It only takes the briefest of glances at a Nissan Cube to form a strong opinion of its looks - be they positive or negative. The boxy yet curiously cute styling is undoubtedly divisive, but at least goes to prove one thing: MPVs needn't be boring to look at.
Though the first model officially debuted in 1998, it wasn’t until the quirkier styling of its 2002 replacement when the Cube truly embraced the right angles its name suggests. While the overall shape may startle at first, a longer look will reveal a car littered with other details just as distinctive. Thanks to a side-opening tailgate, Nissan designers took the opportunity to include a wraparound rear window on one side, but not the other - in effect making the Cube one of the most proudly asymmetrical car designs on the road.
The unconventional lines bring with them plenty of practical benefits, too. Although measuring 220mm shorter than a Ford Fiesta, the horizontal roofline allows for generous headroom within a cabin fit for five. Thanks to sliding rear bench, boot volume can extend up to 405 litres for those who consider rear legroom less of a priority. The cabin - complete with an appropriately oblong dashboard design - is crammed full of useful storage bins, in addition to two huge glove boxes and four cupholders. Equipment levels are generous by the typical standards of an early 2000s small car: air conditioning is equipped as standard, and features like satellite navigation, xenon headlights and keyless entry all frequently-included optional extras.
Though the looks may stand out, the driving experience is the usual supermini faire. Under the skin the Cube shares its platform with its contemporary Nissan Micra, and on the road it behaves in much the same way; light controls, a moderately compliant ride and above average body roll through the corners. Despite the exterior shape, wind noise is less pronounced than one might imagine. Unsurprisingly, all-round visibility is great.
Third generation models debuted in 2008, featuring the familiar asymmetric look but with a more rounded appearance inside and out. Though it grew in size slightly, the footprint remains comparable to a regular supermini. Unlike the previous model, the third-gen Cube was officially imported into the UK, and was powered by a Renault-sourced 1.6-litre petrol. UK sales ceased after three years, but the third-gen Cube is still sold in the Japanese market.
Which one to buy?
Early Cubes featured a 1.4-litre petrol shared with the Micra - the 97bhp unit delivering standard supermini performance. By mid-2005, the 1.4 made way for a slightly more peppy 1.5 (used by the Note in the UK market). Both engines are paired with a CVT gearbox, which features artificial ratios to give the effect of a more traditional auto.
In addition to the standard front-wheel drive models, the Cube was sold with the option of a mild hybrid system. Known as the e-4WD, a small electric motor provided extra traction in slippery conditions via a flick of the switch. There is very little penalty in weight or performance thanks to a lack of batteries: the electrical energy is provided by a generator which is hooked up to the engine.
For those who find that just a little extra space might come in handy every so often, the Cubic gains a wheelbase stretched by 170mm, and room for an extra pair of seats.
Buyers were able to endlessly customise their Cubes from the dealership, with as many as 24 paint colour combinations to choose from - and even 12 separate front grille designs.
Performance and specs
Engine 1498cc inline four
Power 109bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 109lb ft @ 4400rpm
Top speed 111mph
Fuel consumption 54.3mpg
Gearbox CVT automatic
Dimensions and weight
• Sharing so many mechanical components with the Micra, the Cube delivers excellent reliability. Parts are cheap too, and maintenance will be straightforward at any Nissan dealership. However, unique components like the tailgate and rear window glass can be very expensive to replace
• One or two minor electrical gremlins have been noted by owners, most notably concerning the immobiliser and, where fitted, the keyless entry system
• Models produced from 2008 onwards are similarly reliable, though some trim is prone to scuffing - particularly on cars equipped with lighter-coloured plastics
2002: Mark 2 Nissan Cube debuts in Japan
2005: 1.4-litre petrol engine replaced by a more powerful 1.5-litre unit
2008: Third-gen Cube production begins. The replacement is larger, gains a more modern interior design and a new 1.6-litre petrol engine. Unlike the previous iteration, it was officially imported to the UK
2011: UK sales of Cube end. A poor exchange rate was cited as the reason for discontinuing sales outside of the Japanese market
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
The curiosity of the Cube as a concept means that second hand values now remain stronger than those of big-selling superminis of a similar age. Starting prices for the Cube sit at around £2500, which is enough to bag a clean, early second-gen model with fewer than 100,000 miles. From there, values climb towards £5000 for the best examples. The larger and rarer Cubic models tend to be priced marginally higher.
Officially imported Mark 3 cars are still holding their values robustly, with prices generally hovering between £6-7000.