Cue Cube for character

It's odd but kind of cute - ANDY RUSSELL finds Nissan's cult Cube endearing.Don't be a square - get in a Cube as Nissan brings a new angle to quirky cult cars.

It's odd but kind of cute - ANDY RUSSELL finds Nissan's cult Cube endearing.

Don't be a square - get in a Cube as Nissan brings a new angle to quirky cult cars.

If you can think out of the box and get past the oddball looks of the love-it-or-hate-it Cube there is a practical, versatile little car beneath the weird and wonderful skin.

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This is the third-generation Cube - a concept named by the London Design Museum as one of the 50 cars that changed the world - but it's the first one Nissan has brought into the UK, although such is the Cube's iconic status that you may see some earlier 'grey import' models.

It's not going to be a big seller - Nissan has set a modest target of 2,000 UK sales a year - but it certainly gets people talking.

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It was called Postman Pat's car, a gangster mobile for a small Al Capone while one colleague likened the interior of the special edition launch model, with its bitter chocolate brown velour upholstery, to something a porn star would own - I didn't inquire about her intimate knowledge of such things!

Bigger than it predecessor, Nissan has taken care to keep the Cube's iconic styling and character despite now building it in left as well as right-hand drive. Square and upright - the body is almost as wide as tall - with rounded-off corners there has been no compromise in the design ethos with six different panel sets for the rear, side and roof so the side-hinged tailgate opens on the nearside, which also features a wrapround rear side window to improve visibility for the driver when reversing, regardless of which side the steering wheel is on.

Interior designer Tadamasa Hayakawa's inspiration for the cabin came as he chilled in a hot tub on holiday. He sketched images of sofas in a Jacuzzi and the concept of the 'Jacuzzi Lounge' was born.

The result is big scooped-out curves, setting the theme for the interior, on the fascia and picked up on the glass roof panel which has not one but two blinds - one opaque, based on a traditional Japanese 'shoji' rice paper shade, to let light in while minimising heat build-up.

And then there's the subtle wave formation in the door panels and in the shape of the seats and 'water drop' patterns - said to reflect the calming way water ripples outwards as a stone is dropped into a lake - in the roof lining, climate control design, speaker grilles and even the bottom of the cup-holders.

All very interesting, but it's a shame the same cannot be said about the plastic trim itself - durable and nicely co-ordinated but not as aesthetically pleasing.

While the interior may not be everyone's cup of tea, or should that be saki, there won't be complaints about its spaciousness with enough headroom to wear a hat and, thanks to a rear seat that slides through 240mm, generous legroom all round. While the rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat - unfortunately leaving a huge step up from the boot floor - the cushion is a one-piece bench so you can't slide the seats separately.

The deep, flat-sided boot will take a sizeable load even with that rear seat right back as you still have a useful 255 litres - push them forward and, while only small children will find it comfortable in the back, the boot grows to 403 litres.

The instrument and controls are clear and straightforward and the upright driving position will suit most people although the steering wheel adjusts only for height. But it's a shame that having improved visibility with that extra nearside rear window, the three high rear head-restraints obscure the view out of the back screen. The cabin is dotted with storage spaces, including elastic straps on the front doors and a huge glovebox.

Currently available only with a 1.6-litre petrol engine - with five-speed manual or automatic continuously-variable transmission - a 1.5-litre diesel follows in May. The peppy petrol unit does a good job, happily trickling along at low revs or being worked hard when you need to get a spurt on while economy hovered around 40mpg.

Built on the same platform as the Micra and Note, given the tall body the Cube drives better than expected. With the wheels pushed out to the corners it feels more stable than you'd imagine through corners with good grip, although the light steering is a little lifeless. Suspension has been tuned for our roads and most of the time is a match for those everyday bumps and lumps but it can get bouncy at speed on poor surfaces.

Apart from the 100 LDN special edition launch models, the �14,000 Cube will be available in standard trim which includes a glass roof, 16in alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, stability control, keyless entry and ignition, air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone connection and cruise control. Upgrade to Kaizen for �1,100 and you gain satellite-navigation, rear parking camera, automatic headlights and wipers and climate control.

When it comes to being fashionable, the Cube reminded me of a gaudy Hawaiian shirt I refuse to part with. Many people wouldn't be seen dead in it but it makes me feel good and don't care what people think.


PRICE: �14,600

ENGINE: 1,598cc, 110PS, four-cylinder petrol

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 11.3 seconds; top speed 109mph

MPG: Urban 34; extra urban 50.4; combined 42.8

EMISSIONS: 151g/km


INSURANCE: 15E (out to 50)

WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE? Length 3,980mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,695mm; height 1,670mm

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