Pros: Spacious; maneuverable; easygoing ride; hip and stylish; nice roster of standard features

Cons: Some interior plastics feel cheap; questionably appliance-like styling; not very spirited or nimble; noticeable road and wind noise

The very square Nissan Cube had been running around Japan for about a decade before hitting U.S. shores, and it it didn't take long for it to catch on here. That's thanks, in particular, to young, hip urbanites looking to make a unique statement and simultaneously cart around a bunch of their friends to a concert, a club or a late-night eatery. Whatever the misadventure, the citified Cube always seems up for a good time.

This four-door hatchback's most notable characteristic is its love-it-or-hate-it styling. Its boxlike shape is spearheaded by an expressionless front end and a strangely asymmetrical rear view defined by a wraparound back window. The Cube's large swing-out rear door also adds to the car's versatility and overall design. The Cube's slab-sided, appliance-like design is definitely not for everyone.

Styling aside, the Cube also has the right footprint to tool around narrow city streets without hangups. Its concise measurements make tight parking spaces less of a challenge. But despite its smallish exterior, the Cube's geometric competency allows for a remarkably spacious interior with plenty of passenger and cargo room.

For 2012, a new technology package for the S trim includes navigation, a rear-view camera, an upgraded Rockford Fosgate stereo and Nissan Intelligent Key.

Offering style and guile, the 2012 Nissan Cube is a viable choice for buyers with a brave sense of style coupled with the need for practicality.

Comfort & Utility

The Cube has one of the most unique five-passenger interiors we've ever seen. Aside from being practical and laden with features, it is highly stylized, with unusual elements such as a dash-top circular swatch of shag carpeting and a rippled headliner that mimics the effect of a pebble dropped in water. Compelling textures, circular design elements and specialized mood lighting in various hues add to the effect of a designer's playground.

The gauges and controls are easy to read and operate. Artful simplicity is the overall theme.

The front seats are comfortable, well padded and well positioned. The spacious rear seats offer a recline-and-slide feature to accommodate passengers of varying heights. Also, both rows offer an abundance of head- and legroom, thanks to the Cube's space-efficient cubic design.

The Cube's interior shape also pays off in cargo room. With the rear seat folded down, this wagonlike car offers more than 50 cubic feet of space, close to that of some compact crossovers. That's enough to haul a very respectable amount of luggage or gear.

The Cube is available in three trim levels: base, S and SL. The former range-topping Krom model has been eliminated. Standard convenience equipment for the base model includes air conditioning, power windows and mirrors and a two-speaker stereo system. The S adds cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker stereo. The top SL model adds automatic climate control and an option package with some technology content.

Technology

The Cube doesn't have as many advanced electronic features as some of its competitors. Optional amenities include push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera and touchscreen navigation with real-time traffic information. All of these features are included with the optional Preferred package, and none are on the base model.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive 2012 Nissan Cube is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 122 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. This unit is managed by either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

The engine offers a smooth, steady power delivery, especially when paired with the CVT. This transmission also helps optimize engine output and fuel efficiency. The only drawback is the engine's tendency to sound labored at higher rpm.

Fuel economy is 27 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the CVT and 25/30 mpg with the manual.

Safety

Standard safety features for the Cube include ABS, traction control, stability control, active front head restraints and six airbags: front, side and head curtain.

The 2012 Cube earned four out of five stars in crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Driving Impressions

The Cube was made for city driving. It's quick and accelerates adequately from the line, making it ideal for the stop and go of urban driving. The Cube is highly maneuverable in tight parking lots and narrow streets, with a small footprint and a tight turning radius.

At higher speeds, the Cube exhibits noticeable wind and road noise. Although its ride is for the most part comfortable, the Cube is not a very able handler. Its high center of gravity results in considerable body lean in corners. The Cube also suffers from light steering and a softly sprung suspension. Agility and nimbleness are not among its strong suits.  

Other Cars to Consider

Scion xB - Both the xB and the Cube are stylish approaches to small practical transportation. The Cube has more passenger and cargo space, while the xB offers premium high-tech audio features and a more responsive engine. 

Kia Soul - Like the Cube, the Soul is known for its hip and funky styling. Both cars benefit from an abundance of available features and ample passenger room. Both also suffer from a noisy ride. The Soul wins when it comes to cargo capacity.

Honda Fit - The Fit offers a much sportier drive, emphasizing nimbleness and precise steering. Its exterior styling is also more aerodynamic than the Cube, helping it achieve better fuel economy. The Fit's interior is more modern, with a wider array of standard and optional features. However, the Cube has more passenger and cargo space. It also enjoys a softer, more compliant ride.

AutoTrader Recommends

We prefer the range-topping Cube SL now that the top-level Krom is no longer offered. This model offers an abundance of practical and upscale features, but still remains affordable. You'll want to add the Preferred package, which adds useful features including push-button start, navigation, a backup camera and a USB interface. We also strongly recommend going with the CVT transmission. It's better for both performance and fuel economy.

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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