Nissan Cube

Nissan's whacky little hatchback is a long-standing cult hit in Japan and it rides like those fun French cars used to

Have you ever driven a fridge? I have now – a fridge on wheels – the metaphor failing only because the Nissan Cube has a very good heater as well as an effective air-conditioning system. None of this is meant as an insult. If a car is white and named Cube, then it surely invites such comparisons.

You might, at this point, be wondering why you should want such a car. On a practical level, it's as roomy as a car can reasonably be for a given amount of road space. And there's something pleasingly anti-beauty, anti-sensual about it. Here is the car as emotionally primordial object, the car as it might be drawn by a young child, with its rounded windows set in an angular, naive outline.

The Japanese have long had a subculture of cubist cars (Suzuki Wagon R, Daihatsu Move, Honda Element and two previous Cubes, to name a few). The Cube is even more cubist than most, flouting convention by carrying the impression of glazing on its left side round the rear corner and into the rear window, itself set into an asymmetric rear hatch.

Inside, Cubism gives way to waves, as you enter what Nissan describes as the "Jacuzzi lounge". The seats are broad and soft, the idea being to evoke the notion of sitting on a sofa as water laps around you. So the dashboard, in plan view, has a wave shape and various circular motifs – loudspeakers, cup-holders, a large section of the roof lining – with concentric circles as if a water droplet has struck the centre.

There's a slight hippy vibe here, more evident in the limited-edition LDN version which has crushed-velour seating in a strange mixing of metaphors (won't the velour get wet?), but my test car made do with with a circular shag-pile mat atop the dashboard. Being objective, however, the Cube isn't as clever as it seems. Achieving the expected acreage of rear legroom demands that you slide the back seat rearward, encroaching on already minimal boot space. Moreover, the seat can't be folded fully forward to maximise load space, instead merely allowing the backrest to fold down against the cushion.

There is no proper rear shelf, only a hammock-like arrangement attached with Velcro. And for such a boxy, airy car to have so little storage for oddments is surprising, although the elastic bands on the doors are a novel way of retaining a mobile phone. The "shoji" panels in the glass roof are fun, though, giving a diffused, gentle light.

In Japan, the Cube has been a cult car for a decade. The previous model pioneered the asymmetric look, and fitted perfectly with Tokyo's trendier territories. The new one (at £16,300 – the range starts at £14,000) is a reinterpretation of that idea, and naturally it has a powerful stereo to help the ambience. To assess the Cube on normal extra-urban roads, then, is almost to miss the point, but clearly it has to cope with such use.

It does so, surprisingly well. Under its wacky skin are the underpinnings of Nissans Micra and Note, and, to a degree, their European cousin, the Renault Clio. It rides the way French cars used to: smooth, supple and languid. This and the cartoon looks make for a de-stressing driving experience, yet the Cube can be hurried along if required. It stays steady in corners, and the engine – a 1.6-litre unit with 110bhp, soon to be joined by a 1.5-litre turbodiesel – feels perky if far from potent.

My test car had a continuously variable automatic transmission which worked well, avoiding the tendency of past systems to let the engine rev noisily when one tried to accelerate vigorously. You simply put it in gear and leave it to its own devices. It is, however, slower and thirstier than a manual.

This being the high-specification Kaizen version, it featured automatic windscreen wipers with unusually hopeless intuition, plus a rear parking camera, which you would think unnecessary given the Cube's vertical tail and ample glass area. But this is a car in which the absurd coexists happily with the rational. Its creators have taken a fresh look at what we want and need in a car, and you have to admire their solution.

The Rivals

Citroen C3 Picasso 1.6 Exclusive: from £16,595.

Another essentially boxy car with rounded corners, it's roomy, practical and delightful to drive. Top models are plush, too.

Kia Soul 1.6 Tempest/Shaker: £13,620.

Two different outfits for Kia's compact MPV with quasi-military looks. Steering feels sticky and it's noisy at speed but good value.

Skoda Roomster 1.6 SE: £13,270.

Strange-looking compact MPV. Grew from a sports-car styling sketch, but built with quality. Roomy, practical and pleasing to drive. Good value.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

    £35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'