Quick Drive: 2012 Nissan Cube 1.8S

By John Beltz Snyder

July 05, 2012

 —Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Nissan Cube isn’t a car one buys for flogging down your favorite back roads. It’s not very involving, nor very fast. Instead, it offers a unique physical space that is at once useful and interesting. Its distinctive boxy shape and asymmetrical exterior design might turn some customers off, but others are drawn to its useful shape and modern styling. This is definitely a car that feels (and looks) more at home on busy city streets than on a rural highway or canyon road. It resembles a small building given its unique structure, and it looks at home among the architecture of a cosmopolitan downtown.
The Cube sports a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine connected to either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission, our tester featuring the latter. The motor produces 122 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. It’s not enough to make the Cube feel even remotely quick, and it struggled to reach highway speed without running out of on-ramp. The upside to this low-power formula is that it conserves fuel, and the CVT-equipped Cube achieves 27 miles per gallon in the city, and 31 on the highway.
[Click here to read our review of the 2012 Scion iQ]
It is good to maneuver through city traffic. No, it doesn’t have the power to shoot ahead into spaces between cars the way a hot hatch might, but its speed sensitive steering is nicely precise at the moderate speeds of the city. The suspension is soft enough to soak up a lot of the bumps and holes in the road surface. At the same time, it doesn’t exhibit too much roll—nothing that’ll be evoking complaints from other passengers as you circle the block. It’s pretty easy to park, as it feels nice and short despite its interior volume. The doors are large, and getting in and out of the cube is no trouble at all.

Driven: 2012 Nissan Cube 1.8S

Sitting in the front seats, space is more than ample. The roof is high, leaving a lot of head clearance, even for taller drivers. There is a load of open space in front of the seats, thanks to the verticality of the windshield. The spacious rear seats also offer a good amount of head and shoulder room thanks to the Cube’s boxy shape. Behind the rear seats is an underwhelming 11.4 cubic feet of space, but with the rear seats down, that expands greatly, to 58.1 cubic feet of usable volume.
Perhaps not completely measurable though, is the way the volume of the Nissan’s interior feels, to both driver and passengers. We’ve been in the Cube more than a few times now, and have given plenty of rides, and yet we’re still struck by just how airy and open this cabin feels. More than a few of our friends commented that, even when they didn’t love the strong styling of the exterior, the interior of the car was almost good enough to make them want one.
The Nissan Cube is priced low. It starts at under $15,000 for the base version equipped with a manual transmission. That’s impressive until you start to look at the competition. The Kia Soul starts at $13,900, with similar power figures, but better highway gas mileage. It offers more space behind the second row, but can’t quite match the Cube’s maximum cargo volume, and doesn’t come close to the same level of dramatic “openness”. If you want more power, the Soul offers a 2.0-liter four-cylinder in its higher trim levels, with out sacrificing much in the way of fuel economy, starting at $16,300. The competition is stiff. If you look at one, be sure to check out the other, then choose the one that best fits your lifestyle.
2012 Nissan Cube 1.8S
Engine: Inline-4, 1.8 liters, 16v
Output: 122 hp/127 lb-ft
Weight: 2831 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 27/31 mpg
Base Price: $16,580
Price As Tested: $20,975