Finding an inexpensive vehicle with the cachet of an exotic is like looking for a penny and finding a dollar.

Nissan's Cube, a small, boxlike vehicle similar in concept to the Scion xB and Kia Soul, is a perfect example. It blends fun, if somewhat wacky, styling with an affordable price and good fuel economy to deliver fun and practicality in one package. Nissan describes it with words such as "clever," "quirky," "witty" and "uniquely functional."

Conceptually, the Cube is, in Nissan's words, "a car that doesn't want to be defined as a car. Cube is as much a mobile device as it is an automobile, something that enhances life like people's digital devices do."

You won't lose it in a parking lot because it stands out from the crowd. The asymmetrical side and back window are a Cube highlight.

Nissan says the Cube's loungelike interior, or "social space," is designed with curved surfaces that are reminiscent of a spa tub. The instrument panel, door panels, seats and even the air-conditioning vents adhere to a wavy theme. Concentric circles, like those created by a water drop, are used, too.

Despite the small wheelbase, the Cube felt roomy. Headroom is generous, and the "lounge sofa"-style rear seat can be moved up to 6 inches fore and aft through three positions: to the rear for maximum legroom, in the middle for more cargo space and up close to the front seat.

It's true that the Cube won't appeal to everyone, and it runs the risk of being the automotive equivalent of chartreuse shorts: cool this year but a bit out-of-date next year. Nevertheless, I loved it, not only for its practical shape and decent interior space, but also because the 1.8-liter engine felt way livelier than its 122 horsepower would indicate.

I attribute its spunky off-the-line acceleration to the vehicle's light weight and the continuously variable automatic transmission.

The CVT automatic is rated at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway.

The Cube has a tight turning circle that makes it feel extremely agile and maneuverable in tight places, such as shopping center parking lots.

This is the third generation of the Cube, but the first to be imported to the States. The first bowed in 1998, and the second in 2002. Prices begin at $13,990 for the base model with a six-speed manual transmission. The Cube S begins at $14,690 with the manual transmission and $15,690 with the automatic. The Cube SL begins at $16,790.

Standard equipment includes front, side and side-curtain airbags, tire pressure monitor, stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes with brake assist.

The Cube S adds premium fabric, cruise control, a cargo cover and body-colored mirrors.

Options include an aerodynamic body kit, upgraded stereo and my favorite, a shag carpet dash topper.

Dealers have a wide range of accessories so buyers can personalize their vehicles.

As Huey Lewis sang, "It's hip to be square," and the Cube is proof.

Price

The base price of the test car was $15,690. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $16,410.

Warranty

Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

2009 Nissan Cube S

Engine: 1.8-liter, 122-hp 4-cyl.

Transmission: Automatic

Wheelbase: 99.6 inches

Curb weight: 2,829 lbs.

Base price: $15,690

As driven: $16,410

MPG: 28 city, 30 hwy.

To reach Tom Strongman, send e-mail to tom@tomstrongman.com.