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Nissan Cube III
Funny looks with practical substance and new inspiration

New Nissan Cube: front view.

Third generation Nissan Cube: reaching America and Europe.

APN

20 February 2009,

Bechara Aboul-Nasr.

Half a century ago, major Asian carmakers were busy starting their market presence in the United States.

Then, they couldn't really complain when the oil crisis hit in 1973 and 1979. This was the real start of their expansion in the passenger car segments, starting from the small ones of course.

Is history repeating itself now, from similar, but not the same angles?

New Nissan Cube: wide dashboard view.

Floating pod instrument panel with light blue and white gauges.

For as they secured their strong position, particularly in the small to midsize passenger car segments, Japanese brands (followed by the Korean later) turned their eyes, since the nineties, to the more profitable light trucks market, which looked like the next battleground between American and Asian brands.

That was until the second Gulf war hopes turned into a nightmare (Middle East instability... again), with oil prices turning the table upside down everywhere, including in the auto industry.

The higher oil prices climbed, the deeper light trucks sales dived.

New Nissan Cube: back / side view.

Large glass surfaces and a refrigerator-style rear door.

As if that was not enough, hardly had oil prices cooled down when the financial crisis found the time appropriate for the next show.

Again, the car industry has to follow.

But this time, even with lower oil prices, the promise of cheap fuel cannot be sustained, with the growing contrast between the increase of oil needs in rising giant economies like China and India, and the corresponding oil reserves decrease.

And even if we assume that the financial crisis will reduce global oil demand and prices, it will reduce consumption altogether, including demand on cars,  with car sales shifting to the less lucrative, small bodies / engines, and lower miles driven per person.

The financial crisis can even slow down - at least momentarily - the hybrid car market expansion, since the growing demand on cheaper cars means also more sales of advanced conventional engines without the costs of the additional batteries and systems needed to store energy for hybrid or full electric cars. Also, we often forget that these additional batteries need replacing every few years.

New Nissan Cube: all-doors open view.

Rather upright A-pillars give a wider range of forward visibility.

The scenario looks a bit like the start of the Japanese brands in America with modest, cheap and economical small cars of the sixties and seventies.

But the comparison ends here.

The Japanese are joined this time by the Korean Hyundai and Kia small models, followed by Chinese and Indian groups working on their overseas expansion over the next few years. Add to them American GM and Ford groups which cannot be ignored, for despite their current difficulties, they are tackling the small- and compact-car segments with far more convincing products (some are Koreans in fact, like some Daewoo-made GM cars) than they did after the first oil crisis in the early seventies. Ford is even achieving great success with the new Ka, Fiesta and Focus in Europe, the heart of the small to compact cars segments.

New Nissan Cube: dashboard, side view.

Shelves on top centre and passenger side of the instrument panel.

Indeed, if history often repeats itself, it rarely does "copy-paste". For if the Japanese started their overseas expansion half a century ago with simple, cheap-to-buy-and-run small cars, today is a different story, as the new small and compact cars from Asians, Americans or Europeans, need additional arguments to succeed.

Small cannot be reduced anymore to just a cheap entry-level offers, or at best, beautiful, but with lots of compromises.

New Nissan Cube: driver position view.

The tall body height provides a relatively high seating position, a very limited invisible part of the hood (area that the driver cannot see) and a good rear visibility for parking and backing up.

Interesting profit margins can still be realised from additional services (communication for instance) and highly equipped versions of  these small models, in addition to the large proliferation of many body variants from the same platform, but even the basic models need to be "clever". Easy-credit habits gave consumers the taste of better quality in materials, equipment and performance, even in the small car categories, and walking backwards has always been a difficult exercise for mankind, particularly when it comes to enjoying quality of life, benefits and advantages.

So today, each small car has to be substantially different from others, with advanced technology, entertainment, communication and of course, still practical for the daily tasks.

Nissan Cube III

With the introduction of its third generation Cube in North America (in May) and Europe (November), Nissan is applying these new rules of modern small cars, with a model which already proved its success with two previous generations in Japan, launched respectively in 1998 and 2002.

New Nissan Cube: audio and climate controls view.

Multimedia inspired controls in easily reachable dispositions.

