By on February 17, 2013

Can TTAC’s Future Writers master the tough job of a car review?  During Future Writers Week, you chose the writers you want to see again on TTAC. Here is the first car review. Do you like it? Tell us. Remember: The cars had to be scrounged somewhere, but at least the reviews should be uninfluenced by flacks or PowerPoint’s.

It was going to be one of those nights, and I knew it. The roommates were heading for a get together and they wanted me to join in. Parties are really not my gig, especially a party where I am the odd old one at thirty nine and the rest of the participants are under twenty six. But I said yes for some reason that still eludes me to this day, especially since we were going to take the roommates car. Now most folks know I am a touch of a car snob, yes I drive a Peugeot that should be getting a pension, and I have an odd taste in cars as a general rule of thumb. But let me tell you about my experience with ’the box’.

The box I am referring to is not the cheerful and hip Kia Soul, or the original box for America, the Scion Xb. No this box that my roommate owned is the 09 Nissan Cube. I find it to be a bit bling in the grill department, yet not funky enough to be memorable on the exterior for anything else save the way the rear door glass wraps around the left side. Kei car cute it is not, and I love Kei class cars. The Cube is just too large to be cute in that way, sort of a ‘Hello Kitty fart can exhaust’ cute to me really. In other words, I really wanted to put a paper bag over my head when I drove the thing because I am a bit old to drive such a generation Y oriented car.

On the inside, it is not too bad. Fit and finish appear to be the current Nissan quality, the plastics are not bean-counter cheap, and the buttons, while logical on the center stack, look like something out of Star Wars. Having to look to use the climate control is a tad annoying, but set it and forget it auto climate control makes that forgivable. The seats are moderately supportive with an upright seating position that gives good visibility even with the high belt line, but unfortunately the thick pillars kill the visibility just after you think it might be good. Let’s not forget the shag rug on the dashboard that says ‘Do not place objects on’. What am I supposed to do with it then? Wipe my feet? Let’s just say I tossed my black berry on it, which did not go sliding around the dash at lethal projectile speeds thanks to its rubber case.

I do have gripes on the inside. The steering wheel buttons are for the Play Station generation. Directional pads? Can I do up up down down left right left right B A start for unlimited lives? After a few minutes I figured out the cruise control and audio controls, and I have to say the upgraded audio is not half bad for a stock system. The back seat is my largest gripe; it does slide forward and back and the seat back even folds down, but you have to undo four bolts to remove it. It would have some serious potential to hold really large cargo in the back, if the back seat did some trick origami to fold into the floor, or at least up against the back of the front seats. Leave the seat in and the cargo room is paltry at best – I can fit more in the trunk of my Peugeot.

Now that I had it loaded with some pretty inebriated twenty-six and unders, it was time for the drive. Unfortunately this particular Cube was saddled with the Jatco JF009F CVT. I hate to say this, I really am a fan of the left pedal and few automatics impress me. This one, just like the Dodge Caliber with the CVT, did not. Let’s just hope in the long term it is more reliable than the one in the Caliber. With the 1.8 liter engine, the thing drones and makes some pretty unhappy noises when flogged onto a freeway on ramp. It feels snappy to 30mph sure, but after that the drone grates on my nerves pretty bad, though once up to speed it quiets down and becomes a competent cruiser. The rubber band effect was there too, and I think that is what pretty much turns me off to CVT gearboxes.

I could not get a real test of handling since I had three in the back that looked a bit green by the time I got on the freeway, and close proximity to an impression of the Exorcist is not something I really look forward to, so there was no finding a parking lot and flinging the thing around to find the limits of adhesion or rollover. The steering is light and rather vague for my tastes, but the tight turning circle is really good and at low speeds it darts where you point it pretty well. Shopping center parking lot antics could be a lot of fun in it. The ride spoils all of that pretty quick, however. It is bouncy and crashy over pot holes, and on Denver’s broken pavement freeway system it hobby horses badly enough that my head tapped the head restraint. I have been in smaller cars that ride way better. I did not get to test the brakes all that well, but when I whipped it into a parking lot for tacos at break neck speeds and they hauled the thing down respectably with pretty decent and firm pedal feel.

