Third Look: Nissan Cube Versus The Traditional Hatchback

By Brandon Turkus

July 09, 2010

The traditional hatchback, the vehicle of choice for poor college students and career pragmatists, is evolving. Although traditional hatches are still widely available, this new breed of hatches boasts funky looks and unique tech-laden interiors to lure customers in. Why should you buy one though? What advantages do these boxes have over traditional hatchbacks? We had a Nissan Cube SL for a week to find out.

Style is something that this segment of box-cars has in spades. Look at our Cube from almost any angle, and some dramatic element is likely to catch your eye. From the wraparound rear window, to the rear bumper that juts out, to the ridiculous front air dam, the Cube screams, “look at me!” especially in the Scarlet Red (it’s pink) paint of our tester. Climbing inside, the theme is waves. Look at the headliner and a series of concentric circles spreads out, the same design element can be seen at the bottom of the cup holders. A curving dash, adjustable ambient lighting, and squishy, sofa-like seats complete the unique interior. The Cube is as much a lifestyle statement as an Aston Martin, really, albeit of a different tone (and budget).

What about the practical side of things? This is a tall, short-wheelbase vehicle. Open the back hatch, and the “trunk” dips down, and then rises back up at the seats, presenting a useful cargo area with the seats up. With the seats folded down, this useful space becomes awkward, with a fulcrum effect being created by the rear seats. Even so, the Cube offers seven more cubic feet of cargo space with its back seats folded down, as opposed to its platform mate, the more traditional Nissan Versa hatchback.

A big difference between a normal hatchback and the Cube is the seating position. The Cube’s driver sits higher than does the Versa’s, for instance, leading to better visibility. Unfortunately, those near vertical windows cause awful reflections in a lot of driving situations, which can be distracting if you are not used to it.

Considering that the Cube is shaped like an enormous brick on wheels, the aerodynamics are less than stellar (coefficient of drag is 0.35 compared to the Versa’s 0.31), which is bad for fuel economy. Weight is also an issue when it comes to fuel economy. Besides the aerodynamic disadvantage, the Cube has an extra 100 pounds of body fat to carry around, compared to the Versa. The bottom line is the Versa can get 28 miles per gallon around town and 34 miles per gallon on the highway. The Cube can only manage 27 and 31 mpg, respectively.

Cars like the Cube aren’t going to replace the traditional hatchback any time soon, but they do offer a measure more utility along with a completely different style.