It may look like it has just escaped from the set of Postman Pat, but this could just be the future of car design. The Independent on Sunday last week became the first newspaper to get hold of the Nissan Cube, which will arrive in Britain in January after enjoying huge popularity in Japan.
The Cube is lauded by artists and designers, even though it is unlikely to find much favour with die-hard petrolheads like Jeremy Clarkson. According to Nissan it is "designed to feel like a spacious, modern lounge". Its detractors say it's for fashion victims only. One thing is certain: with its brick-like aerodynamics and top speed of 109mph it is definitely a Marmite – love it or hate it – of motoring.
Nissan plans to release 1,500 of the cars into the British market at around £14,000 each. The target market is a young, creative, urban crowd: the sort of people who love iPods, BlackBerrys and folding bicycles.
I've got a Mark I version of the Cube, and it reminded me of the Renault 4, which I worked on in my formative years as a designer. That Cube is "Jeep ugly", like a Zippo lighter, or a pair of Converse All Stars. The new one is more distinctive, and has a softness that balances its rectilinear quality. The ceiling "ripple" that pulls across the sunroof is lovely. And I really like the innovative touches, such as the stow cords on the door interiors.
I'm a petrolhead. My previous car was a Porsche 911, but if you sit behind the wheel of the Cube, you don't feel frustrated by the slow traffic. It's an effortless car to drive and own, and gives you an amazing sense of liberation. It's been incredibly well thought out. It's got a huge amount of room inside. It takes five very comfortably, with loads of headroom. Once you've moved the seats forward, it swallows an amazing amount of stuff. The seats fold down into a bed, which the kids love. The asymmetric rear door is beautiful, and gives the car real character.
It's a bit of a Marmite car. If people want a practical car focused on urban living, they'll like it. But people who aspire to sports cars, won't.
IoS art critic
First there was the Citroë*Picasso, now the Nissan Cube. This car follows a trend, being cuboid if not downright Cubist. Its anti-airflow shape screams out "new" and "off-the-wall", also "high drag coefficient". Oh, and "deformed".
Something about the Cube's bias-cut, asymmetric rear end, Flintstone-shaped windows and wavy-line sunroof panel hints at the Art Nouveau. Less Audi, more Gaudi. That's fine, but would you want to drive around in the Sagrada Familia? I think not.
Aimed as it is at creative types, the Cube is a temple to "personalisability". Yes, you can have that shagpile dash topper: "Everything's better with shag," the publicity says. Well, yes. A dashboard merkin: life is rich. There are accents galore in the promotional material – the "chrome front fascia accent", for example, and "20 colour interior accent lighting". Surprisingly, the outside comes in only eight colours, all of them drab: has the Caribbean ever been that morbid blue? It looks like Morecambe Bay. With the Cube's vaguely hearse-like shape, the overall effect is Morticia Addams. She, at least, would be seen dead in this.
Author of 'Fifty Cars that Changed the World' and Principal curator of technology at the Science Museum
The Cube represents a class of vehicle emerging in Japan that aims to maximise interior volume and "habitability". The idea has been around for a long time: at the extreme end is the idea that a car of this sort could be joined to your "living pod" giving full-time access to excellent seating, on-board entertainment and information systems. I agree with the precept that if urban traffic is ever-increasing and speed limits are being lowered, aerodynamics become less relevant and the congeniality of internal space more important.
By increasing the headroom, the seating is less reclined and takes up less room in the car. You can get a lot in the Cube. They're aiming this version of the Cube at young, cool designers and architects, who will be alert to its anti-style elements. Outside hip, urban centres, though, that proposition might seem merely clunky and odd. But, in general, as car speeds reduce, cuboid cars ought to become more popular.
IoS Arts editor
The Nissan Cube comes with its own Twitter account, which I take to be an invite to get behind the wheel and drive it into a brick wall at 50mph. As it happens, the car looks like someone has done that for you. The car's snub nose and its Toytown profile will divide consumers. Actually, I quite like the idea of its box-car design, perhaps more than Nissan does. Why have they taken the corners off those bold perpendicular lines? The white model I saw looked like a Christmas cake that had been left out in the rain. Inside, things look up. Some of the "design" details, such as the little shagpile fitting to the dashboard, will appeal to those who call their cars Florence and think a skinny Frappuccino an essential accompaniment to any car journey. Others, such as the translucent sunroof screen or the little orange stowage straps for your iPod, fags or toast, are undeniably cute. It's spacious, too. Me, I'm a cyclist, but if I did choose to sit for hours in London traffic, I think the Cube might stave off road rage for, ooh, a good 20 minutes.Reuse content