve 35 mpg on the highway at speeds in excess of (GASP!) 75 mph.

  2. Parked in the Woods sounds like a Great Idea for this Barf Bag. No Oil and Lube for HE who ROLLS in a CUBE,,,, Get Real!

  3. Eric, Why don’t you just ban Clover? I don’t find his views even so much as entertaining. Wasting your efforts answering his idiocies gains no one anything. I like to read insights, not pre prepared commie propaganda.
    Just my two cents.

  4. 31 MPG highway is “poor”? By what standard?

    The Cube’s mileage is right there with other vehicles of its type. Or better. For example, the 2011 Scion xB is rated at 28 MPGs highway. The 2011 Kia Soul, 31 MPGs on the highway. Keep in mind these vehicles are not built to be maximum-mileage economy cars; even so, they’re all only a few MPGs off the pace of many 2011 model economy compacts, such as the Honda Civic, which is rated 34 MPGs on the highway. Just a 3 MPG difference.

    On the air bags: Maybe. But today’s “small” cars are also bigger (and much heavier) than their equivalents of 25 or 30 years ago, which is itself a safety advantage. There’s also the fact that not everyone venerates safety as the most important aspect of vehicle design. If you never get into a wreck – largely avoidable, if you’re a good driver – then air bags and so on are irrelevant. In which case, it’s a reasonable (because slight) risk to drive a car without air bags (or bucked-up). We could save thousands of dollars in up front and down the road costs (as regards air bags).

    But the government is Cloverism personified and it forces us to buy the air bags and (buckle-up) anyhow.

    Check out The Daily Clover! http://epautos.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=71

    • Eric all I can say is you are stupid. Accidents are largely avoidable? What about the person that decides to pass in a no passing zone and hits you coming from the other direction? Avoidable? That is only one in hundres of risks that are on the roadway. You can have your vehicles with no safety devises and standards. I would bet anything that there were 10s of thousands of people in accidents last year that thought they could never be in an accident because they were good drivers. Those safety devises saved hundreds or thousands of their lives.

      I am a great skier but I was in a skiing accident last year because another person did not look out for other people well enough doing a turn. I always wear a helmet and the other guy that caused the accident said he would wear one from now on seeing how easy it is to be in an accident no matter how good you are.

      • Accidents are largely avoidable, Clover. By definition. Otherwise most people would have accidents all the time, or at least often. If a person is a good driver, they’ll often – routinely – go decades without having an accident. Even me, Clover. It’s been nearly a quarter century since the last time I had one (and it caused no injury or damage to anyone else). Yes, of course, accidents do happen – but unless you’re reckless or inept, they don’t happen often. Hence, it’s reasonable (if you’re neither inept nor reckless) to skip (if you could) expensive “safety” equipment such as air bags. In fact, most people did skip air bags (and other safety “devises”) when they were optional and no one was forced to buy them. But thanks to Clovers such as, well, you, they’re now mandatory. I’m sure you’d also mandate that everyone wear a helmet when skiing, or walking down the street.

        The fact that you need a security blanket at all times is – to your way of thinking – reason to force everyone else to wear one, too!

        PS: Air bags have also killed people (and injured many more). A fact. Yes, they’ve saved lives, too. But the point is: What gives you (or the government) the right to take the choice away from people? Isn’t it my life?
        I know you’ll respond with some socialistic-collectivist jizz about “societal costs” but that dog won’t hunt unless the socialistic-collectivist premise (expecting others to pay for any problems I may have) is. And I don’t. With rights come responsibilities, which I freely (gladly) accept.

        What I refuse to accept is your claim (and the claim of Clovers in government) to interfere with my life, to take decisions out of my hand – because you think you know better than I (and others) about well, everything.

        You don’t.

        Why not live your life and leave other people free to do the same?

        I know, I know. Because you’re a Clover.

        Check out The Daily Clover! http://epautos.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=71

        • You are right Eric. I and the governement are smarter than you. Only stupid people would say it is fine to not have safety devices that cost so little compared to the huge cost of injuries and death. You know I wish you could have no safety devices in your vehicles. The only thing I would require from somone that selects that poor decision is that they do not have any dependents relying on their support. If they are injured or killed the government would not help with any injury expenses or with family support. If you ran out of money and you were in a hospital then they would kick you out on the street no matter what condtion you are in. You should not be able to resell that vehicle to anyone under 21.

          • “You are right Eric. I and the governement are smarter than you…”

            Case closed! You can’t even spell – nor do you know basic grammar (“I and the government”) but you’re smarter than me.

