Friday, September 3, 2010

Nissan's Cube makes it hip to be square

Sacramento, California – When Huey Lewis and the News recorded “Hip to Be Square” back in 1986, they must have been foreshadowing the Nissan cube.

Or at least Nissan would like to have you believe that, using Huey’s very own language in their promotional materials.

It makes sense, of course. Every now and then, an automaker comes out with a vehicle so over-the-top in design -- and promotes its utility -- that its funky looks are touted as a positive fashion statement.

This worked for the Honda Element. This worked for the Scion xB. It did not work out so well for the 2001 Pontiac Aztek, a midsize crossover that was laughed out of existence a mere four years after its introduction.

Let me confess right now that I test drove one of the first Azteks and liked it. I thought it was functional and funky, just as it was marketed to be.

But here’s where the line gets real thin. It seems like auto-reviewing colleagues and even a fair segment of motorists wait for awhile and hold their fingers up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing whenever one of these different-looking vehicles is introduced. If the wind is blowing favorably, everybody jumps on board. If not, everyone throws rocks at it.

Happily for Nissan, the cube has gained acceptance. And yes, cube is not capitalized by Nissan, apparently adding to its fashion-setting, mysterious qualities.

My tester was the 2010 1.8 S Krom, the most expensive of four trim levels starting at $20,120. You can get a base model for around 14-grand.

Right away, I thought the Krom was a little pricey, until I started adding up the standard features. Safety and comfort/convenient perks are plentiful, and the interior cabin seems positively cavernous. Five passengers going into the four doors have ample room to spread out.

Likewise, the single-hinged door in the back is a hoot, and it yawns open wide enough to take in bulky packages. Nice.

The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine will not blow your socks off with 122 horses, but it actually performed a little better than I expected in dicey freeway traffic. The advertised fuel mileage ratings of 27 miles per gallon in town and 31 mpg on the highway fell slightly short of what I was getting.

The Krom is stylish for what the cube is, but I struggled to compare it with something. Turns out that a fellow auto reviewer hit on it for me. My cube wore an all-white paint job, making it look very much like a washing machine. Now, don’t groan. Owners of the popular Scion xB have long called it a rolling toaster, their chests swelling with pride.

Still, the cube’s boxy design has some drawbacks – not cutting through the air smoothly being one of them. Exterior wind blasting into the windshield is easily heard in the cockpit when traveling at high speed. That’s the trade-off when you tout funky, functional and fun in your product.

There are some things about the cube I never figured out. Tops on the list is the “shag dash topper” – essentially a circular, dinner plate-size piece of black-and-gray shag carpeting centered atop the dashboard. Don’t ask me; I haven’t a clue.

The cube package does draw attention. Parking the cube in a grocery store lot makes you as popular as Sarah Palin at a Tea Party rally. Everybody wants a look. Folks want to know about the shag carpet, which is my cue to run inside and check the vegetable aisle.

Hats off to Nissan for having some fun. Maybe this cube is your cup of tea. It certainly grew on me over time, and I’m not exactly what you’d call the hip type.

1 comment:

  1. The advantages of 27 mileage in town isn't bad for this Nissan Cube. I was just looking for this type of fuel capability Nissan. Its price is also obviously satisfied and affordable to buy.
    Thanks for informing us about it.