2009 Nissan Cube SL
2009 Nissan Cube SL. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Nissan Cube

Ottawa, Ontario – The auto industry has seen some awfully innovative designs over the past century. The curved-dash Oldsmobile and Ford Model T were notable for their simplicity, while the classy Chrysler Airflow is famous for its streamlined, art-deco look. And then, along comes the Nissan Cube, which looks like a rolling tribute to Pikachu and his animated Pokemon buddies.

But that’s okay, because different is good, right? Well, it can be, and in many ways, the Cube is good. Whether it’s good enough to earn a place in your driveway depends on more than how it looks sitting there, though.

2009 Nissan Cube SL
2009 Nissan Cube SL. Click image to enlarge

The Cube that went on sale earlier this year as a 2009 model is actually the third generation of a car that’s been on sale in Japan since 1998. This latest version is an evolution of the second-generation design introduced in 2001. (Note that at as of publication, Nissan had not yet announced pricing for the 2010 Cube.)

Like many globally-available cars, the Cube is offered with a number of different powertrains, depending on where you’re buying it. Here, Nissan sells it with just one engine, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder shared with the Versa, paired with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT).

On one hand, this 122-horsepower (torque is rated at 127 lb-ft) engine feels stronger than I remember it being in a Versa I drove a couple of years ago. That long span of time could also be affecting my recollection of the motor’s throttle response, which also feels jumpier than I recall. Either way, the throttle’s not so abrupt that the car can’t be driven smoothly; the Cube moves away from stops smartly, and pulls strongly enough at highway passing speeds.

2009 Nissan Cube SL
2009 Nissan Cube SL. Click image to enlarge

With the CVT, the Cube’s fuel consumption ratings are 7.3/6.6 L/100 km (city/highway); I averaged 7 L/100 km on a highway trip between Ottawa and Niagara on the Lake; the drive home, at slightly higher speeds and into a stiff headwind, netted an average of 7.6.

The brakes are a little grabby, in contrast to the light steering that makes this a pleasant car in around-town driving. The Cube handles surprisingly well, though the tall seating position makes the car feel tippier in turns than it is. The ride is firmer than I like in a car that’s not meant to be sporty, though.

If there’s anything I really don’t like about the Cube’s design, it’s the upright side glass. Unlike most cars, whose side windows taper in toward the roof, the Cube’s door glass is vertical. The plus is the roomy feeling it lends the cabin, but the downside, as I discovered on a night-time drive on Ontario’s busy Highway 401, is how the glass reflects the lights of passing cars in a way that doesn’t happen in any other car I’ve driven. If a vehicle passes you on the left, its lights are reflected on the inside of the passenger-side glass, which I found very distracting.

2009 Nissan Cube SL
2009 Nissan Cube SL. Click image to enlarge

The Cube’s upright dimensions also allow it to be tossed around in windy conditions, so keeping this car in one lane at high speeds can be tiring. Speaking of wind, it also makes an awful lot of noise as it passes around the Cube’s windshield, another knock against this car as a long-distance cruiser.

Seemingly in keeping with its mini-minivan-like profile, the Cube’s driving position is very upright, unlike the more laid-back seats in most cars. Whether you like this is subjective, of course, but less so is the fact that the Cube favours drivers with short legs and long arms, which can make it tough to get comfortable. The lack of a telescoping steering column (a notable omission in a top-trim model) compounds the problem.

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