2010 Nissan Cube review

The Cube - which is a "mobile device," not a car, Nissan says, returns for 2010 with a base price of $13,999 (plus $720 freight), which is just $9 more than the 2009 starting price.

Four versions are offered: the base model, which comes with a manual transmission; the S model, which is $15,030 with the six-speed manual or $16,030 with the continuously variable automatic; the SL model, for $17,030, with only the automatic; and the Krom edition, a sporty model, which starts at $20,120, and also comes only with the automatic.

Also good news for the Cube: It's one of only 27 vehicles on the market for 2010 to have earned the "Top Safety Pick" designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based on its top rating of "Good" in front, side, rear and roof crash tests.

Nissan introduced the Cube (which, incidentally, the automaker spells without capitalizing the name - "cube") just this past spring as a late 2009 model, so there are no major changes for 2010.

That model has special exterior features, including chrome trim, similar to that of Krom version of the compact Nissan Rogue crossover.

All Cube models come with front-wheel drive and a 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter, double-overhead-cam, inline four-cylinder engine, along with either the advanced continuously variable transmission (CVT) or the six-speed manual.

EPA fuel-economy estimates are 28 mpg city/30 highway for Cube models with the CVT, and 24 city/29 highway with the manual gearbox.

For 2010, the Bluetooth phone connection, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and integrated steering-wheel audio controls are standard on the S and SL models.

Also standard on the S model for 2010 are the iPod connection system, MP3 CD-ROM playback capacity, Radio Data System, speed-sensitive volume control and two additional speakers, for a total of six. A new exterior color -- Sapphire Black - has been added as well.

Krom models come with a 4.3-inch color audio display with USB connectivity and rearview monitor, as well as the keyless entry and pushbutton start system. The 4.3-inch color display/USB connection and rearview monitor are also included in the optional Preferred Package available on SL models.

Nissan's marketing surveys found that the main target audience for the vehicle - males ages 18-25 - named getting a new cell phone as their top "must have," with getting a new car way down the list. As a result, Nissan is trying to market the Cube as yet another mobile communications device that helps young people connect with their friends.

The vehicle's appeal comes from its oddly asymmetrical boxy exterior, which gives it a clownish look that makes it hard to go unnoticed among the bland and boring cars that dominate the auto landscape.

Even the entry-level price brings a decently equipped Cube, including air conditioning. Unfortunately, the CVT is not offered with this model.

The Cube is similar in concept to Toyota's Scion xB and the new Kia Soul, and like both of those, it offers a variety of accessories available from either the factory or the dealer.

They include a 20-color interior illumination kit, shag-carpet-style instrument-panel inserts, aerodynamic body kits, and custom alloy wheels. Scion offers similar custom accessories to allow owners to personalize the cars to suit their individual personalities.

Among other interior extras are front-door bungees -- elastic straps that slip into cutouts on the door armrests to secure items such as maps and photos - as well as a rear cargo organizer and interior trim appliqués.

Exterior accessories include a front chin spoiler, rear under-spoiler, side body sills, rear roof spoiler, nose mask, side-window deflectors, vehicle cover and fog lights.

Nissan is using the Internet heavily in the marketing and sales of the Cube, just as Toyota does with Scion. The Cube even has its own Facebook page.

The Krom model includes a three-bar chrome grille, two-bar chrome front bumper grille, fully integrated front and rear fascias, body side sills, unique rear roof spoiler, exclusive 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and a Krom rear emblem.

Inside the Krom are a Bluetooth phone system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, woven black-and-gray cloth seats, an upgraded audio system with six speakers and Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, an iPod interface, titanium trim, aluminum-trimmed pedals, automatic climate control, an interior illumination system and more.

The Cube has plenty of power for everyday driving. The manual gearbox is tight and easy to shift, and allows the driver to get the most out of the little engine.

But for city stop-and-go driving, the CVT automatic is the best choice. It's quite smooth, with no discernible shift points, and there doesn't seem to be any loss of power compared with the manual version.

The Cube's ride is surprisingly smooth for an inexpensive compact vehicle, and the cabin at highway speeds is very quiet. The interior is cavernous for a car with such a small exterior profile.

Rear passengers have quite decent knee room, and the front bucket seats are comfortable even for big and tall people. Taller folks like the fact that the high roof allows them to ride without having their hair brushing the headliner.

The large front door openings allowed for easy entry and exit. The "centerpiece" of the Cube is its "social space" interior that "offers room for five in a lounge-like comfort," Nissan says

Interior features include a "floating meter pod" on the dash, a "lounge sofa" style sliding and reclining rear bench seat, and a long list of "innovative accessories," the automaker said.

Nissan has been selling the Cube in Japan since 1998, and this latest version is actually the third generation. Honda introduced a similarly styled vehicle in 2003 called the Element, and Toyota followed in 2005 with the xB, but the Cube predates both of those.

This the largest Cube yet, at 156.7 inches long, 66.7 inches wide and 65 inches tall. It has a 99.6-inch wheelbase. That compares with 167.3 inches long for the current xB and 169.3 inches for the Element. But the Cube actually is more the size of the first-generation xB, which was just 155.3 inches long.

As with the xB and Soul, the Cube has four regular-style side doors. The Element differs in that it has side doors that swing to the rear only after the front doors have been opened.

Standard features, besides air conditioning, include power windows with driver's side one-touch down feature, remote keyless entry, power door locks with auto-locking feature, variable intermittent windshield wipers (including a rear wiper and defroster), cargo-area courtesy light and tie-down hooks, and adjustable front shoulder belt anchors.

Safety features include antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, electronic stability control with traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, six air bags (including front, side and side-curtain) and front active head restraints.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at 210-250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

The vehicle's appeal comes from its oddly asymmetrical boxy exterior, which gives it a clownish look that makes it hard to go unnoticed among the bland and boring cars that dominate the auto landscape.

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