The ugly truth about the Nissan Cube

In the interests of fairness and objectivity, before I explain why the Nissan Cube is the worst car I've driven this year, bar none , let me list its good points.

By Wheels Wheels.ca

Oct 17, 2009 6 min. read

Article was updated 13 years ago

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In the interests of fairness and objectivity, before I explain why the Nissan Cube is the worst car I've driven this year, bar none, let me list its good points.


Hang on – I'm thinking ...

Well, the kids liked it. Loved it, in fact. There was plenty of space for them inside and they even raved about the comfort of the seat fabric. "Rev the engine, dad!" said my normally blasé eldest in the schoolyard. "We're in an air-hating box of ugly!" yelled my grinning 10-year-old to his friends through the window from the tiered rear seat, quoting Dan Neil, the Pulitzer-winning auto columnist.

That's about it, though, and I'm really searching for something constructive here. I didn't like this car at all. If it were teetering on the edge of a cliff, I'd push it over.

It's not because of the unusual "bulldog in sunglasses" styling, as Nissan describes it. I don't mind the boxiness at all. A few years ago, we almost bought a Honda Element as the family car, put off in the end only by its limitation of just four seatbelts. ("How would we carry my mother with the two boys?" asked my wife. I didn't see the problem here, but her vote won the day.)

"Who are you – the Borg?" asked a friend when she saw me pulling up in the Cube. She didn't appreciate that the block-shaped Star Trek spaceship had loads of well-designed space inside for an entire army of Borg warriors and their equipment.

In fact, there are plenty of people who love the style. The Cube's been sold in Japan for more than a decade, with great success once it was smoothed over for a second generation in 2002.

Its eye-catching looks are intended to appeal to young people. 

In fact, though, it probably appeals more to older drivers – people with enough years on them to appreciate a vehicle that's easy to climb into and out of.

It's certainly not about the space inside. This is the tallest vehicle I've driven since the Dodge Sprinter cargo van.

I'm six-feet tall (183 cm) and there was a good 10 cm of room above my head before touching the styled roof liner; the ceiling is cleverly shaped like a ripple in a pool, complementing the other curves of the interior.

And it's not about the price. The base model Cube S that I drove for a week has a list price of two bucks under $17,000 (before its $1,325 Freight and PDI, and before all the various taxes).

That's right on the money for a five-seater with ABS brakes, six airbags, traction control and active head-restraints.

This was the manual six-speed – the automatic Continuously Variable Transmission version costs $1,300 more.

That CVT gets slightly better gas mileage than the stick. Nissan claims 6.6 L/100 km highway (43 m.p.g.), 8.3 L (34 m.p.g.) city, and I saw a combined average of 7.6 L/100 km (37 m.p.g.), which I suppose isn't bad. Amazingly close to the posted figures, in fact.

So why was this car so truly awful? It's probably just best if I list its faults:

First off, it's noisy. Not loud from the 1.8 L engine, which is taken from the more traditional compact Versa, but loud from wind on the highway. Loud enough you need to raise your voice talking to passengers if driving at highway speeds.

Maybe this is because of the football-field-sized vertical glass, thudding into the slipstream and ripping through it like a cheap jacket torn by barbed wire. All that glass does provide great visibility – ooh, there's a positive point – but it comes at a price.

The biggest cost of the boxiness, again on the highway, is its vulnerability to wind gusts. Admittedly, we had particularly high winds in Ontario while I drove the Cube, but it blew around relentlessly all over the lane on Hwy. 401. It was not relaxing.

Combine that with a suspension so soft that it pitched and yawed like a floundering yacht and you can begin to appreciate my disdain.

All this might even be manageable with a tightly clenched jaw and a firm grip on the steering wheel, except that the driver's seat is more of an upright chair than a place to stretch into. You sit at the controls as if you're at the dining table, which you may even be, given the vast, flat shelf space above the instruments.

Go around a series of corners and the flat seat lets you slip from side to side. Driving at below the recommended speeds on highway ramps, the car tipped to one side on its spongy springs and then tipped me some more from the seat itself.

Hit a bump anywhere and the seat jerked up as if it was an ejector, loosely latched in its front-rear floor sliders.

It's just not comfortable. How uncomfortable is it? I had to make a long trip during that week and left the Cube parked, preferring to take my own old Saturn sedan with its strewn coffee cups and stained velour.

Maybe that was my problem with it. It's a car that's designed for urban driving, with a tight turning circle and not much speed, and it doesn't like highways and road trips at all.

Let me continue until I run out of space here, in no particular order:

When moving the gearshift from fifth to sixth gear (and it needs a sixth gear), the shifter automatically wants to slide back down to fourth instead. It takes a conscious effort to keep it pushed to the right to move into the correct gear.

The cupholders are in the wrong place. There's one on the left, in front of the steering wheel, that has a space for the cup's handle on its right, which is the wrong side for it. The cupholders in the centre, down by your feet, are a difficult stretch to reach.

There's less room than there should be for luggage in the back. It would be better if the rear seats tipped up completely, rather than just their backs, but the way it is, there's a short amount of deep space well below the lip (making it impractical for dogs) that's then limited by the split rear bench.

There's a tonneau cover that drapes loosely over stuff in the very back, but there's nowhere to store this cover out of the way when it's not in use. It'll end up in the garage, forgotten.

Which is where the entire Cube should be, I reckon.

Mark Richardson is the editor of Wheels. He can be reached at mrichardson@thestar.ca
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