Having only put thirty or so miles on the little Cube I can’t say how good it is going to be to live with day-to-day. In town at lower speeds I would think it is a good little car, save the ride and small luggage space – not half bad, if you are under forty. For longer trips, I would opt for something a touch more comfortable and conventional.

The Nissan Cube was provided by roommate, complete with insurance, the fuel light on, and four inebriated passengers.

Michael Peerson resides in the Californian Eastern Sierras. His day job is in the telecommunications industry as a high level fiber technician. On the side, he builds odd cars and drives an old Peugeot. He owned over forty cars since he was able to drive. A few trips to Europe resulted in a love affair with two-stroke East German vehicles. At home, he has a Subaru 360 to keep that perverse fetish under control.

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48 Comments on “Checking The Box. A Future Writer Story...”

  • avatar

    Very well written, and I think most of us have had to chauffeur a carload of drunken louts and lushes (complete with off-key sing-alongs)home from the bar(s) more often than we care to remember. But few of us have had to do so using the official staff car for the cast of “Who framed Roger rabbit?”.

    • 0 avatar

      I would rather hear about the author’s peugeot than the company that makes the Juke, ugly van and criscross suv convertible murano thingy. How does he have a Peugeot? I can’t even spell it.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I want to hear about that Peugeot. Having owned a 23 year old Saab 9000 Turbo, my favourite car era is the mid to late 80s up to 1991. Then it all went to hell.

  • avatar

    Great writing, an honest and fresh style.

    Because I think the Cube is such a weird and ugly car I always have to look to see what kind of person is driving it. I have seen few young people, mostly older hippy, tree hugger, types, who even folks that own Subura’s consider to have dropped out of the main stream.

    With that said, I am pretty sure the dynamics of the car were not the reason for it’s purchase, rather like the awful Smart Fortwo, they are purchased to make a statement of difference.

    • 0 avatar

      Same here. For some reason, I seem to see a lot of these when I get into the city limits. I to wonder who in the hell would buy such a car and can’t help but find out for myself. I usually find those same slightly older middle-aged urban hippie types.

      We know a older guy who is retire Navy and spent a lot of time in Japan. While over there he had Nissan cube and loved the thing (this was the older version from a decade ago or so). Maybe it works over there better…..

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t underestimate the value of having a small vehicle that can haul things in the city.

        I’ve driven both a Ranger and an F-150 to the parking garage and to street parking spots at the university where I used to work. Both vehicles technically fit in the spot, and any competent driver can do it… Very carefully.

        But, if you’ve ever driven anything else in those tight quarters, the extra work required to park a big vehicle there needled me just a little bit every day. In my case, the other vehicle is a Prius, and you can just drive the Prius into those spots without a second thought. So, a small car that can be configured to haul people or haul stuff is really appealing, even if it isn’t obvious why — when you see them on a busy road.

        But, even then, it’s hard to tell what your daily requirements will be. My new job is 2 just miles away from my old job, and the parking lot if behemoth-friendly. Luck of the draw, I guess.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Review is good, but the tasty part are the oddities he mentioned. Starting from that Peugeot.

  • avatar

    I found the writing artificially overdone.

    • 0 avatar

      I had the same reaction, although perhaps it’s because I read a few of Michael Karesh’s throughly informative reviews immediately before reading this one.

      On the other hand, I was glad to hear Mr. Peerson’s impressions of the CVT. Rubber-banding is an automatic no-sale for me, so I can cross this particular box off my list of potential future vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      Worse than overdone, it’s simply third-rate. Perhaps the fumes from his Trabant have taken their toll.

