Final Report : Nissan Cube

He’ll never lose it in a car park but, after 4 months, how is Sean’s relationship with his Cube going?

Street Cube

So, how does the Nissan Cube measure up to the classic Cubes of history. Rubik’s Cube, The OXO Cube, the Sugar Cube, the 1997 science-fiction film Cube and O’Shea Jackson, AKA Mr Ice Cube. Well, it has one thing in common with the last named in that it is not truly a 3D object bounded by six identical square faces. But is it in any way exceptional?

My main concern was that longer-term ownership would reveal its interesting quirkiness as being just infuriating gimmickry. This hasn’t been the case. The side opening rear door, though it needs more space behind the vehicle to open fully than a top mounted tailgate, is actually very useful when putting in groceries, etc from the kerbside. The curvature at the corners of the previous Cube’s windows seemed just right, whilst on my model it goes a bit too far, but it’s no big deal. The little references to the concentric circles and waves of Japanese dry gardens and sliding rice-paper screens are subtle.

As mentioned previously, more thought could have been put into stowage – for instance there is a significant void under the non-folding rear seat base that could have been exploited – but what’s there works well. The dash is distinctive, yet practical in its function. The seats are comfortable and well adjustable, front and rear.

Certainly not unique to the Cube, but new to me as a long-term owner of a recent car, rather than as an occasional driver of rental cars, were the likes of rain-sensitive wipers (erratic), automatic headlamps (the only car where I actually forget to turn on the lights at night), keyless entry and starting (actually quite convenient and, as yet, no downside) and integrated phone-satnav-entertainment (ditto). All this is controlled intuitively from an uncluttered dashboard, which makes me ask exactly what all the buttons on a modern Ford actually do?

Cube Fascia

However its most distinctive virtue, and for me that is a very real and enduring virtue, is its architecture. The airy space it affords me, on what is a decently compact footprint for a car that gets used in a city, is a constant delight. And, that feeling isn’t just the driver’s. Anyone who sits in the rear mentions how surprisingly spacious and comfortable it is. How many Juke owners get that sort of comment from their rear seat passengers?

Compared directly with another box-like vehicle, the larger Renault Kangoo it comes out well. The Kangoo is based on the longer platform of the old Scenic, whilst the Cube’s is that of the Clio and Micra – there was a longer wheelbase Cubic available in the previous version, but not the current. Our work Kangoo is a diesel, so maybe that’s unfair, but mechanically the Cube is the smoother, more pleasant drive. Both cars ride well, but the longer wheelbase of the Kangoo is better over speed bumps.

As a workhorse, the Kangoo is more practical, longer with fully folding rear seats plus passenger seat, but there is no reason why the Cube’s more civilised interior ambience and driving experience couldn’t have been applied to the Kangoo. If so, I might have actually enjoyed our Kangoo ownership – as it is I avoid driving it if I ever can.

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Some other reports on the Cube from professional writers (who probably had the car foisted on them by a sadistic editor rather than the long-term M5 that he kept to himself) mentioned feeling rather self-conscious at its appearance. Contemporary motoring journalists are notoriously conservative and, although I’m genuinely not at all interested in people pointing at me, I’ve owned a ridiculous looking Citroen for 20 years so I’ve got used to this problem.

It is significant however that, although I work with people who are aesthetically aware, and although the Cube is viewed as interesting by most of them, I frequently get asked why the rear window is asymmetric. Saying ‘because they thought it would look good’ doesn’t satisfy them and, as someone who believes car design should hint at function, I understand their point. So I might use the side-hinged door as a reason, though of course it isn’t really.

But it seems that even people who aren’t that interested in cars as machines, find it hard to accept a wilful piece of styling – maybe they think that Mercedes’ odd side creases are aerodynamic aids. One person, in particular, assumed that the rear crash protection would be stronger on one side than the other. So, was the Cube’s failure in Europe due to a belief that its asymmetry suggests a lack of serious engineering integrity?

