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THE STORY OF CUBE 1-2-3
It took more than a million domestic sales and two distinct generations of model before Cube was ready to take on the world. This is that story...
"To be honest, if we were taken aback by the popularity of the original Cube, we bowled over by the cult status attained by the second generation model. We're ready for the reaction to the third generation..."
Pierre Loing, Nissan's European Vice President for Product Planning
At a glance
Square is the new cool
Cube began life as a solution to a typical Japanese problem. The country's crowded streets mean that cars need to be compact, yet big enough to carry families. Nissan's answer was a car that took up no more space on the road, but offered a greater interior volume thanks to a tall, square-back body. Naming it was easy.
Based on the chassis of the then Nissan March (Micra in Europe) the first generation Cube took most of its styling cues from the donor car. Design was conservative, but it still created a stir at home as it slotted in the line-up between the March and the bigger Sunny.
Launched in 1988, it was powered by the March's 1.3-litre four cylinder engine through a four-speed automatic 'box. Options included a four-wheel drive version and continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the car was only offered in Japan.
The legend arrives
That version was to last four years... and it was in 2002 that the Cube legend really started to take off. The brainchild of designer Hirotada Kuwahara, the second generation version introduced the unconventional iconic shape that is now immediately identifiable as the Cube.
Looking unlike anything else of the road at the time, the 2002 Cube mixed straight lines with edgy styling features like the asymmetric rear window that wrapped around the nearside corner of the car. Although also intended as a Japanese market car only, it quickly developed a cult following via the internet and pages of fashion magazines leading other markets to campaign for imports... ironically, though, it was the asymmetric rear end that put a stop to that.
Big in Japan
Japan, like Great Britain, India, Australasia and parts of southern Africa, drive on the left. To sell Cube in markets that drive on the right - notably mainland Europe and North America - it would have had to be totally re-engineered, either to eliminate the asymmetric styling or swap it to the other side. Further obstacles mitigating against European sales were the column gear change and the lack of a diesel option. Little wonder any proposal was dropped for cost reasons.
Not that the other right-hand drive markets saw official imports either. Again the cost of modifying the car to meet European homologation requirements was deemed too high and the only cars that did venture outside Japan did so as personal imports. One of the most enthusiastic adopters of Cube was Great Britain, where there is a thriving owners club.
Like the original, the second generation Cube was to last four years, but in that time saw more changes and enhancements than its predecessor. Based on the platform of the larger third generation March, the Cube was powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine, again coupled to an automatic transmission with CVT as an option.
In 2004 Cube was joined by Cube3 or Cubic, a stretched version with three rows of seats. With its wheelbase extended to 2600mm from 2360mm and overall length to 3900mm from 3730mm, the Cubic offered even more practicality, though it helped if the passengers were on the small side if you planned to fill all seven seats: the third generation Cube has seats for five in a package that's 80mm longer than Cubic.
In 2005 both Cube and Cubic benefited from an engine upgrade, borrowing the 1.5-litre HR petrol unit from the newly launched Tiida. At the same time Nissan offered its e4WD system as an option.
Designed to offer part-time four-wheel drive without the cost and weight of traditional systems, e4WD's rear-wheel drive package located an electric motor, electromagnetic clutch and reduction gear under the luggage area, and included an engine-driven generator to power the motor and a 4wd control unit.
Operating automatically the moment slippage is detected at the front wheels, the electric motor cuts in to drive the rear wheels, effectively doubling the grip on offer. Designed for use at lower speeds - the system disengages itself at motorway speeds - e4WD is a low cost and comparatively simple way of providing extra grip in treacherous conditions without adversely affecting fuel consumption and with minimal changes needed to the base front-wheel drive car. It total it added just 80kg to the all-up weight of the Cube.
Cube on a charge
Electricity featured in a one-off version of the Cube. A battery-powered concept version known as Denki Cube (‘denki' is Japanese for electric) appeared at the 2008 New York motor show and was then demonstrated to journalists and interested observers all over the world.
Denki Cube was powered by Nissan's latest lithium-ion batteries and was built as a showcase for the company's EV technology. Underneath Denki's body lay the running gear of Nissan's first series production EV, the Leaf.
In its first decade more than a million Cubes were built and sold in Japan. The third generation is guaranteed to add handsomely to that total. Although sales have only just started in Europe, it has been on sale since late 2008 in Japan and mid 2009 in North America where it is powered by a 122PS 1.8-litre engine and has the option of e4WD. In some respects, the Cube story has only just started.