First drive: Nissan Cube
This is one road test where you'll need to pay close attention to the pictures. The Nissan Cube is a worthy car - spacious, comfortable, easy to drive. But the real reason for buying it is that quirky love-it-or-hate-it packaging.
The Cube's wilfully squared-off styling is the ultimate head turner, drawing bemusement, admiration and jest in almost equal measure. For some buyers this kind of attention will be too much to bear, but for the trendsetting urbanite Nissan would like to attract with the car, this level of scrutiny could be desirable.
The look is so divisive that it almost renders any objective comment meaningless. Suffice to say the Cube looks like it was plucked from the streets of Tokyo (to all intents and purposes it was) and its wraparound rear window dominates one side, while the Postman Pat van profile and chunky bumpers dare to be different in an industry dominated by sleek, aggressive posturing.
Aside from slack-jawed gawking, the other benefit of the car's shape is felt inside. Thanks to the bolt-upright windscreen the Cube feels remarkably airy upfront, and this extends into an impression of spaciousness in the rear. The sheer distance between the roof and your head makes the car feel big, but it is in fact no longer than a supermini and shares its platform with the Nissan Note. There is ample room for four adults, though possibly not all their luggage.
Despite the cabin's roominess, the Cube does not feel large on the road, and what dynamic strengths it has reflect the requirements of urban driving. The ride quality has been tuned with comfort in mind, and even in the UK the car shakes off most of the road network's imperfections.
The steering is very light and it takes little effort to navigate the Cube around town. Gearchange from the manual 'box is adequate, and the 106 bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine's responsiveness makes the car seem zesty on a provincial one-way system.
Force the Nissan out of town and inevitably a few weaknesses do come to the fore. The Cube can't disguise its high-sided nature and the resulting lean is mildly exacerbated by the fact that the soft suspension (especially the rear torsion bar) doesn't always react quickly enough at pace. But no one is going to buy the car with B-road bashing in mind, and at normal speeds the Cube copes well enough.
Easing back on the throttle also gives you time to study the interior. Unsurprisingly the adventurous design doesn't stop at the bodywork, and the Cube is a significant step away from the staid appearance of most other Nissans. Again, it will not appeal to everyone, but at least the manufacturer has toyed with imaginative dash design, even if its durable, blocky aesthetic does feel borrowed from the Mini and Fiat 500.
It is also possible to spec the Cube with seats coated in chocolate-brown velour. If that sounds hideously awful it shouldn't because although the seventies sofa covering does dominate the cabin it's hard not to appreciate the warm touch and neat use of textiles.
Of course all these design touches come at a premium. The supermini hatchback market is arguably the most fiercely fought in the industry, and the Cube doesn't have the most competitive price. The new Citroen C3 and Ford Fiesta both lurk beneath the Nissan and the entry level Volkswagen Golf Plus is even in the price range.
The Cube cannot claim superior economy either. Nissan optimistically claim 41mpg, but we didn't come anywhere near that figure, and 151g/km CO2 isn't exactly class-leading either. But for the people interested in purchasing the Cube none of this will matter too much. The fact that Nissan has taken the time to shoehorn a half decent car under that unconventional shell isn't a deal breaker either. The Cube will find a customer because it's a visual mould breaker, a boxy boat rocker – and for as long as it generates shock and awe on the high street, Nissan will find someone to part with the cash.