  • avatar

    What is the current status of proofreading and copy editing on TTAC? Have you just given up?

  • avatar

    I think this article was a good read (mostly because of the inclusion of the chauffeuring drunken friends theme) but I also think that <40 miles of seat time is not enough to get a comprehensive feel for any car. However, I give bonus honesty points for clearly stating that in the story.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I found the premise of the story engaging, and it’s an angle I could relate to. But he kept saying during the interview that he couldn’t actually do anything with the car, and I was a little miffed.

      This story should probably be condensed down to the opening paragraph of a review. The rest of the review should have been “well, that was an interesting car, so the next day I called up John Doe Nissan and asked if I could test drive their Cube.” Followed by a writeup of the test drive, including pictures. And a shout out to John Doe Nissan for letting them crawl over their car with no intention of actually buying it.

  • avatar

    If this neat little car weren’t so little I’d have it in place of our Kia for local hops.

    So many retro/weird vehicles have appealed to me until I actually got in behind the wheel or imagined driving it through plows-aren’t-out-yet snowstorms.

    Retro/weird vehicles seem to be one of the few categories that can escape the insane current trend of flattening the greenhouse.

    Thanks for the review.

  • avatar

    Not really feeling it. The story at the beginning doesn’t really integrate well with the review; it could probably be shortened for the sake of brevity. You need to embrace the contraction too, it would make your writing seem much less disjointed and awkward.

  • avatar

    Adjectives are not to be used in place of adverbs.

  • avatar

    I had the feeling this must be how college English professors feel like, having to read papers written by students who simply must come up with something by certain due date, and really don’t have the inspiration or mood to write anything.

    • 0 avatar

      I could not figure out what was wrong with this review but MrWhopee nailed it. “I borrowed a car and drove 3 drunk friends for a couple miles, then wrote about it.” Sort of like reviewing a Porsche by driving it a mile to the Post Office, then writing that it has a rough ride but may be able to go fast.

  • avatar

    Whats with the new reviewers and doing stuff in parking lots?

    “Shopping center parking lot antics could be a lot of fun in it”

    I thought canyon roads or freeway on ramps or dare I say tracks were how automotive fun was typically quantified.

  • avatar

    I didn’t really like it. Seemed too out of touch or “fish out of water” for a new car review.

    And, Playstations don’t have “A/B” buttons.

    Would have rather read something about the ownership experience of the Peugeot or the 360.

    • 0 avatar

      You guys are brutal. The standard car review gets into the nitty gritty of the dash, seams, HP etc etc, and yes there is a place for that, and we need them. However what is often lacking in those type of reviews is the overall feeling of the car, this review felt more ‘real’ and less analytical, sometimes there is a place for that too.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, but there’s a balance. What’s less analytical for this audience is probably going to sound pretty technical for a general-interest audience.

        But the cool thing about a tough audience like this is that it makes everyone better writers. The writing skills I’ve learned by having people jump all over me in blog comments translate surprisingly well to communicating in my IT/engineering job!

  • avatar

    The writing was an insight from somebody who doesn’t like the Cube or partying with the under-30’s. Is the Cube weird & ugly compared to the Juke? I was at the dealership Saturday for a service. No Cube to be seen in the showroom and one Juke.

    My impression being the Cube is not a discounted model but special order Versa+ @ full retail, and it appears folks are not hooked.

  • avatar

    I drive the original xB (and yes, that’s the proper capitalization), and I took the Cube out for a spin at the dealer, to see how it compared.

    The Cube tries WAY too hard to be “cool”, or perhaps “funky”, for my tastes. It is also has much less cargo space in the seats-up configuration. It’s no faster, but gets 5mpg fewer than an xB.

    In fact, if you compare a Cube with a Versa hatch, there isn’t any reason to buy the Cube, other than the funky factor.