What is more of a problem to me, and one probably connected with the way Cubes and their owners are viewed by other drivers, is that I’ve found the car sometimes brings out the evangelical zeal of my youth, when I considered it necessary to prove the abilities of a Citroen Dyane to perform well beyond other’s preconceptions. As with practically any modern car, the Nissan’s road behaviour is perfectly competent, but its shape belies this.

One of my intents in buying it was actually to curtail the excessive enthusiasm of my Audi S6 driving, so I must stop this. From that you will guess that I’ve done little to honour my vow in the previous report to aim for better fuel consumption figures. Presently the trip computer, reset at the last full tank which is now nearly empty, shows 28 mpg for a 15 mph average speed. That’s not great, but not quite as bad as those of you not used to city driving might think.

I’ve titled this Final Report, though I’ll likely keep the car for quite a while. In fact I might write of it again sometime but, for the present, in the absence of a litany of trim falling off and breakdowns, I’ve not much else to say. So, will there be a Series 4 Cube for me to replace it with? Certainly it’s unlikely for the UK. Their unsuccessful foray in 2010-11, and the Juke’s subsequent success, will have convinced Nissan that we prefer cars that look more chunky and serious and are less functional. Whether there is still a demand in Japan is another matter, but I suspect that it might have run its course – which is a pity.

Oh, and although I’d held onto it until now in case I decided that my Cube acquisition had been a great mistake, does anyone want to buy a 1996 Audi S6 Avant in Nogaro Blue with matching upholstery, full MOT and recently rebuilt top end? I thought not.

21 thoughts on “Final Report : Nissan Cube”

  1. Nissan have freshened up the Cube in Japan with some new interior decor options – perhaps we could get some sent over for your car? The site is mostly Japanese but easy enough to navigate & see the photos:

    As for a replacement, maybe the Teatro for Dayz concept offers some hints where Nissan is going with its cuboid compact cars? Here it is hiding behind a CEO in a shiny suit

    1. Not being a club sort of person, I’ve never got used to thinking of myself as a ‘Citroenist’ and I’ve found it even harder to accept that I might be considered a ‘Cubist’ (yes they… I mean we, do call them …. I mean ourselves that).

      Actually I would rather prefer a variant of that chiselled off window look to the excessive curves of my model.

      As for the interiors, I’ve mentioned that the charcoal upholstery is a bit of a disappointment. The limited edition option was a beigey crushed velour which would have been a bit too redolent of the 70s for me (I lived through them – nostalgia is only for people who weren’t actually there). So I would like something a bit zingier. Unfortunately, not being a Japanese speaker like you Mark, the website won’t seem to open for me.

      Or maybe I could just buy some damask throws.

    2. I accessed it by other means.

      Needless to say, my social world has become far more fun-oriented since I accepted Cubosity into my life.

      This interior is a bit better than mine

      The crushed velour I described above is actually darker than beige and is called, rather un-funkily, Lounge Brown. Also on offer is Vintage Camel or Rorbu (a bit tartany). Here’s a range.

      Thank you Mark.

    3. Why do we never get stuff like this in Europe? Are we that much more conservative than the Japanese?

      I’ll have that caramel colour with the white piping, please.

    4. I believe that is ‘Vintage Camel’ (not Caramel). I really do think that we take our cars too seriously in Europe. I mean all those samey, wedgy hatchbacks, finished in a few dull colours outside, grey cloth inside, looking so purposeful yet, with their low roofs, narrow windows and small hatches, they actually are far less practical than my novelty car. Apart from anonymity (which does have its benefits) what do they really offer?

    5. “my social world has become far more fun-oriented ”
      …looks like the Citroen DNA roots deep within you.

    6. Camel sounds good, too (and less sticky).

      Yes, cars are a serious matter here. I always forget that it’s all about resale value.

  2. Those crushed velour seats are marvellous, you should source some from Japan. I am also intrigued about the Cube’s potential inter-compatibility with items from the RenaultSport Clio parts catalogue…

    1. ‘My’ seats are the grey ones below – contrasted with the ones from my Audi to show the great sacrifice I’ve made in the name of Cubism. They are a disappointment, though I’m not sure if I could countenance the brown velour.

