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Cube Aims at Young Buyers

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Move over, Aztek. You've lost the ugly crown to the Cube.

Nissan says its Cube, a compact crossover, looks like a "bulldog in sunglasses."

Maybe--after misplacing your eyeglasses.

A young woman paid the ultimate compliment: She smiled and gave it a big thumbs up, after putting down her doll as she surveyed Cube out the back window of dad's car. A young man piloting a sports coupe, however, made decidedly the opposite gesture.

A motorcycle rider stopped to ask, "How do you like that little bus?"

Regardless of the reaction, Cube always gets one.

Cube is Nissan's answer to the Scion xB, Kia Soul and Honda Element, weird-looking boxes aimed at those 18 to 25 who want their wheels to say something about them.

Cube is offered in base, S, SL and Krom versions, with a 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic with infinite gear ratios. Prices start from $13,990 for the base to $19,370 for Krom with its sound and decor upgrade.

We tested the S with a supersmooth-shifting manual. Cube's mileage with that manual is 24 city/29 highway, yet rises to 28/30 with optional ($1,000--ouch!) automatic.

It comes with a 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower 4-cylinder. And you don't need to note that the 4 in Soul achieves 142 h.p., xB 158 h.p. and Element 166 h.p. to show Cube could use more kick. Just expend time and exhaust patience getting to cruising speed from a start.

But the ride is surprisingly well cushioned, and even two railroad crossings within half a block didn't send ripples into seat, steering wheel or teeth.

With its boxy profile, Cube tends to lean rather than dart into or out of corners. This is no Z car. But standard stability and traction control ensure you don't wander, slip or slide when starting out on slick pavement. Larger, 16-inch radials, standard on the higher-trim levels, would offer better road grip, and larger wheel-well openings would make Cube look bolder.

With a base of $14,690, the Cube S is more into cheap frills than high fashion. While a VW Beetle sports a bud vase, Cube offers a swatch of shag carpet on the dash, perhaps for your cat to snooze on while motoring.

There's also a trio of cupholders in the center console, a pair in the dash left of the steering wheel, one in front and rear doors, one in back of the center console and two inside the pull-down center armrest in the back seat. That ensures each of the five passengers it holds at least two beverages.

The cabin is blessed front and rear with abundant room, especially for the melon. A Conehead in a helmet wouldn't tickle the roof.

Seats are soft and ideal for long-distance comfort. Rear seats slide fore or aft for room where you need it and recline to let occupants stretch.

Seat backs also fold to provide more cargo space for gear, though the cargo hold is roomy enough for a couple small suitcases or duffel bags. The test car came with an optional cargo organizer: two large, plastic compartments (one lockable) in the floor to store items or cool pop. The rear door swings out, not up, so leave ample room when parking.

Slots in the dash and rear doors contain removable plastic holders for bags, the dash has a cell phone holder/power plug, and front-door slits can accommodate mini bungee cords to keep assorted junque in place.

The test car had a $490 illumination package with mood lighting in 20 colors for cabin and cupholder, and soft and soothing blue background lighting for the word Cube in the door sills.

AM/FM/CD player, power windows and locks (manual seats) and air conditioning are standard. Though they seem out of character and price point for the car, push-button start, fog lights, Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite radio and sonar rear-backup sensors add $1,600. No navi.

You may suffer a few snickers for its styling, but with a decent price, great mileage and so many novel features, you'll get the last laugh.

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2009 NISSAN CUBE S
Wheelbase: 99.6 inches
Length: 156.7 inches
Engine: 1.8-liter, 122-h.p. 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual
M.P.G.: 24 city/29 highway
Price as tested: $15,550
Add $720 for freight.

THE STICKER:

$14,690 Base

$400 Interior illumination package with 20-color accent lighting and lighted door-sill plates

$230 Interior designer package with shag carpet dash topper, front door bungee cords, carpeted floor mats and cargo cover

$180 Rear cargo organizer

PLUSES
+ Huge cabin space front and rear
+ Decent cargo space
+ Handy cargo organizer in floor
+ Great visibility
+ Lots of novelties
+ Stability and traction control standard, along with side-curtain air bags
+ Decent price and mileage

MINUSES
- Styling
- Manual lags automatic in mileage
- 4-cylinder could use more muscle

Jim Mateja can be reached at rides@tribune.com.

(C) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

1 Responses »

  1. “bulldog in sunglasses.”

    ummmmm....no.

    How about a toaster?........Or a washing machine?