I’ll ‘fess up – I’m not sure I get the whole automobile-in-a-box concept. Over the past dozen years or so, I’ve driven just about every car that’s on the road, from supercars like the Lamborghini Diablo to American muscle cars like the old Trans Am (I drove a mid-’90s model, which was a rattle trap) to cool little roadsters like the Mazda Miata. I love the sleek, glasslike lines of the new BMWs (which many die-hard fans are finding hard to like), and I love spotting some elusive, sporty beastie on the highway and tailing it for awhile, checking out its design, its stance, its uniqueness, until inevitably the driver guns it and I’m left in its dust.
So whenever I have the chance I try to drive something I haven’t driven before. A few months ago, on a trip to Florida, I had a chance to rent a PT Cruiser. Sounded like fun, I thought, as I jumped behind the wheel. And in a sense it was. I know the PT Cruiser (and the similar Chevy HHR) has a big following, and their owners love them. But to be honest, I thought it was an odd driving experience. It took me awhile just to figure out how to open the windows (the buttons are on the center console, not the doors). You sit high in the vehicle, which was okay. It drove well enough. But my biggest gripe was the view out the back and sides, as the rear pillars tended to limit visibility. Sure made lane-changing tricky, and often a little dicey.
In recent years, the PT Cruiser, which is an undeniable hit, has yielded even more boxy cars, like the Scion xB and the Honda Element (neither of which, I confess, I’ve driven). And now comes another boxy car to join the square-shaped parade — the 2008 Nissan Cube.
Ya gotta admit, it’s certainly a descriptive name. No misunderstanding here when you see it on the lot, although a cube (or a square) is not a totally accurate name. It is, in a sense, a box (though I’ll grant you that the Nissan Box is not a particularly colorful name).
Which brings me to my point — why are these cars so popular? They’re certainly not sleek-looking. They’re not aerodynamic (which has been the general trend in automotive design for the past couple of decades). There can be only one answer — they’re different, and perhaps even (dare I say the word?) cute. And it’s that difference (and cuteness) that appeals to a certain segment of the automotive-buying public (i.e. young drivers).
Even more mysterious — early reports have the Nissan Cube as being woefully underpowered, with a mere 1.5-liter engine. That would certainly be fuel-efficient, but also seriously lacking in power. However, reports are still very sketchy, and everything is subject to change, including the design — supposedly the Cube that will show up in the U.S. later this year will be an updated version of the Japanese model, shown above. We’ll have to wait until more info emerges to determine if Nissan is really thinking inside (or outside) the box with its new Cube.