Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan Cube

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom 2012 nissan cube

Haters bust out the Haterade: I mastered your drama back at the College of Creative Studies. My luxury car proposals sported stand up grilles…and why not? The (beautiful-ish) 1990 Lexus LS400 proved an upright grille happily exists on a sleek, masterfully engineered machine. But very talented, well-praised drama queens in the design studio can’t be proven wrong by a talentless schmuck. Even if they get super butthurt when your Lexian-precedent made their grandstanding look like the adolescent ranting of one unfit to judge a grade school art show…

To wit, an extreme argument: The Nissan Cube.

Not that the Cube is remotely as elegant as the original Lexus LS. But unlike the Nissan Juke, the Cube has many logical elements assembled on a boxy body. The headlights are quite square, but with enough curves to look appealing, not upsetting. The grille, oversized emblem notwithstanding, looks right: slots and static forms do the job. The air slot below is another logical element. Add the lower valence’s strong egg crate grille and you are done.

My only recommendation is to emulate the angular fog lights of the mildly redesigned, 2005 Lincoln Navigator’s fascia.

Imagine the boxy-ish fog lights making more sense with the square-ish elements in the headlights and the slotted grille. This is quite the well-designed piece. Considering the asking price, let’s assume that unique fog lights were never part of the deal.

I wish more non-Cube vehicles had lighting pods this square and logical. Aside from the side marker lights that bulge out from the body line, these are quite elegant.

And while the lighting pods in the headlight assembly looked square from some angles, note how round they are from this angle! This is the secret sauce of car design: the perfect balance between soft curves and hard angles. If the rest of the Cube looked this good, we’d have a stellar machine.

Again, square and round at the same time. It works, especially adding the depth of the recessed lighting pods in the headlight assembly. The Nissan Cube is far from an actual cube. It’s a [s]seriously[/s] somewhat complex design.

This is the big problem, or the key selling feature: an upright–yet rounded–A pillar. It’s jarring. It’s brutal. It’s cool and stupid at the same time. And, after looking at the window sticker, that makes the Cube both cheap and cheerful.

On the plus side: NO DLO FAIL, SON! Love me some logically beginning glasswork with a distinct lack of plastic triangles.

Pretty clean cowl trim. A leaf blower will make short work of any debris stuck in these nooks and crannies, probably. Yet, like many vehicles with more concealed wiper arms, the Cube’s goods are somewhat tucked away as to not attract attention.

Unlike the Juke, the Cube has a nice ratio of bumper-to-fender real estate. The fender does creep into the logical place for the A-pillar: that cutline should be at the base of the windshield, not several inches above. Too bad about that.

Then again, those 4 spoke wheels are ugly as sin: static and counter-intuitive to the mission of a round element. My design school teachers insisted that 4 spoke wheels are the work of the Devil, and I agree. Then again, they do take away from the odd A-pillar cut line.

The Cube’s biggest problems are presented here: the wavy door cutline (inappropriately showing a body contour) and a distinctly, overtly round, totally “not cube” B-pillar.

Actually the combo of round elements here (recessed into the sheet metal, much like portholes on a cruise ship) is quite beautiful.The cutline between the doors is super Cube-y rigid. The window’s DLOs (plural) are round and quite entertaining next to the rest of the package. It’s a delicate balance, balanced.

The problems are elsewhere: and they have an adverse relationship to the B-pillar presented here. The asymmetric C-pillars (different between Driver’s and Passenger’s side) detract from the quirky anti-Cube design. You will see it as we progress around the Cube…and I’ll try to make it super memorable for you.

The rounded C-pillar stamping is cute if there wasn’t a gigantic DLO FAIL embodied in a plastic trim…with shockwave ripples casted into the fail.

Of course, this argument hinges on one’s approval of the Cube’s appalling boxy, top-heavy, overtly JDM space-efficient car styling.

I’ll admit that the plastic trim’s ripple effect negates the foolishness of this DLO FAIL, but it’s certainly not enough. This is horribly ugly. No doubt, this needs to be a quarter window instead. Raise the base price by $50 and make it happen, Son.

Or $100. Or whatever: easy credit is flowing like cheap wine once more, just fix it. We can afford it!

So step back and look at the thing: not bad! The wavy door cut line below the equator is only somewhat upsetting. The big DLO FAIL on the C-pillar is well, still pretty horrible. But the stylish “I” design present in the B-pillar personifies all that’s right with the Cube: static yet quite dynamic.

And I’m lucky to have both 4-spoke wheels stopped in the same position: they look even more static when double teaming the Cube’s body.

There’s something very right about a vehicle with zero rear overhang. Maximum space efficiency, just a little bend and stretch at the bottom for a crashworthy(?) bumper. This is a seriously cool piece of [s]shit[/s] kit.

Turning the corner, confusion. The elongated panel between the bumper and the tailgate looks like an afterthought. While I didn’t have the keys to open and inspect the Cube’s door mechanism, it’s a safe bet there’s some hinge that demands a unique panel. On a car this cheap, it’s only a mild bummer.