In the USA, the new subcompact model will be offered in four equipment levels: Cube 1.8, Cube 1.8 S, Cube 1.8 SL and Cube 1.8 Krōm, with prices starting (Cube 1.8) from the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP, excluding applicable tax, title and license fees) of $13,990 from early May. That leaves a significant margin above the entry-level Nissan Versa sedan 1.6 which starts from US$9,990.

Engine and gearboxes

The new Cube will be powered in the USA by the MR18DE, 1.8-liter DOHC, 4-cylinder, 16-valve engine (aluminium block and head, used also in the entry-level Nissan Versa) generating 122-horsepower/5200 rpm and a maximum torque of 127 lb-ft (172 Nm) at 4800 rpm, transmitted to the front wheels via Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) or a 6-speed manual transmission.

New Nissan Cube: optional leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.

Steering wheel with leather wrapping and audio controls.

The manual 6-speed transmission with a new shift control system is available with Cube 1.8 and Cube 1.8 S models.

Cube’s new generation CVT adopts a new oil warmer for better performance in cold conditions (reducing friction). It also includes an advanced Adaptive Shift Control (ASC), which detects the driving style (economy, normal, sports) and conditions to apply the most appropriate fuel economy and engine response.

New Nissan Cube: Asymmetrical light blue and white gauges in instruments panel.

Asymmetrical light blue and white gauges.

The projected fuel economy (highway) is 30 miles per US gallon (36 miles per imperial gallon, or 7.84 litres / 100 km, 12.75 km per litre).

In Europe, the Cube will arrive in November with a 1.5-litre diesel engine (106hp) with diesel particulates filter (DPF), or a 1.6-litre petrol (gasoline), producing 111hp (Before that, Nissan will launch in the "old continent" the Pixo, built on the common platform with the new Suzuki Alto, both made in India by Maruti Suzuki).

2009 Nissan Cube: Changeable 20-colour palette of accent lighting under the instrument panel and in the centre console cup holder (blue).

3rd generation Nissan Cube: Changeable 20-colour palette of accent lighting under the instrument panel and in the centre console cup holder (green).

Changeable 20-colour palette of accent lighting under the instrument panel and in the centre console cup holder.

Standard equipment

Standard features include (USA specifications) six air bags: front, side (seat-mounted in the front) and curtain air bags (roof-mounted for front and rear-seat outboard occupant head protection), front seat Active Head Restraints, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with Traction Control System (TCS) and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).

Other standard features include vehicle-speed-sensitive electric power-assisted steering, power windows with driver’s side one-touch auto down feature, Remote Keyless Entry system, power door locks with auto-locking feature, variable intermittent windshield wipers and intermittent rear window wiper, power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes, cargo area light and hooks, 12-volt power outlet and adjustable front seat belt upper anchors.

New Nissan Cube: storage in inside panel.

Another storage space in the inner side panel.

The suspension adopts an independent MacPherson strut front design with stabiliser bar and a torsion beam rear suspension with integrated stabiliser bar.

Optional equipment

Options include Nissan Intelligent Key with Push Button Ignition, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System, Rockford Fosgate subwoofer with six speakers, XM Satellite Radio (XM subscription sold separately), Interface System for iPod and a rear sonar system (helps when reversing by indicating the remaining distance between the rear bumper and an obstacle), 16-inch aluminium-alloy wheels, an illumination kit with 20 selectable colours, illuminated kick plates, rear cargo organiser and others.

New Nissan Cube: undulating forms in roof lining.

New Nissan Cube: undulating curves in the roof.

Undulating forms inspired by a drop in water also in the roof lining.

Available accessories include inserts to fit into the top centre of the instrument panel, colourful elastic straps that slip into cut-outs on the door armrests to secure items, an Interior Illumination Kit, which provides a changeable 20-color palette of accent lighting under the instrument panel and in the centre console cup holder.

Other interior accessories include illuminated stainless kick plates, drilled stainless pedal covers, rear cargo area organiser and interior trim appliqués available in four body-matching colours and a sleek, carbon fibre look.

Exterior accessories include a front chin spoiler, rear under-spoiler, side body sills, rear roof spoiler, 16-inch aluminium-alloy wheels, nose mask, side window deflectors, vehicle cover and fog lights.