  • avatar

    Not bad, Michael- but you still didn’t answer the question: Cube, Soul, or xB? Cos, as a buyer, those are my choices. Kinda like Car & Driver: we want pros and cons of the competitors, along with a “feel” as to which kind of driver/person would buy each one of these vehicles- so, what do you think?

    • 0 avatar

      I think Baruth already answered this (if you ignore the ruins of the original xB) in a well-written article.

  • avatar

    Re style: It was a decent first effort. Punctuation was a bit weak; there are other (and often more appropriate) tools besides commas.

    Re content: I had a similarly brief experience with a Cube (that my brother rented) and also wished for a bag to cover my shame.

    Re future: More about the Peugeot and the 360s please!

  • avatar

    Since the author only drove the Cube for a short distance, this is not a car review, rather a quick experience with a vehicle. I suppose the author was only allowed a few paragraphs, but this “experience” was lacking in substance. I’ve gotten more out of a test drive around the block than what was offered in this story.

    The Cube actually has character that was overlooked. You have to take that car for what it is, not what it is lacking. In that essence alone, there is absolutely nothing like it on the road in North America. I’m glad Nissan offers it and surprised they didn’t sell more.

    Would I buy one? Heck no. I have a MK4 Golf. I got all the character I need.

    • 0 avatar


      I agree with you: this wasn’t a review, it was a diary entry about a short experience in a new car with a bunch of drunk friends. Anecdotally interesting, but not informative (editorially or otherwise).

  • avatar

    I learned a lot more about the author and his car snobbery than I did about the Cube. It’s like a little boy whining about all the cooties he got by touching a girl. Am I supposed to be impressed by the French s***box you drive?

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    I don’t expect road testers to be able to assess the limits of adhesion of a modern car unless there is something seriously wrong.

    Other than that a reasonably helpful review

  • avatar


    Your article tells me more about you than it does about the car. That should be reversed.

    Having driven it for only forty miles shouldn’t preclude you from doing a bit of research. I’d like to know who the intended market was, and who it turned out to be, for example. I seldom see this car being driven by younger people. The drivers I see are most often in their fifties and older, and usually have a large dog on board. That surely wasn’t the intended market.

    Write with clarity and brevity. Use simple sentence structure. Revise, revise, revise.

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    The story’s fine, premise, coverage and all. I am all for unconventional reviews. Plenty of outlets will cover the usual exterior / interior / engine / drive / accessories checkboxes.

    That said, if the story picks on the interior, how about some interior press shots?

    TTAC continues to need an editor, or a more attentive editor. There are a small number of mistakes per paragraph.

    • 0 avatar

      There are so many comments here I want to reply to. But I think yours Svan should be ‘the one’ for some odd reason. I would post a link to a picture of the center stack but I am unsure of doing such a thing since as it is I am taking my knocks on this one. Just four small words.

      ‘Star Wars Space Boob’ for the center HVAC controls.

      You can just Google some interior shots and see what I am on about. With the linking thing, well I am going to err on the side of caution and not do such a thing. Oh also check out a headliner picture if you get a chance, I completely forgot to mention that. Also thank you for the kind words.

      For everyone else…..

      Thank you for your own kind words and even some push backs as well. Lets just say that the crowd is near Yakuza level, in a very brutal way.

      Will this experience make me a better writer? Perhaps. I pretty much let the article fly with out letting someone else proof read. It was posted by Bertel in it’s entirety with out editing. I really should have had a few people proof read and add in suggestions, edits and other things. I am just happy to be here, giving a experience I had with a Cube. Doing such things is really not as easy as it seems, and those that have been in the field for a long time (as many of the normal authors have) will probably also say that it is not easy.

      IT IS NOT! You call your muse, and you get voice mail.

      Automotive journalism is also not a native field for me. I have to learn it just as I learned to use B.10 software, a pitman arm puller, or perhaps how to splice fiber on the fly. Baby steps after all. Sure I can strip most cars to there component pieces in about six hours. Telling the story of it however is something I would like to lean.

