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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
That traditionally oddball look and an uncanny maneuverability in tight spaces, as well as chart-topping safety scores, an economical 4-cylinder powerplant with a well-wrought continuously variable transmission, loads of passenger room and a decently smooth ride, combine to keep Nissan’s 2012 Cube distinctive and distinguished.The Bad
That traditionally oddball look, as well as a dearth of rear seatback cargo space, some hefty road and wind noise, knee-challenging second-row seats and some comparatively tepid mileage numbers, conspire to keep a number of tire kickers from even considering the uniquely quirky little Cube wagon.
The CarGurus View
A noise-laden cabin, cramped rear seating, insipid handling prowess and a funny-looking profile doubtless disappoint uncounted numbers of new-car shoppers. But Nissan’s 2012 Cube offers plenty of attributes as well and should not be discounted out of hand. Those for whom this pint-size wagon has a head-turning appeal will discover just how much this funky family car has to offer.
At a Glance
What’s black and white and weird all over? Well, of course, it’s the 2012 Nissan Cube. Actually, this notably non-traditional little 5-passenger wagon can be delivered in Sapphire Black or Pearl White or a number of other colors, but it’s still kind of weird looking… comparatively speaking. And therein lies its appeal—or its downfall.
Face it, this boxy 5-door compact wagon isn’t for the driver who wants to blend in with the Euro-styled crowd. It does, however, offer a ton of value, not to mention 58.1 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seats folded and some serious front-seat passenger room. Then again, though its rear-seat headroom will handle a couple of 6-footers, legroom gets gobbled up in a hurry when the front seats are adjusted rearward. Altogether, though, this odd-looking little wagon sends a message that, yeah, you’re different, but you’re also practical, value-minded and in no particular hurry to get where you’re going.
Available in four trims, the entry-level 1.8, the 1.8 S, the flagship 1.8 SL and a special-edition 1.8 S Indigo Edition, the Cube is offered only with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder powerplant and only in front-wheel-drive (FWD) configuration. A perky manual transmission is standard in the 1.8 and 1.8 S trims, with the SL boasting a well-matched continuously variable transmission (CVT) that saves on both added motion and gas.
Some small changes distinguish the 2012 Cube from its 2009 debut variation. A front passenger-seat armrest has been added to the standard equipment list in the S and SL trims, while the Limited Edition Indigo Package adds some top-shelf features to the midlevel S trim. Finally, for this year, the high-end SL gets standard keyless entry and ignition.
Both Scion’s xB and Kia’s Soul wagons offer similar styling quirks (or stimulus, if you will), with both also boasting more cargo room and the Soul adding better mileage numbers. For a bit more traditional look with similar dimensions, check out Chevrolet’s sporty Sonic, Honda’s versatile Fit, or Nissan’s own Versa. For those who take the (styling) road less traveled, however, the Cube is a solid choice in an economical, practical and unique compact family automobile.
Again, a variable-valve-timed 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) powerplant puts out some 122 hp at 5,200 rpm. In the 1.8 and and 1.8 S versions, a 6-speed manual transmission allows 127 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm, with the SL’s standard CVT touting the same performance numbers. The S version can also be fitted with the CVT as an option. Mileage-wise, however, the CVT flaunts 27 mpg city/31 highway, while the 6-speed stick shift can boast a somewhat less heady 25/30.
Though acceleration isn’t exactly neck-snapping, tests found the CVT-equipped Cube scooting from 0-60 in a fairly commendable 9.7 seconds. But, really, does anyone have to get to the office or the mall or grandma’s house in that much of a hurry?
Reviewers are mightily impressed with the CVT, noting that it jumps a bit quicker from a stop than do those trims toting the stick shift. Which isn’t to say that the stick-shift is any kind of slouch, lauded as it is in most reviews for a smooth throw and relaxed clutch. Mileage, on the other hand, is not as pleasing as many reviewers think it could be. Engine noise is a bit disconcerting on hard acceleration, and reviewers concede that it may quiet a bit at highway speeds, but the unconscionably boisterous road and wind noise from this refrigerator box on wheels makes it hard to tell.
Ride & Handling
Boasting a front independent suspension with MacPherson front struts, complemented by a torsion bar rear end and stabilizer bars fore and aft, the 2012 Cube has few aspirations as a limo. Around town, this touring-oriented suspension will provide a back-easing competence to ride comfort, unless pavement imperfections get beyond the norm, in which case bump absorption disappears rapidly. The 15-inch steel wheels common to the base 1.8 and 1.8 S versions seem no better or worse, ride-wise, than do the 16-inch alloy wheels common to the 1.8 SL trim. Of course, all-season tires are standard with either wheel size.
