Are you a children’s entertainer?,” asks some clown as I’m unloading from the Nissan Cube’s boot.
And there’s no doubt that as a chariot of choice for a children’s entertainer, the Nissan Cube must be on the list of hot possibles just due to its unusual cartoon looks. And therein lies the Nissan Cube’s weakness and its strength. The car divides opinion, emphatically. I have driven supercars that attract less attention than this.
But I liked it immediately. I genuinely found excuses to drive it. This is extremely unusual for any car at this price. Around town I found the Cube to be a very pleasant companion. Visibility – out the front rather than the rear – is fantastic. It is one of the brightest and most airy cars I’ve driven. It feels wide and spacious despite being small and inside is roomy indeed, even in the back. Unusual features – like the hair band-like orange elastic straps on the door pulls to capture pens, tickets, letters to post etc – are quirky, and they’re clever little touches that soon become indispensable.
But quirky doesn’t even cut it. Even in Japan I suspect the Cube is something of an oddball and cars can get fantastically odd there as it is. Inside, there’s an S-shape dash that wraps into the doors, atop of which sits a circle of shag carpet that my wife described as a discarded toupée. It sits there to house stuff like mobile phones and iPods in a super convenient and carpet-grippy fashion. I wanted to build a small miniature display of tiny ninja figures covertly crawling through the carpet grass. The thing is I probably didn’t need to drive anywhere in the Cube. I just wanted to play in it.
But then there is something childlike about the Cube. It may be bought by the kind of people that name their cars like they name their pets or who personalise them with colourful cushions and cuddly toys on the rear parcel shelf. Or the kind of people that talk in high-pitched cartoon voices to one another to convey affection. Perhaps, but I doubt it.
Really the Cube is something of a design classic appreciated by the same people who are obsessed with the styling of anything by Apple Inc. The Cube is hot amongst the fixed-wheeled, tweed plus-four-wearing bicycle-polo players of Hoxton. As I say, its divisive. It’s cool in the same way that wearing a Yo Gabba Gabba T-Shirt is cool on a 42-year-old man. If you don’t like it then you just don’t get it. It’s worth remembering that the Cube spearheaded a trend for boxy, characterful cars and took 10 years to get here from Japan. And people were eager, really eager, for it to get here.
In the City the Cube – thanks to its 110bhp, 1.6 litre engine – seems sprightly enough. It does have a tendency to roll at speed but only in a way a puppy does when it gets a little ahead of itself. Somehow it seems like no big deal and appears part of its loveable charm. On the motorway it’s going to be a bit more challenging, being so upright, and isn’t going to make for super speedy progress. But none of this really matters because the sun roof has a roller blind, the boot opens like a fifties fridge and it’s easy to park.
I walk away from it and almost expect to see a warm, happy orange glow around it. Or maybe it’s around me. The Nissan Cube is an imperfect and often impractical car, but it’s fun and entertaining and not just for the children.