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AUTO REVIEW: Nissan Cube: Huey was right, it's hip to be square

Who would've believed it? Huey Lewis was right when, 23 years ago, he rocked with the pop tune "It's Hip to be Square." The 2009 Nissan Cube is the latest to join the quirky club of boxlike vehicles.

Who would've believed it? Huey Lewis was right when, 23 years ago, he rocked with the pop tune "It's Hip to be Square." The 2009 Nissan Cube is the latest to join the quirky club of boxlike vehicles.

And it is hip, fun and youthful with its shape, iPhone Party Roundup and even a Facebook connection. Yes, square is cool and Nissan couldn't be more up-front about it with the name -- Cube.

But while the Cube has lots going for it, know that there are hipper square cars out there if a spirited ride and fuel economy rank high among your priorities. These boxy types have been around for decades in Japan, and are quite popular. They are environmentally friendly, easy to park and offer enough room for all your stuff -- plus your head and feet.

The Cube is a front-wheel-drive, four-door hatchback that has the love-it-or-hate-it look. My wife didn't want to be seen in it. A recent buyer said online he never thought he'd buy something like it, but he did -- and he loves it.

Inside, its big windows offer wonderful visibility of the world around you. It has some unique touches, like a circle-rippled ceiling much like a stone would make after being tossed into a quiet pond. Among custom features are 20-color illumination choices and a "dash shag," a novel circle of carpet atop the dash that I still can't fathom a use for. But it's a conversation piece.

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Seats are comfortable, with cushions taken from the Maxima. Good for shorter and midrange rides, but may test you on the longer hauls.

Back seats can be adjusted fore and aft and recline, too. And with the tall roof there's plenty of room even for six-footers back there. While seats don't fold flat, a drawback in this segment, there is an ample 50 cubic feet of cargo space when they're down.

Controls and knobs are basic and simple -- easy to find and use. Cruise control is easy to manipulate with just a thumb on the steering wheel.

Hipsters will seek out the Cube's "Mobile Hub," a site where users can download music, video and more. The iPhone app, Party Roundup, groups friends and sends you around the city in search of friends, ice and music en route to your party. A Facebook version goes even further, promises Nissan.

What may attract some to the Cube, its boxy style, is also perhaps its downfall when it comes to taking it down the road and putting it to the test. The front-wheel-drive Cube handles, well, like a cube, with too much lean in the corners and no help from a mushy suspension.

Steering is slow to respond and offers little road feel. If it's a fun ride you seek, you could do a little better.

Still, the standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is peppy enough, putting out 122 hp and 127 foot-pounds of torque, and comes with a six-speed manual tranny.

Upgrade to the Krom version and you get a CVT (continuously variable transmission). It's a smooth way to get up to speed.

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At high speeds you'll need to turn up the radio volume to compensate for wind noise. No surprise here when you drive a shape that violates every aerodynamic principle.

Parking, however, is a breeze with its big windows and great visibility and an optional rear-parking sensor, too.

My mileage was around 30 combined, better than expected as EPA calls it at 30 for the highway and slightly less around town. Still, not as good as others in the segment.

Cube comes with six air bags, including seat-mounted driver and front-passenger side-impact bags and roof-mounted side-curtain bags. Also standard is ABS with brake assist, traction control and tire-pressuring monitor.

Base-level Cube is not badly equipped but I predict you'll want to move up to the S or SL, which gets 16-inch alloy wheels and the CVT, plus a pair of tweeters and other tech goodies like iPod connectivity and MP3 playback.

Top-line Krom level offers polished wheels, two-tone upholstery, interior lighting accents and upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system. But the Krom jacks up the price to nearly $20,000, compared to a base MSRP of $13,900.

If it's a fun ride or strictly economy you seek, be sure to shop the segment. The Honda Fit and Nissan Versa may give you a more economical ride. But if you agree with Huey Lewis -- it's hip to be square -- you will find great satisfaction with all the hip accessories that come with this box on wheels.

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