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Thursday, August 7, 2008

2010 Nissan Cube Review

By Chris Poole
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What We Know About the 2010 Nissan Cube

Call it a case of being on time by running late. The Nissan Cube has been sold in Japan for the last 10 years, but is only now coming stateside as a 2010 model. Sales kick off in early ‘09; about seven years after Toyota introduced the equally boxy Scion xB. Happily for Nissan--and maybe for you, too--this funky, frugal subcompact looks like just the thing to help Americans cope with $4 gas and other new economic miseries. A pure battery-power version is expected early next decade as part of Nissan’s new Green Program 2010. It was recently previewed by the Denki Cube concept (Denki means “electric” in Japanese).

Like the xB, the 2010 Nissan Cube is a tall, square-cut, 4-door, five-passenger wagon based on a small mainstream front-wheel-drive hatchback (in this case Nissan’s March/Micra minicar, which has never been sold in the U.S.). The Cube, however, actually predates (and allegedly inspired) the Scion’s original Toyota bB parent. The Cube coming stateside is somewhat smaller than the newly enlarged 2008 xB. It’s basically the redesigned 2002 Japan-market Cube with trim and equipment alterations to suit North American driving conditions and buyer tastes.

In its early years, the Cube was a gotta-have ride for young Japanese fashionistas. Though no longer considered so trendy a decade on, it’s bound to seem like a way-cool novelty here in the States. But the 2010 Nissan Cube should appeal to anyone looking for good fuel thrift and a city-friendly package with surprising interior space. Thanks to its packing-crate styling, the Cube boasts more cargo room than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan--21.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat, nearly 70 cubic feet with the seat folded--yet is nearly a foot shorter than Mazda’s petite two-seat MX-5 sports car. The home-market Cube offers two-row accommodations for six via a front bench seat and steering-column shift lever, but the U.S. version will probably have two front seats with a floor shift in between. There’s also a seven-passenger version, called the Cube3 or “Cubic,” with an extra 6.9 inches of wheelbase making room for a small 3rd-row seat and even more maximum load space. No word on whether that model is coming here too, but we won’t be surprised if it does. In fact, it might be the only one we get, as the wheelbase for the Denki Cube concept was stretched 9.4 inches from the regular model’s, though that was partly to accommodate the bulky batteries of its all-electric drive.

However long it is, the U.S.-market 2010 Nissan Cube is generally expected to carry a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine instead of the 1.4-liter unit used overseas. The 1.8 delivers 122 horsepower in Nissan’s subcompact Versa, but we’ve heard talk of detuning to 90-95 horses, likely for better mpg in what should be a somewhat lighter vehicle. Transmission choices will likely comprise the Versa’s 6-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), though the detuning, if it transpires, might eliminate the less-efficient conventional automatic.

Speaking of mileage, Los Angeles Times car critic Dan Neil estimates the 2010 Nissan Cube will be EPA-rated at 26 mpg city and 40 mpg highway on the same regular-grade gas the Versa requires. Those numbers seem credible and creditable, but we’ll have to wait and see if they pan out in Consumer Guide testing. As for performance, Neil sampled a 90-horsepower 1.4-liter Japan-market Cube that did 0-60 mph in about 14 seconds and maxed out at around 85 mph. Those tepid results reflect the decidedly un-aerodynamic styling and seem almost marginal, yet Neil reported “the car doesn’t feel at all slow. In fact, in city traffic, the Cube is perfectly adequate to keep the pace and merge successfully.” A 1.8-liter U.S. version with somewhat more low-end torque should be a bit sprightlier, but that prediction also awaits testing of the final product.

Engine aside, the U.S.-market 2010 Nissan Cube should be much like its overseas cousins. That means a strut-type front suspension, a simple “twist-beam” rear axle, front-disc and rear-drum brakes, and power steering with electric assist instead of a power-sapping engine-driven hydraulic booster. Smallish 14-inch wheels wearing slim 175/65 tires help conserve interior space and enhance fuel economy. These, too, should be U.S. standard, though we think wider tires on 15- or 16-inch wheels will at least be available, suggested by the 16s fitted to the Denki Cube concept.

Other features are also still to be determined, but the 2010 Nissan Cube will almost certainly come with front and curtain side airbags, antilock brakes, and air conditioning. The U.S. model will likely inherit other items from its overseas counterparts, including a fore/aft sliding split rear seat, front underseat storage compartments, and a right-hinged swing-out rear cargo door. Options will no doubt include the usual power windows and locks, cruise control, and remote entry.

In all, the 2010 Nissan Cube shapes up as a thrifty, functional runabout that makes appealing sense in light of today’s fast-multiplying economic and environmental challenges. We see it as a kind of tall Mini Cooper with a visual charm all its own, plus a likely lower price of admission