Boxy Dynamics

I have no reason to believe the Cube is unstable, and it has a standard electronic stability system, but it does feel more top-heavy than the other boxes — and definitely more so than conventional cars. It's also more susceptible to crosswinds, as I learned on a gusty day of highway driving.

The Cube is modestly powered, and our car's continuously variable automatic transmission cost us a little off-the-line acceleration compared with last year's six-speed manual. It also seemed slower than it actually was. Though Nissan's CVTs are among the best-executed on the market, they characteristically let the engine rev up to high rpm, often at unexpected times, which gives the impression of straining. In truth, it's just finding the most powerful and/or efficient combination of engine speed and gear ratio.

It pays off. The CVT is rated 27/31 mpg city/highway, and the manual gets an estimated 25/30 mpg. This beats the xB (22/28) and the Soul's smaller engine (26/31). Of the three, the Soul gives the most options, challenging the Cube with its smaller engine and the xB with its more powerful one (24/30).

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