            Ha!

            But, your semi-literate, garbled posting is ( as usual) revealing. You’ve confessed, openly, to believing not only that you’re smarter (a dubious proposition) but much more interestingly, that you believe you have the right to force other people whom you deem not as smart or who don’t share your views, to do as you believe they ought to. Because only your views are the right views.

            This is the distilled essence of the authoritarian mindset. You, dear Cover, are a thug. Only, you’re a cowardly one. A street thug at least has the balls to confront his victims himself. You, on the other hand, are the sort of mealy little cretin who “votes” for others to do your thuggery for you. Or advocates/supports laws that do, etc.

            Think about it a little. People like me want nothing from you; we don’t want to interfere with you in any way. But people like you can’t leave other people alone; you have a sick compulsion to bend others to your will – not by discussion and voluntary persuasion. By force.

            From Beria to Himmler to all the current “leaders” on high to the lowest Clover – you’re all brothers and one of a kind.

            Check out The Daily Clover! http://epautos.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=71

          • No Eric, the roads are the government owned roads. You would not be able to pay for 100 feet of them out of your own funds. You say that you do not want anything from the government but you drive on government roads almost every day. If you do not want to follow anything the government does then stay away from our government roads . This internet is also supported from our government. Stay off our internet. Since you do not want to do anything that anyone else tells you to do then find an island in the middle of the ocean somewhere and you will be free from all rules. You can do anything on your roads that you want to do. You will be free to kill anyone else on your island you wish.

            I did like dom’s statement. Death is free. A life is worthless to you two.

          • And who, delectable Cloveroni, is “the government”? Is it a special living thing? Or an exclusive club For Clovers Only?

            Thank Elvis we non-Clovers can still outrun, evade and out-smart you Clovers.

          • The government is the organization set up by the people to improve our lives so that we can live better with one another. This group sets up laws and regulations so that it is safer for us to live together and also builds things that we can not build by ourself like roads and bridges and many other things for the public good. If you do not believe in any sort of government then you do not need to use our roads and bridges and other things that are set up by the people as a group. Since you do not believe in following any laws then you should leave because you are not creating a safe environment for us to live together.

          • “The government is the organization set up by the people to improve our lives so that we can live better with one another.”

            Sounds right in theory. What happens when special interests, greed, corruption, fraud, personal interests, and friendship inspired decisions get involved? -just curious

            Also, what in the flock does this have to do with a 2011 Nissan Cube?

          • Lawsee. Another example of the Probem of Cloverism. And an example of the fruits of government schools… .

            No, Clover, the government is not “the organization set up by the people to improve our lives so that we can live better with one another.” That’s the paternalistic view of the Typical Clover. The view of the serf who wants to be told what to do – or the thug who likes to tell others what to do.

            Lenin had a similar view. His definition of government was “Who does what to whom.”

            Government – proper, legitimate government – on the other hand, exists to preserve individual rights by keeping us from physically harming (or defrauding) one another. And that’s all. To quote Washington, government is force – nothing more and certainly nothing better. And the use of force is only morally justified in self-defense, in response to being attacked. Not to “improve” others.

            It never occurs to people like you – people with an authoritarian mentality – that perhaps others might prefer not to be “improved” by people like you. That maybe they’d prefer to improve themselves, according to their own best judgment.

            But since you can’t persuade them, you resort to force.

            Air bags are a perfect example from the world of cars. They were optional – but almost no one bought them. So Clovers in government who think their role in life is to “improve” the lives of others by force – forced air bags on them.

            Your view is the Big Brother view; my view, the American view.

            Or at least the view of the America that used to be.

  5. It looks like the aerodynamics are a killer on gas mileage. The city mpg does not look too bad but the highway mpg is poor for that sized engine. My guess is that if you would check the gas mileage traveling 75 mph or more it would be in the mid 20s.

    You also mentioned the vehicle safety. Keep in mind if it did not have front and side airbags and seatbelts, it would be about a 1 star rating rather than 5.

    • I dig it; it has a cool attitude. It’s fairly cheap – and it’s very useful/usable (as cars go).

      I could see buying one in 2-3 years for around $7,000 or so.

      • Told you before we had one in Japan about six years ago. I was a very comfortable car, came with key-less entry, and could be started without the key. As long as the key was in your pocket you were good to go. Plus, the front seats slide all the way forward and then recline all the way back. You can flatten out all the seats to make a huge bed. It was completely awesome doing that at the beach and taking naps. I am 6’3″ and could sit Indian style in the front seats.

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