      Very possibly there’s be the chance of creating a RenaultSport Cubio, otherwise I guess that there are the bits from the Nismo Juke. It is tempting.

  3. Simon: yes, resale value. Dreary, dreary, dreary. And society is richer than ever. And yet people fuss over a few hundred euros.
    Where do they get this idea from that bright colours are bad? Well, in the latest car magazine I read there were three separate comments on colors. About a brown car: “lucky it´s not standard”; about a green car “looks like Shrek” And about a red metallic car “nobody opts for this and we only chose it to get good photos”. For flip´s sake, the colours are optional. Why do they comment on options? They confuse their role as commentators on fixed design choices with commenatators on non-fixed design options. I am speechless. Are they actually saying it is objectively wrong to have fun colours? It looks like they are.

    1. I draw your attention to my generalisation in the piece above that, as a breed, contemporary motoring journalists are depressingly conservative. Of course you can point out that’s no more or less than most people. Among most journalistic niches you’ll usually find the odd crusading spirit, yet not in the magazines that deal with modern day cars. Maybe they just tell their readers what they think they want to hear.

  4. What’s notable to me is that the rather attractive seat colour and material variations are a little let down by a lack of coordination with the dashboard and door moulding plastics. It seems that these must remain grey, whereas a nice sky or baby blue, butterscotch, etc. would look great

    1. Actually, although the dash in the photo of the ca(ra)mel coloured seats looks light grey, from other photos I’ve seen I think it might be a more friendly rich creamy colour in reality. Mine however is dull grey. Possibly the Cube’s problem in Europe was that, outside, it was too funky for the mainstream and, inside, too mainstream for the funky. It still remains a pleasing environment to be in though.

  5. I regard the Cube as an affront to my eyes. Here only leading edge hairdressers and other cocksure purveyors of strange fashion could be found to purchase these strange creations. Surely Nature favours symmetry generally for perfectly valid reasons. Nissan also introduced us to the Froggy 2, Return of the Terminally Ill, known as the complete Juke.

    Their latest Maxima and Murano typify the Bordello theme of automotive wretchedness, down to plumped up over the top interiors that would make a grown lad blush, were it not for other Japanese attempts at styling from Toyota/Lexus that make the nightmarish commonplace.

    1. Bill. I notice you commented last month, but a belated welcome to DTW, and thank you for your nice words about the site elsewhere. As for your comments here, what can I say? Only last week, I saw a woman looking at me as I sat in traffic in the Cube. Until now I had assumed she was thinking “now there’s a man who’s secure in his identity – a proper man who doesn’t seek to camouflage his insecurity with the faux-macho trappings of a bespoilered BMW or a bloated SUV – I wish I knew a man like that”. Thanks to you, I now realise she was thinking “Ooooh, I wonder how much he’d charge to colour my roots – not too much if he drives around in that little thing”.

      Nevertheless, I shall persist in my crusade. I can’t pretend that the Cube is my favourite ugly ducking of all time, that would be the Fiat Multipla, but I don’t think it’s right to lump it in with the Juke, a car which has no logical upside to its wilful styling. Incidentally, if you are in The States, maybe you can help me source a few litres of Candyapple Cerise so that I can finish the Cube in the colour it (and I) deserve.

    2. Forthright views, clearly expressed – and we welcome that. An argument for the Cube is that it’s coherently designed according to a small set of rules. If all cars were to shun variations from norms like symmetry the world would be a bit duller. I’d rather the Cube than another Carina E, which is what you get if you run too far from unusual or striking shapes. I don’t think hairdressers will be this car’s main market. It’s more likely to be people intersted in standing apart from conventions. Purchase is voluntary, remember.
      I’m the resident Juke supporter here and, I think, in the minority. It’s harmless, fun design and has been successfully accepted in the market. From a commercial point of view it deserves some respect. Even if it had bombed I still like its humorous personality which offers an alternative to Mini’s retro style and VW’s cool demeanour.

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