Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review

Published:19 February 2010

Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
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  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

It’s taken three generations, but Nissan’s funky Cube has finally made it Europe through official channels. But is it a case of style over substance?

Hmm, this latest Nissan Cube looks slightly less, well, square.

Yes, some of the earlier car’s styling edge has gone, in both senses, but it’s still a striking looking car and stands out a mile in a car park full of boring old Polos. Let’s be clear though, while it looks radical, there’s nothing spectacular about its engineering and there's just a torsion beam under the boot floor.

In fact, beneath the squareness lies the same platform used for the Micra, Note mini MPV and Renualt Clio. Last time round there was also a seven-seat Cubic version, but there are no plans to make a long wheelbase Cube this time, and not just because Nissan Parallelapiped doesn’t sound quite so cool. The Cube is actually fractionally smaller than the Note, giving away 120mm in length and 70mm in wheelbase, but standing 120mm taller.

It’s a small urban Japanese car so presumably there’s a 49cc turbocharged engine under the bonnet and a CVT box that whines like a speared whale.

The engine is actually a sensible 1.6 four-pot that puts out 108bhp and 113lb ft of torque. Not startling, but enough to move the 1265kg Cube around town at a reasonable pace: 0-62mph takes 11.3sec.

But you’re right, there’s a CVT available (a £1200 option) for the full Japanese experience and that’s the tranny we’d go for. Base cars though, get a five-speed manual gearbox. And from summer 2010 things will get even less Japanese when the Qashqai’s 1.5 dCi arrives, but available only with a six-speed manual ’box. It’ll be punchy and parsimonious, but the CVT petrol does 40mpg and suits the Cube’s character.

So you’re saying this is a car to cruise not to cane?

Right. The Cube is fun to drive but all of that enjoyment is derived from its styling, inside and out. The steering is more communicative than before, the brakes (now discs at both ends) more powerful and it handles competently. But the engine feels stretched taken out of its urban comfort zone and the high sides result in plenty of body roll. Not fun in a hot hatch, or even Mini, sense. So ratchet down the pace and soak up the stares of passers-by and marvel at the cool interior details instead. Stuck in city traffic, often stationary and always driven within its limits, the Cube is much more fun than most small cars.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Nissan Cube first drive

What’s it like inside?

Suitably minimalist. We’re not talking rubber carpets and sliding windows, but the cabin is functional rather than opulent. It’s not as roomy as the boxy styling suggests it ought to be though. Rear seat space is only average, and while it can be increased by sliding the rear bench backwards, this eats up valuable luggage room.

Disappointingly, the old car’s bench seat and column gearchange layout has given way to more conventional and much less sociable two seats and a console. One design touch that has stayed is the single side-opening rear door. It looks great but you do need plenty of space to pull it right open.

What are the rivals?

Tricky one. On the one hand you’ve got conventional superminis like the Fiesta and sensible mini MPVs like the Kia Venga, Vauxhall Meriva and the car the Cube is based on, the Nissan Note. Then there’s the cooler stuff, the Kia Soul, Citroen C3 Picasso and Skoda Roomster. Or for the real wheeled hair shirts, the Citroen Berlingo and Fiat Doblo. And don’t discount the likelihood that quite a few would-be Mini owners will be seduced by the Cube’s car-of-the-moment feel. For a car that might seem incredibly niche, the Cube actually has really broad appeal.

And the damage?

Serious, if you’ve been looking at the Kia Soul, which starts at £11,495, albeit with a pretty slim equipment list. The basic Cube costs £14,600 and gets 16-inch alloys, cruise control, Bluetooth, air con and a fixed glass sunroof. Cube Kaizen adds climate control, and auto wipers for a £500 premium.

Verdict

Some of the real alien charm has gone but Cube 3 is still a genuine character and a perfect reminder that shallow pockets needn’t restrict you to driving boring cars. It looks good, drives well enough and, above all, stands out from the crowd. You’ll pay for that fame though, and don’t lose sight of the fact that that the Cube is radical in style only.

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Specs

Price when new: £15,100
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1598cc 16v 4cyl, 109bhp @ 6000rpm, 113lb ft @ 4400rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 11.3sec 0-62mph, 109mph, 43mpg, 151g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1246kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3980/1695/1670

Rivals

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  • Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review
  • Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review
  • Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review
  • Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review
  • Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review
  • Nissan Cube 1.6 Kaizen (2010) review
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