Friday, April 10, 2009

Nissan's Cube Aims Young

Nissans Cube Aims Young

Back in 2004, when Toyota (TM) launched the Scion brand to grow into a younger niche, Scion's xB showed that young buyers weren't only into slammed Civics and souped-up Mustangs. A boxy, strange-looking vehicle, the xB was more about a rolling living room than a fast set of wheels. Now Nissan (NSANY) and Kia would like a piece of that action. They are using the original xB formula and coming to market with the Cube, for Nissan, and the Soul, for Kia, both of which are smaller than the latest-gen xB, which has grown bloated and more expensive than the original box that launched the Scion brand.

An aside: Some want to say Honda's (HMC) Element must share some DNA here as well, but given that the buyer age trends older, the Element is more like the young couple's car when they reject the minivan—or the empty-nester's car, when he or she also rejects the minivan and the pickup but spends a lot of time either surfing or heading to the garden center.

Why mention the Element? Because buyer age is a compelling story for all of these vehicles, since a strange thing happened to Scion as well as with Honda's Element: The target was millenials/eco-boomers, but both Scion as well as Honda found a two-tier pattern, with empty-nesters adopting their boxes almost as fervently as the kids.

Nissan says they expect the same to happen with the Cube, and the reasons are pretty clear why both very young buyers and certain empty-nesters will dig it:

• Iconic Design. The Cube isn't meant to be instantly lovable. The design is purposefully polarizing, like the xB before it. The Scion was once considered controversial, and now it's almost staid. Such design can be equated with rebelling from tradition, a virtue to the youth crew, but fiftysomething Dwell readers will likewise be attracted to the unconventional, modern hew.

• Utility, Comfort and Adaptability. The Cube is tall even though its wheelbase is quite short, even shorter than the compact Nissan Versa upon which the Cube is based. Height creates interior space, so there's incredible headroom in the car; one 6-foot, 6-inch tester at the launch still had plenty of space overhead. The car is comfortable and airy inside (height-adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel mean the short as well as the tall can get a decent perch behind the wheel), and the cockpit is easily altered to suit various needs. For instance, the front seats fold backwards completely, to meet the rear bench, which itself slides fore and aft up to six inches, depending on what you need to fit behind it; slide it backwards if you need more rear-seat legroom. Why would you want the front seats to fold completely backwards? Use your imagination. One wart: The rear seats fold forward, but they don't "dump" into the floor or flip forwards against the front seatbacks, so fully utilizing the back of the car for cargo requires a bit of fiddling. The flat load floor of a Honda Fit, for instance, is a little easier to manage.

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