I like how the rear glass emulates the B-pillar’s rounded and recessed glass treatment. It looks expensive, compared to what you normally see here. (See Scion xB).

The CHMSL gets the job done without overselling, over styling. Nice. Too bad the rear wiper washer jet pokes out rather cheaply.

I took these pictures last July, so I forgot if this Cube has a backup camera: but this tacked-on thing looks like a backup camera. (Go ahead and Google it, show me up, etc.) On a vehicle this cheap, this is acceptable. Like Cindy Crawford’s birthmark, it’s just a cute little bump on a cute little curve of sheet metal.

Well maybe not Cindy Crawford cute, but you catch my drift.

I like how this reflector is tucked inside the bumper cover. It makes a unique plane within the body. A simple, cheap and often overlooked way to add some texture on an otherwise boring and massive sheet of painted material.

Alright no more teasing: the back-end is head-scratchingly fantastic. There’s the trim bumper with an elegant, full-width tail light treatment. Go further up and it’s a tall JDM van-let, except with a flaw: the asymmetrical rear glass treatment.

Honestly, after months of deliberation, I don’t know if this is brilliant or idiotic. Probably both, since I can’t take my eyes off of it. This isn’t eye-watering like a Pontiac Aztek, it’s just…profoundly interesting.

Something about the full width tail lights makes this design more cohesive and expensive: it makes up for the normally horrid feelings most of us feel about asymmetric design. It’s like Lyle Lovett and Julia Robert’s child, on wheels.

Except the Cube is kinda cute…not this.

More good design: the rear door seamlessly blends into the bumper and quarter panel. Very trick, and a good use of minimal cut lines to carry out a particular need. Add that unique plane for the reflector light and you have something exciting, and not offensive.

And if the driver’s side of the Cube was the Lyle Lovett, the passenger side is Julia Roberts. RAWR!

Note how the C-pillar is completely encased in glass. And glass equals class. It makes me wish the other side was this impressive. Totally worth the extra cost, no matter what it is! (i.e., this isn’t a loss leader Versa, go ahead and ask a little more for being unique.)

Also note how the 4-spoke wheels continue to fight every damn element on the body.

While I’ve mentioned the Cube’s nice use of hard edges and soft forms, the square gas cap needs a good rounding out. This would help accentuate the “Julia Roberts” C-pillar and it will also match the round negative area behind the door handle. Shame.

Maybe this DLO (odd fitting black paint between two sheets of glass) isn’t as pretty as Julia Roberts, but this ain’t no Lyle Lovett. I like how the DLO’s hard edge (Left) and round edge (Right) play with the straight-then-curve demeanor of the rear door’s cutline. This is just car design cool.

Yes, car design cool. Offensive? You betcha! But, aside from the wavy door cutline (just like the driver’s side) that smears reflections (note the Versa’s wheel cover) from an unfortunate curvature, the Nissan Cube is a well-integrated design with moderate attention to detail.

At least on the Julia Roberts side. The Lyle Lovett side? Not as much.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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2 of 49 comments
  • Andreroy55 Andreroy55 on Apr 11, 2013

    I don't agree with everything you say here, but you've pointed out some things that have changed my mind. So, it's a learning thing for me. But I have seen you mention four spoke wheels before, and to me, at least, if you have four lug nuts, you go four spokes, or eight, or something that divides the four up evenly, even two. So, tell me, how would you do the wheels? To me, too many spokes (8, 12) just looks busy for no reason. So, show me a sketch of a four-spoke wheel. I need to see what you're talking about. Don't take this as a criticism, take this as a teaching opportunity, the more you teach, the more you learn.

  • Banger Banger on Jul 26, 2013

    How the heck did I miss this VV, Sajeev? There are elements of the cube's style of which I'm not particularly fond-- principally, that huge DLO fail on the driver's side rear quarter. Why can't it be glass? If it was, the design would be a lot better. But as a whole, this is the best thing Nissan has built in ages. Cheap, cheerful, and pretty much the most comfortable subcompact you can buy. The design has the benefit of placing the chairs at a logical height. You neither fall down into them nor clamber up to them. Standing 6'3", I hate the former, and being 5'3", my wife hates the latter. The cube has given us automotive harmony that I thought we may never experience in the compact and subcompact cars she prefers, all at a price that was not painful at all.

  • Probert Sorry to disappoint: any list. of articles with a 1 second google search. It's a tough world out there - but you can do it!!!!!!
  • ToolGuy "We're marking the anniversary of the time Robert Farago started the GM death watch and called for the company to die."• No, we aren't. Robert Farago wrote that in April 2005. It was reposted in 2009 on the eve of the actual bankruptcy filing.The byline dates are sometimes strange/off with the site revisions (and the 'this is a repost' note got lost), but the date string in the link is correct (...2005/04...). Posting about GM bankruptcy in 2005 was a slightly more difficult call than doing it in 2009.-- The Truth About Calendars
  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.