Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. stages the unveiling today of the third-generation, ’09 Nissan Cube cross/utility vehicle at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show here.

On sale in Japan since 1998, the Cube finally will make its appearance in U.S. dealer showrooms this spring after years of declarations by Nissan that it intended to bring the boxy subcompact state-side and five years after rival Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. released its similar Scion xB.

“More than 10 years since its original appearance, the Nissan Cube is ready to meet the world in person…in an all-new, dramatically rethought third-generation design that is clever, quirky, witty, fun and uniquely functional – and still totally square,” Nissan says in a statement.

The latest Cube builds on the larger, more powerful and more popular second-generation model, which debuted in 2002 and gained an audience outside the country via appearances in fashion and auto magazines, online and in videogames, Nissan says.

Al Castignetti, Nissan North America’s vice president-sales for the Nissan Div., says the Cube’s development process was not “traditional” and nearly unprecedented in designers, engineers and planners’ efforts and passion toward the project.

The development team coined the term “bulldog in sunglasses” to describe the Cube’s stance, while “incognito canine” was a term used to reference the vehicle’s combination of wide headlights and grille, small but substantial body proportions and short tail, he says.

The ’09 Cube’s wheels are pushed out to the corners, with a 99.6-in. (253 cm) wheelbase that is only 57.1 ins. (145 cm) shorter than the overall 156.7-in. (398-cm) length of the vehicle.

Designers aimed to reduce the number of character lines on the Cube to maintain simplicity.

The vehicle’s greenhouse is large, with A-pillars pushed outward for a “wider range of forward visibility,” Nissan says. Rear diagonal visibility is enhanced by the Cube’s asymmetrical wraparound side/rear window, making lane changes and reverse parking easier.

The rear door opens “refrigerator-style,” the auto maker says, allowing for easy opening and closing in tight spaces. The opening accommodates the loading of large items or the door can open about 8 ins. (20 cm) in limited spaces to retrieve smaller items, all via a “one-hand door handle.”

Inside, the Cube has “lounge-like comfort” for five, Nissan says, with a 6-way manual driver’s seat and 4-way manual front passenger seat. The “lounge sofa-style” rear bench reclines fully rearward, 3.9 ins. (10 cm) forward or 6.0 ins. (15 cm) forward and is positioned higher than the front seats to increase passenger visibility.

Curved surfaces and shapes are prominent in the Cube’s interior and can be seen on its instrument panel, door panels, seats, armrests, air-conditioning vents and door pulls.

Concentric circles mimicking rippling water are present in the roof headliner, cup holders and climate-control design, Nissan says.

A “floating pod” instrument panel has asymmetrical blue and white gauges, for easier distinction between the speedometer and tachometer, and sweeping gauges at startup.

Personalization is possible via accessories such as faux-wood or shag-carpeting trim for two instrument panel shelves and “magic rubber bands,” which Nissan says are rubber straps available in red, orange, yellow or silver that “slip into cutouts on the door armrests to secure items.”

Dealer accessories include an illumination kit available in 20 colors, illuminated kick plates, wheels and pet blankets.

The Cube’s interior has two color schemes, Wall Gray, with light-gray-quilted, faux-suede upholstery and off-black interior accents; and Graphite, an off-black that is more traditional, with a choice of two cloth grades.

“The Cube interior is a great example of how an inexpensive, high-value vehicle can be done well,” Castignetti says, adding the quality design, materials, features and equipment are what “the user needs with room for personalization, rather than forced customization.”

The Cube is available in three trims: Cube 1.8, Cube 1.8 S and Cube 1.8 SL, all with a 1.8L 4-cyl. engine making 122 hp and 127 lb.-ft. (172 Nm) of torque.

The engine, also in Nissan’s Versa subcompact hatchback and sedan in the U.S., can be mated to either a 6-speed manual or continuously variable transmission.

Nissan says it has improved its Xtronic CVT by adding an oil warmer to reduce friction during cold-weather starts and by using an advanced version of its Adaptive Shift Control, which optimizes fuel economy by sensing the driving situation or style in a given condition.

The auto maker estimates highway fuel economy to be 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) with the CVT.

The front-wheel-drive Cube, based on the next-generation Nissan B-platform, has an independent MacPherson strut front suspension setup and a torsion beam rear suspension, both with stabilizer bars (rear is integrated).

A flat ride is achieved partly with “ripple control” shock absorbers as well as high body stiffness, Nissan says.

Speed-sensing electric power steering is standard, as are power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes; 15-in. wheels and tires; seat-mounted driver and front-passenger side-impact airbags; roof-mounted curtain side airbags; active front head restraints, electronic stability control with traction control and antilock brakes.

Standard convenience features include power door locks and windows, remote keyless entry, intermittent wipers, six cupholders and five bottle holders.

Options for the Cube include a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, push-button ignition, Rockford Fosgate subwoofer with six speakers, XM Satellite Radio, an iPod interface and rear sonar system.

Castignetti says Nissan is not aiming the Cube squarely at younger buyers, and Larry Dominique, vice president-product planning for NNA, told Ward’s last year the auto maker didn’t see it attracting the same buyers as the Scion xB.

“We think we can get a bit more gender neutral (buyer than the xB), maybe a little bit more female than what they’re getting,” Dominique said at the time, classifying the xB as a “young, macho dude car.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com