Nissan Cube Krōm

Developed by NNA’s new Specialty Vehicles Group (also developed the sporty Nissan NISMO 350Z), the Cube 1.8 Krōm, features specific exterior and interior treatments. It adds to the cube 1.8 S standard features a 3-bar chrome grille, 2-bar chrome front bumper grille, fully integrated front and rear fascias, body side sills, unique rear roof spoiler, model-specific 16-inch aluminium-alloy wheels and Krōm rear emblem.

New Nissan Cube: front seats view.

Wall Gray in a quilted suede-like fabric.

Inside, the cube Krōm offers additional features that include Bluetooth hands-free phone system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, woven black and grey seat cloth, an upgraded audio system with six speakers and Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, interface system for iPod, titanium interior trim accents, sporty aluminium trimmed pedals, automatic temperature control and interior illumination system.

Exterior and dimensions

The new Nissan Cube stands out with a certain "robotic" look: wide headlights, asymmetrical body, large glass surfaces... and a certain refrigerator-style rear door.

New Nissan Cube: open trunk / boot view.

New Nissan Cube: rear bench upright.

New Nissan Cube: rear bench folded down.

Cargo volume of 11.4 cu-ft (322 litres) with the 2nd row seat upright, and 58.1 cu-ft (1645 litres) when folded down.

With its wide track, Cube’s wheelbase (99.6-inch / 2530mm) compared to its overall length (156.7-inch / 3980mm) puts the wheels near the body corners, providing better space inside, with a tight 33.4-foot / 10.18 metre turning diameter (32.8-foot / 9.99 metre curb-to-curb).

Other body dimensions of the B-segment (subcompact) model are:
- width: 66.7 inches/1694mm,
- height 65 inches/1651mm,
- tread width: front 58.1 inch/ 1475mm, rear 58.3 inch/ 1481mm.

The tall body height provides a relatively high seating position, a very limited invisible part of the hood (area that the driver cannot see) and a good rear visibility for parking and backing up. The rather upright A-pillars give a wider range of forward visibility. The back door opens fully when space allows for loading, or to a limited-access position (about eight inches / 20 cm) when space is restricted.

Interior

Nissan describes the interior, which can seat up to five passengers, as a "roomy social space" for driver and passengers, with storage for cell phones, MP3 players and other personal items.

New Nissan Cube: reclining rear seat in forward position.

New Nissan Cube: reclining rear seat in rearward position.

Reclining rear seat can be adjusted to three positions, 1: full rearward (largest legroom setting), 2: mid-position (3.9 inches / 9.9cm forward), 3: front position (6.0 inches / 15.2cm forward).

The seating includes 6-way manual driver’s seat and 4-way manual front passenger’s seat, with a sliding rear bench seat positioned higher than the front seats, to enhance rear passenger visibility.

The reclining rear seat can be adjusted to three positions:
- full rearward (largest legroom setting),
- mid-position (3.9 inches / 9.9cm forward),
- front position (6.0 inches / 15.2cm forward).

The passenger compartment volume is 97.7 cubic feet (2767 litres, or 2.76 cubic metres), with a maximum cargo volume of 11.4 cu-ft (322 litres) with the 2nd row seat upright, and 58.1 cu-ft (1645 litres) when folded down.

The interior comes in Wall Gray and Graphite colour environments. The first is available in a quilted suede-like fabric, while the Graphite interior comes in two cloth grades.

Other interior features include the "floating pod" instrument panel with asymmetrical light blue and white gauges. The three-spoke steering wheel is available with leather wrapping and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

Storage spaces include six cup holders (instrument panel, front centre console and rear armrests) and five bottle holders (door panels and centre console), detachable multi-hooks for holding bags or hats, which can be moved from place to place, including the instrument panel and rear passenger doors.

The two "shelves" located on top centre and passenger side of the instrument panel provide space for placing keys, cell phones or digital music players when the vehicle is parked. The shelves can be personalised with accessory wood-like trim or shag carpeting.

Inspired by the undulations generated by a drop in water, the interior also incorporates concentric circles that can be seen in the roof headliner, cup holders and climate control design.

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