      As for the Cube, well. I have been in a 2008 xB, and have looked at a Soul. Out of all of them? Hard choice, need to drive a Soul. The Cube does have some things going for it, but I could not get my dog in it. He only had three legs after all, a four legged dog I could see getting into a Cube no problem. But missing that front paw, well the back seat it too tall for him to get into at 12 years old. The Cube as a parking lot warrior, oh yes. I can see it doing that quite well with how it squirts to 30 and turns sharp into low speed places quite quickly. My commutes? No. 400 plus miles a day in the Cube would be torture.

      As for folks wanting more Pug stories, really boring stuff bout going to a electric fan, 2 break downs on the highway and allot of service history. Only one tow home -ever-.

      The 360 is strewn over my living room at the moment so… ‘No Comment’

      Thank you all.

  • avatar

    I don’t mind being the odd man out. Our 2010 model has 75k now and they have been fun miles. I think I agree with eggsalad who said there isn’t any reason to buy one over the versa. Recently rented a versa and there is more room in the cube. If you need a lot of room though you probably won’t buy either one. It was to be my wife’s car and I wound up driving it when her left knee went south. It’s a manual six speed. Highway trips – around town, it handles everything well. The mileage could be greater (32) but the engine is overpowered and actually would handle a small trailer very well. I have no intention of buying the automatic so long as it is CVT.

    I’ve noticed that none of the people that badmouth it in articles have owned one and few have driven it. Those folks probably have cars that function as penis extensions. Have had to take to carrying protection because it feels like the zombie apocolypse with all the shovel carrying Nissan bashing car snobs. It’s a great car and it tickles me that the looks gives some of you something to sound really uninformed about.

    I agree that you guys are merciless. I have and do write and would recommend that some of you critics take the matter in hand and write something yourself. I expect that you won’t fare too well either when you aren’t able to just bash someone and have to put out product.

    • 0 avatar


      As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I own two Cubes and one Versa. My wife and I love the Cubes. Great little urban warriors. Easy to park and maneuver in city traffic. And the ability to haul a little cargo is nice too. I get that the styling is odd, and not for everyone’s taste. Ce la vie!

    • 0 avatar

      Hey wstarvingteacher!

      Glad to hear. One day, when we get around to substituting the wife’s Renault Logan, we may look into a Versa. If I can get over the interior lack of styling and color, and can live with a smaller trunk than the Logan, and the conditions are good, a Versa could be in the cards.

      If the situation improves like really improve, I may get myself a Fiat 500. Sadly, the Cube is not in offer in Brazil cause I would love to see it on the roads. It intrigues me and I could see myself in ome.

      So see, there are many odd men out around. Not everybody needs 300hp, 0-60 in under 4s to be happy.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi Marcelo: If I were to buy a Versa I think it would be a hatch. I would avoid the CVT but that is just my opinion. I heard that they were coming out with a 4-5 speed normal automatic option. I could go for that.

        The reason I would prefer a versa/cube over the close competition would have to do with the engine. It seems to me that I have lots of torque for a small car. Don’t really care about the dyno readings. Seat of the pants says it is strong. In Europe I understand it will tow a ton. That would make it feasible to go to one car with a small trailer when the warranty is done.

        Good to hear from you again.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi wstarvingteacher!

        Versa hatch here is actually a March (Micra in some markets in Europe). It is a compact (subcompact to most Americans) and has the same problems as the Versa sedan, namely uninspiring interior design. The exterior design is “different”, like the Versa’s and while not in love with it, I “get it”.

        As to transmissions, I don’t think you can get a CVT Versa here. 5 speed manual is good for me. Brazilians are now buying auto transmissions but to me it is still a risky and eventually costly “wear” item. My brother’s Fusion’s tranny died. He’s been quoted 7500 USD to replace. As he has two other cars, the Fusion is now parked in the shop, where it has been for over 2 months as he and the mechanics haggle on the price.

