I recently inherited a Nissan Cube from my brother. When I tell people this, they have two distinct reactions. For anyone who isn’t into cars, it’s: “Your brother died?” Car people, however, usually respond with: “You have a Nissan Cube?” This is the same reaction that non-car people tend to have when I explain my brother did not die, but rather moved to Los Angeles, where his soul will.
People just don’t like the plucky little Cube, whether it’s my friends (“Why do you still have that thing?”) or my neighbors, one of whom left a note under the wipers asking me to move it away from the unrestricted street parking spots in front of his house. Truly. This actually occurred. Perhaps the worst reaction is from other Cube owners, who occasionally wave, reminding me that I can be seen driving the thing.
As you can imagine, I’m not the Cube’s biggest fan either. There’s a fuzzy piece of shag carpeting on the dashboard (the “Cube pubes”) that seems like it might keep sunglasses from sliding around, until you turn it over to reveal a warning label that says – truly – “Caution: Do not place anything on this product.”
The headliner is rippled, presumably after the designer got high (this part is definitely true) and, faced with the munchies, decided to pay homage to the Lays potato chip (this part is probably true). The rear is asymmetrical (see: the designer got high). There’s a cupholder to the left of the steering wheel. And, five carwashes later, my Cube still smells like my brother’s dog no matter how many times I tell my passengers “it’s probably you.”
But can we all agree it’s better than a Toyota Corolla?
I talked my brother into the Cube three years ago when his budget for a new car was around $15,000. He has since upgraded to a Nissan Xterra, apparently eager to reclaim some of the manhood he lost driving the Cube. But as I reconsider the situation, I don’t think I would’ve done it any differently. Except maybe I wouldn’t have left those retaliatory death threats under my neighbor’s windshield wipers.
At $15,000, you have two basic choices when shopping for a nearly new, reliable, fuel efficient car. You can go the boring route and buy a Civic, a Corolla, a Focus, or some sort of Hyundai that vaguely resembles some sort of Kia. Or, you can go the interesting route, which involves the Kia Soul, the Scion xB, and – of course – the beloved Cube.
For my money, it’s the Cube every time.
My thought process is quite simple, which won’t surprise regular readers. As mentioned, the two cars cost about the same, provided we assume ego damage can’t be measured financially. Fuel economy is also the same, in part thanks to the Cube’s smooth, spry CVT. Whrrrrrrrrrrr. (Before you say anything, consider this: the warranty on Nissan’s CVTs was extended to 10 years or 150,000 miles. That means I will probably get at least two transmissions for free!)
So what distinguishes the Cube from its dull sedan rivals? For one: it’s more practical. Put the seats down and you can get whatever you want in the thing. Based on the smell, for instance, mine once hosted a competition to see how many dogs can fit inside a Nissan Cube.
But most importantly, the Cube is unique. If you’re like most car enthusiasts, you probably spend a lot of time complaining about a) speed cameras, and b) how boring you find cars like the Corolla. The Cube is the antidote: it is decidedly not boring and – for those of you who don’t like the CVT – yes, there was a three-pedal version.
Same fuel economy, same price, more practical, more unique. Sounds great!
Except, the simple reality is, it just doesn’t sound so great to most drivers, even if they say it does. One of the universal automotive truths I’ve discovered in the last few years is this: people talk about how they don’t want to be just like everyone else. People complain about how everyone else is just like everyone else. People say they’re going to be different from everyone else. And then people go out and by the same car as … everyone else.
In other words, the Cube is the car for those few drivers who actually want to break the mold set by everyone else. Maybe that’s why other Cube drivers wave: to celebrate the fact that we think differently from everyone else. In exactly the same way.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.