I love the look of the Nissan Cubic. So did my neighbours…and most other people, judging by the number of people who give it a 2nd (and sometimes even 3rd) look. My partner simply referred to it as ‘Postman Pat’ to indicate her dislike. If you share her opinion, why not click here to find a different car to read about! For those who haven’t encountered Postman Pat before….this link should explain things.
Assuming we’re agreed that this is a cool looking car, lets go!
Introduced in 2003, the Nissan Cubic is the bigger Brother/Sister to the second generation Nissan Cube. This review is going to concentrate on the second generation cars: for me the third generation cars (from 2008 onwards) are a little too bulbous and lost a lot of the charm of the second generation Cube/Cubic. If you have a spare moment, look at the first generation Cube. I hope you agree this second generation vehicle represented a substantial improvement.
At a quick glance you probably wouldn’t notice the difference between the Cube and Cubic. The Cubic is 17 cm longer than the Cube and the extra space is used to squeeze in a 3rd row of seats, making the Cubic a 7 seater car. Also useful to know is that the rear seats fold flat to the floor, so you could just think of the Nissan Cubic as a Cube with a larger boot. Nissan must have guessed the rear seats might spend a lot of time in the folded flat position as they equipped the car with special holders for the headrests from these seats!
Engine and transmission
The engine is Nissan’s 4 cylinder 16 valve CR14DE unit, running on standard unleaded petrol. It has a timing chain rather than a belt, which can be both a strength and a weakness depending on the care and attention it receives. This same engine is found in the K12 Micra, as are many other parts on the Nissan Cubic and Cube. You could think of the Cubic as a stretched and much cooler Nissan Micra automatic.
Later facelifted Cubics from 2005 started to feature a 1.5 litre HR15DE engine, with a power increase to 109 hp from 98 hp in the 1.4 litre engine. These cars have the model code YGZ11, whereas the ‘original’ 1.4 litre cars have the code BGZ11.
All of these cars have automatic transmission, with a column mounted gear shift complementing the bench style front seats very well. There is a choice of gearbox, between a standard 4 speed automatic and CVT. I would avoid the CVT, especially in the pre-facelift cars with the 1.4 litre engine. This is because I have read of numerous reliability problems with these gearboxes. CVT cars can be identified by shift buttons on the steering wheel.
In a world of widespread blandness in car design, the Cubic is a breath of fresh air. Here are some of my favourite bits:
The nearside rear windows wrap around the rear of the car and merge into the rear screen.
Bench style seats
Both front and middle rows of seats have been made to look like a bench. Don’t worry, they aren’t fixed like that and can slide independently.
Column mounted gear shift
Continuing with design cues from American cars of the ’50s and ’60s is the column mounted gear shift lever. Along with the foot operated ‘handbrake’ this enables the footwell to be kept clear.
Storage, cup holders, arm rests
If you like to have multiple drinks on the go whilst driving, this is the car for you, with 2 cup holders each for driver and front seat passenger.
I also love how the middle part of the front bench seat can be arm rest, storage and cup holder all in one.
There are storage nets and compartments all over the place in these cars, including the concealed storage under the floor in the middle seat footwells.
Cube style alloy wheels
The body shape of the car is mirrored in the wheels.
- The Nissan Cubic is a 7 seater car. Passengers 6 and 7 should probably have quite short legs, because the leg room in the back seats isn’t great. Having said that, there is some adjustment as the middle row of seats can slide forwards and backwards.
- Air conditioning. Some models have automatic climate control and others just have a hot to cold dial. Some also have an ion clean air purifying system if you like that kind of thing.
- Electric windows all round.
- Useful storage compartments everywhere, as mentioned above.
- Driver and passenger airbags.
- There are two ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outer seats of the middle row.
- Nissan intelligent / smart key (only on some trim levels). This basically means you can keep the key in your pocket or bag and the car senses its presence, allowing you to lock, unlock and start the engine. Fun in a way but also an unnecessary gimmick in another way. For me it doesn’t really add anything over a standard key with remote central locking.
- Front driving / fog lights (some trim levels only).
- Automatic headlights.
- Power wing mirror adjustment and folding.
The engine is really quiet and feels willing and more than adequate around town. Unfortunately asking it to propel a box-shaped car uphill at 70 mph does reveal its limitations, as you might expect: the Cubic doesn’t really pretend to be a performance vehicle. It is more than capable of cruising at motorway speeds, but just takes a little while to get there!
The car is really quiet with surprisingly low road noise. Suspension and handling are so much better than I expected: I was particularly impressed that there was much less body roll in corners than I anticipated.
The automatic gearbox isn’t the smoothest I’ve encountered on an imported vehicle but it is very good.
Visibility is excellent, as you’d probably expect from such a boxy car!
The average Nissan Cubic fuel consumption reported by owners is 35 mpg, with a higher figure of 47 mpg being reported from Japan’s motor industry standard tests.
Both the 1.4 and 1.5 litre engines qualify for the lower tax rate for imported vehicles of £145 per year.
Nissan Cubic model range
The key trim levels are (in increasing order of cost when new):
- Rider (by Autech)
- Trabis (by Autech)
In addition there have been a number of special editions predominantly focussed on appearance rather than equipment. As is often the case, it is a real challenge for me to give you a definitive equipment list for each of these due to so many different options within each trim level.
Nissan Cubic problems
There are a few problems to be aware of. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just the key issues I’ve encountered.
The CR14DE engine in these cars has a timing chain. This is great because it removes the expense of having a timing belt replaced, and the worry of it snapping and causing bad things to happen to the engine. However, it can still cause plenty of expense if the engine isn’t looked after. The oil needs to be good quality, changed regularly and kept topped up. If not, the timing chain can wear and ‘stretch.’ It doesn’t actually stretch but the wear makes it longer than it should be, which messes up the engine timing and causes fault codes. Replacement is expensive!
See under ‘engine and transmission’ above.
The central locking actuators sometimes fail. Replacements are available but expensive. There are several other repair options using generic central locking actuators.
Components within the throttle body can wear, causing any combination of poor starting, rough idling, loss of power. Unfortunately they were built as a single block, so the offending part (e.g. idle air control valve) cannot be replaced easily, rather the whole unit has to be replaced or sent away for reconditioning. If your car is doing any of the above, try having the throttle body cleaned first as this can sometimes work.
The Nissan Cubic is a beautifully designed, practical and interesting car that will always turn heads. I hope this has inspired you to consider owning a Cubic!