Even though they've been around for a while, vehicles like Nissan Cube and Scion xB defy classification. The English language still lacks an adequate word for a radically-styled cross between a tall compact and minivan. But sell they do to young hipsters who can't resist their curious looks and easy price.
No other type of affordable car can match their nerdy-chic charm and sheer visual impact. But what else do they offer the typical commuter?
What We Like About the Cube
The Nissan pulls no punches in its attempt to be different. The greenhouse is alarmingly square, with porthole-inspired windows that wrap around the backlight on one side. Not be outdone, the interior boasts such novelties as a shag-carpet dash topper and a headliner embossed with a water-ripple effect. The detachable fabric storage pouch looks like something bought off Etsy.
On the practical side, the Cube is a cinch to park, rides smoothly, offers plenty of headroom, and gets 31 mpg on the highway. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder puts out only 122 horsepower, so expect no better than average performance.
What We Like About the xB
While still off the beaten path, the Scion wears an altogether more conservative design. It looks more like a car for adults -- or sell-outs, depending on your perspective. What it gives up in style it gains in cargo space. With 70 cubic feet of it, the xB can carry as much as some small crossovers.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 158 horsepower provides zippy performance for this class, but gas mileage trails the Cube by a few miles per gallon. Passenger room and ride comfort are agreeable enough to make the xB a fine choice for weekend road trips.
How Radical Are You?
Regarding the Cube, it’s hard not to admire how Nissan has managed to make a contemporary, mass-produced car seem like an art-school project. Though not tops in its class, the Cube is a comfortable and efficient commuter, which makes it a no-brainer for buyers who love the look.
The xB does more to attract the masses with less controversial styling and extra interior space. It’s not as interesting the Cube, but is better matched to the needs of most buyers.
Our Verdict: Scion xB
The Scion strikes us as the car you buy when the novelty of the Cube wears off.