        Finally, as to hatchXsedan, I’m at a stage in life, almost 2 yr old son, maybe another in the near future, where I need at least one sedan in my life. Compact sedans in Brazil can carry 500L of baggage. That’s more than Corolla, Civic, Versa and I believe Fusion as they do serve the family market in BRazil. SWs are hard to find here, my wife doesn’t like minivans, other things are too expensive. So one cheap(er) hatch for me and a family sedan for wife. That’s our horizon for the next few years.

    • 0 avatar

      As a fellow cube owner (Nissan says it’s not to be capitalized, FYI), I love these little cars. wstarvingteacher, you’re really piling on the miles! We’ve had our 2010 since December 2010 and have only just crossed 36,000 miles!

      Ours is equipped with the CVT, and I think it gets a lot of hate from folks who don’t understand how they work. Anyone who has ridden an automatic ATV or a single-speed go-kart should be able to appreciate the simplicity of the design and the fact that it finds the best point on the torque/power curve for any given amount of throttle you dial in with your right foot. I’d love to drive a six-speed cube someday, as I’m not a fan of automatics in general, but for what it is, the cube’s CVT automatic is fine with me.

      I agree about the ruthlessness of the comments here. My one criticism is that it was labeled a “review” when it should have maybe been called something else. Maybe “quick drive” or something like that? Something to more accurately give the impression that this is based on short-term experience with the car, not a full test or a week-long loan.

      • 0 avatar

        The versas we have rented have been fun to drive. They were CVT equipped. The only abnormality was passing. It seemed like it was never going to lower the rpm. Off gas – back on, did the trick. I have just been concerned about the longevity. They sure had problems when they came out.

        Our next car will probably be a cube also. I tolerate the cartoonish looks because it is such a great car. The longer I drive it the more I like even that. I could see having two. Problem is that I am now a retired starving teacher and just have to have a truck sometimes. We have started taking a rentacar for those weekend trips we are obligated to make. Maybe it will keep on lasting. Not one single problem yet.

        • 0 avatar

          We, too, are considering becoming a two-cube family someday. I’ll likely take on my wife’s cube, which by then will be five years old and probably somewhere around 70,000 miles. Since she has three times the commute I do (60 miles daily vs. 20), she’d get a new, 0-mile cube. Hopefully we’re able to pay off our cube next year and spend somewhere around 18-24 months saving our car payment in a “new cube fund.”

          I had a 2013 Versa Sedan 1.6 SL as a courtesy car while our cube was recently in the dealer’s shop getting its seat track replaced (only repair so far), and it was peppy and fairly fun to drive. I wouldn’t have tried passing flat-footed on a two-lane highway, but I was able to wind it up ahead of time before getting to a good passing zone I knew about and slingshot my way past a slow-moving truck with little fanfare. Details on that experience are here:

          • 0 avatar

            We just took the plunge. I wanted a car with an automatic so that the wife could become a driver again. She may as well have only had a right leg with the problems her left knee gave her. We were discussing what to do when a letter came from Nissan.

            I couldn’t see dumping my S10 for a while because I’m still too active to lose that capability. I’ll be 70 in three months so maybe that will change. Anyway, we just traded our 2010 cube in on a 2013 with a CVT.

            I never thought I would buy a CVT but there has been no statistical evidence of failure beyond normal over the past two years. We will see. The 2010 covered 76kmiles with zero repairs. Hope for the same luck with the new one.

  • avatar

    When I first saw the Cube a few years back, I was immediately drawn to the wraparound rear glass, seeing as how it is obviously there to eliminate the giant over-the-shoulder blind spot for changing lanes.

    I was so disappointed when I finally got to drive one as a rental, and found it has a traditional thick D-pillar hiding behind that fancy glass.

    On that day the Cube dropped from “quirky but intelligent” to “just plain trendy.”

    I did like the author’s writing style, keep it up.

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