A number of reviews concede that, though sprung more for comfort than sport, the Cube offers a pleasant blend of comfort and handling, citing its precise steering and small-box size for a special talent for dealing with tight spaces and downtown traffic. There are those reviews, however, that feel the steering to be a bit too family-friendly on the highway and in fast corners.
Brakes, finally, are described by a number of reviewers as strong and true, with no noticeable pedal glitches.
Cabin & Comfort
Not precisely over-endowed with princely standard amenities—or optional ones, either—the 2012 Cube lineup offers at least a modicum of expected creature comforts and appearance goodies. And, for 2012, Nissan has finally added a front passenger-side armrest to the S and SL trims, a development hailed out of all proportion to its actual worth by a slew of reviewers.
In any case, the base Cube 1.8, still without the front armrest, nevertheless sports cloth upholstery, front bucket seats with driver’s side height adjustment, reclining rear seats, simulated alloy dashboard trim, remote power door locks, power-adjustable outside mirrors and power windows, for starters. Then there are such touches as air conditioning, tilt-wheel steering and a single-CD player with a pair of speakers and auxiliary MP3 input.
The midlevel Cube 1.8 S adds premium cloth upholstery, a leather and simulated alloy steering wheel mounting audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth hands-free communications, and an MP3-capable CD player with 6 speakers and auxiliary iPod integration. Finally, the top-shelf 1.8 SL trim kicks in auto climate control, dusk-sensing headlights and, new for 2012, standard keyless entry and ignition.
All trims are eligible for the available Interior Design Package, which boasts carpeted floor mats, splash guards and a unique shag dashboard top, while the 1.8 S adds an optional Sport Package with a number of appearance upgrades, as well as front and rear spoilers, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels and upgraded under-body protection. Also available to the midlevel S trim are the self-explanatory Interior Illumination and Exterior Accent packages, as well as an Aerodynamic Kit that adds a rear under-body spoiler to the Sport Package’s rear and chin spoiler combination.
New for this year’s CVT-equipped Cube 1.8 S trim is the Indigo Limited Edition Package boasting indigo cloth upholstery, push-button ignition, a navigation suite with 5-inch touchscreen, a 6-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium audio system, a rear-view camera, upgraded 15-inch alloy wheels and a USB port.
The 1.8 SL goes above and beyond in offering the available SL Preferred Package that flaunts the 1.8 S trim’s Indigo Limited Edition Package items, along with front fog/driving lights. Also available to the SL are a pair of upgraded 16-inch alloy wheel styles.
Reviewers give the Cube high marks for the simplicity and location of most controls, for having large, easy-to-read gauges and for its well-textured interior trim. Cushy seats and a generous helping of standard features in the higher trims, not to mention the available shag-top wraparound dashboard, keep reviewers enchanted with the possibilities of customizing this oddly appealing wagon from the realm of the merely quirky into the truly bizarre.
Too many hard plastic surfaces, however, and some chintzy interior materials, no matter how well disguised, compel many reviewers to note that this little Nissan wagon will not be mistaken for a luxury car. Cargo room behind the rear seats also dismays reviewers, and visibility, though decent enough side to side, is compromised in the rear by a pair of oversize rear-seat headrests.
Despite its paranormal profile, the 2012 Cube once again reflects a reputation as one of the safer wagons on the road. Four-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist are complemented by traction and stability control, with front and rear head airbags and dual front side-mounted airbags bolstered by front head restraint whiplash protection. A standard remote antitheft alarm comes with all trims, while the SL is delivered with dusk-sensing headlights. Finally, the flagship 1.8 SL remains eligible for available front fog/driving lights that come with the SL Preferred Package.
Only the Cube’s rollover protection has been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), for which it receives the Administration’s second-best 4-star rating.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meantime, gives this Nissan wagon its Top Safety Pick award for 2012 based on its chart-topping scores of Good in all testing criteria.
What Owners Think
It’s no secret that the 2012 Cube’s unique profile prevents more than a few car shoppers from even considering this nifty pint-size wagon, but for those who take the styling plunge, a few more prosaic glitches unfortunately rear their ugly heads. The distressing road and wind noise, especially at highway speeds, is a definite turn-off for many owners, while the cramped rear-seat legroom and the continued lack of a front passenger-side armrest on the base 1.8 trim also remains a thorn in the side of a few owners. Those not-quite-flat-folding rear seats, meantime, are noted by several owners to detract significantly from the Cube’s cargo toting abilities.
Of course, the outside-the-box profile that defines Nissan’s weirdly appealing wagon offers an irresistible come-hither appeal for most owners of this compact people-hauler. An economical four-banger, meantime, as well as some off-the-wall interior design touches, spiffy safety scores and plenty of value, not to mention some hefty front seat room, all do their part to keep Cube owners profitably happy.
by Eric Tallberg
Talk about the 2012 Nissan Cube
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