My Nissan Cube Experience
or, "My Week in a Weird Looking Little Car"
Late in the Summer of 2011, my aging Jeep Grand Cherokee finally breathed its last. It had served me well over the course of eight years, and had almost 135,000 miles on it at its time of death (a moment of silence, please...). There's never a good time for your vehicle to give up on you, of course, but the timing in this instance was particularly bad -- a new work week was dawning with little to no time to go car hunting, plus my kids were about to start school again, so my wife needed to have her vehicle during the day. In order to buy some extra time till a more permanent solution could be found, it was necessary for me to rent a car for a week to get back and forth to work. I explained my situation to the nice folks at Enterprise Car Rental and emphasized that I didn't need anything big and fancy, just something that I could use for a week's worth of commuting. Out of the cars they had available on the lot, they suggested the 2011 Nissan Cube. Not being much of a "car guy," I had never even heard of the Cube, and I have to admit that at first I stifled a chuckle when the rental agent took me out into the lot to show it to me. At first glance, the Nissan Cube looked like the kind of car a sorority girl would use to take her friends to the beach. Unfortunately, I'm not a sorority girl, I'm a middle aged father of two. "Good Lord, I'm gonna look ridiculous driving this thing," I thought. However, my kids thought the Cube was cool, and it was the least expensive option on the rental lot, so I told them I'd take it as long as I could fit into the driver's seat (I'm 6-foot-6). When I climbed into the Cube, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to fit inside with reasonable comfort so I told the Enterprise man "I'll take it," and thus began my Week with The Cube. Keeping in mind that I am not an automotive expert or a "gearhead," I'm going to try and give you a somewhat thorough overview of my experience driving this vehicle.
The good news: if you're the type of person who chooses a vehicle based on how quirky or unusual it is, then your ship has definitely come in. The Cube is certainly the oddest looking car I've ever driven. I've read some reviews of the Cube online where its paradoxically boxy-yet-rounded shape has been described as "a refrigerator on wheels" or "a car that looks like it's made out of Play-Doh," both of which seem to sum it up pretty well. The Cube is so goofy looking that it borders on cute, as if it drove straight out of a Japanese comic strip. If the Pixar Studios crew had put an animated Cube character in their "Cars" films, they probably could've sold a million plush-toy versions of it to little girls. One thing I immediately learned is that driving a Cube gets you noticed. Cubes were apparently not very common in my area, because I was aware of people giving it, and me, strange looks every time I stopped at a red light or parked it in a lot. I hoped that they were wondering, "What the heck kind of car is that?" rather than "Why is that big burly dude driving that girlie little car?" I soon began playing regular doses of Slayer and Black Sabbath at lethal volume levels on the stereo every time I drove in an attempt to counter-act its un-coolness, but I'm not sure if it had any effect.
The interior of the Cube was surprisingly roomy. I was able to fit my 6-foot-6 frame into the driver's seat with no problems, and my two sons (who were ages 4 and 9 at the time) settled into the back seat with plenty of room to spare. I estimate that you would be able to comfortably carry up to five full grown adults in a Cube. The rear storage compartment was spacious enough to stack several suitcases or medium size boxes, making this an ideal vehicle for a dorm bound college student's Back-To-School travel.
One feature that I never figured out is the completely out of place, seemingly random circle of greyish shag carpeting (?) that was attached to the center of the dashboard by a strip of Velcro. Why was it there? What purpose could it possibly serve? At first I thought it might be intended as a pad to keep your cell phone, iPod or other device in place while you're driving, but after I rounded a turn and my phone went skidding across the dash while testing that theory, I wasn't quite so sure anymore. I scanned several message boards devoted to The Cube trying to figure out what this "rug" was for, and though I didn't find any definitive answers, I learned that many Cube owners love the Rug and have come up with a variety of nicknames for it. My favorite was "Cubic Hair."
Another odd feature of the interior (which I didn't even notice till one of my kids pointed it out to me) was the ceiling, which sports a "ripple" pattern surrounding the dome light in the center. It looks as if someone dropped a pebble into a pond, and I suppose it's intended to give the driver a Zen-like sense of inner peace while they're driving. Between that and the shag rug circle, I was beginning to feel like I was driving a mobile version of Austin Powers' swingin' pad.
If you're a thirsty sort of traveler, the Cube has you covered. There were an unusually large amount of drink/cup holders in the Cube -- two right next to each other on the driver's side dashboard (a large one for coffee cups and Big Gulp sized drinks, plus a smaller one that would fit a water bottle), three in the center console, and two more for the rear seat passengers. If you were to keep a drink in every beverage holder in this vehicle, you'd never get to your destination because you'd be stopping to pee every five miles.
The Driving Experience...
The Nissan Cube turned out to be a fun vehicle to drive. Its small size was ideal for getting in and out of tight parking spaces, and its on-the-road performance was satisfactory. Even though it had been a while since I drove a vehicle that only had front-wheel drive (as opposed to the 4x4 Jeep that I was used to), it handled fine on the highway though it could've probably used a little more "pep" for going up steep hills. The Cube was much lower to the ground than my previous vehicle, however, which made me very conscious of every dip and pothole in the road and also made me wonder how well this car would handle in the snow. Fortunately it was only early September so I didn't have to find out. (I did drive it in heavy rain, however, and had no problems other than the sound of the raindrops drumming on the roof drowning out the stereo.) If I had to take a wild guess, I'd imagine that the Cube might have trouble navigating through any snow deeper than a few inches. That's something prospective buyers might keep in mind if they live in the often-frosty Northeast like I do.
Driving the Nissan Cube for a week was an interesting experience. It was not the sort of vehicle that I would've considered buying (its style is a bit too "new wave" for an old goat like me) but the chance to "borrow" one was a unique opportunity. Considering that my initial response to the Cube was laughter, I had to admit that It handled reasonably well on the road and had an impressive amount of amenities (i.e. a decent stereo, lots of drink holders, power outlets, hookups for your iPod and Bluetooth, etc.) especially since I understand it's a relatively affordable vehicle. Young people looking for their first reasonably priced "new" car or anyone looking for a ride that's slightly out of the ordinary might want to give the Nissan Cube a look.
Requiem For the Cube - October 2015
** UPDATE, 10/27/15 ** - I was reminded of my Nissan Cube experience during this morning's commute, when I found myself driving behind one on the highway. This sighting made me realize that I hadn't encountered a Cube "in the wild" for a while and I wondered why that might be. I did a bit of Googling when I reached my destination and was surprised to learn that Nissan discontinued the Cube model in North America at the end of 2014 due to poor sales. Therefore, at the moment the only place the Cube remains available is in Nissan's homeland of Japan. I was actually somewhat sorry to hear that, as I'd had a lot of fun driving one in 2011. If anyone is still considering buying a Cube on the used/second-hand market, my recommendations and opinions in the above article still stand. Good luck and happy motoring.