When invited to test drive the brand-new Nissan Kicks, I was more than a bit apprehensive.
Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder
Output: 125 horsepower, 115 foot-pounds of torque
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): 31 city, 36 highway, 33 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.7 city, 6.6 highway
U.S. As-Tested Price: $22,630 including $975 for delivery
CAN Estimated Price: $25,169 including $1,795 for delivery
After all, what good could I possibly say about this bottom-feeding, Versa-based subcompact crossover, having been pampered in recent months by some of the finest vehicles on earth, bouncing between the driver’s seats of models like the Aston Martin Vantage and DB11 AMR, Ford’s Platinum-trimmed F-150 Power Stroke pickup and even the scintillating Porsche Macan GTS. Upon reaching the summit, how can one ever settle for less?
In reality, I shouldn’t have fretted because the Kicks is an admirable effort made all the more impressive by a parsimonious base price of just 18 grand. Most of its youthful target buyers probably spend more on music downloads and smartphone apps each calendar year than that.
As the controversially styled Juke gets bounced from American showrooms, the more conventional Kicks is poised to fill its nook in Nissan’s lineup. With a simpler appearance both inside and out, this new nameplate should appeal to a much broader range of drivers, though it’s still aimed directly at urbanites.
A Growing Segment
Thanks to its boomerang head- and tail-lights, signature V-Motion grille, and floating roof, the Kicks fits right in with its next of kin like the Rogue and Pathfinder, although it has a chubby cuteness not common to the Nissan bloodline, with front fenders bulging slightly like an infant’s cheeks.
Seven exterior colors are available, but for extra fun, there are five two-tone options; with the gray-body-and-orange-roof combo being particularly striking.
Competing with other subcompact crossovers, Kicks is bringing the fight to models like Honda’s versatile HR-V, the new Ford EcoSport, Toyota’s funkified CH-R and of course the hot-selling Kia Soul, arguably this segment’s progenitor.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Nissan Leaf Review
Despite launching in June, a time when many next-model-year vehicles come out, Nissan’s latest offering is indeed a 2018, so that is not a typo at the top of this review. They went this route supposedly to get it to the market as soon as possible, to fill the Juke’s vacant slot and capitalize on this segment’s growth, which product planners expect to increase by nearly 160 percent over the next five years.
Checkin’ the specs, Kicks competes favorably with all its major rivals in just about every category of note, from overall length and wheelbase to engine output and available features, though it does have a few significant advantages.
For starters, the Kicks is a featherweight. In trimmest form it clocks in at a mere 2,639 pounds (1,197 kilograms), making it about 250 pounds (113 kgs) lighter than the most svelte HR-V, an impressive engineering achievement given how adept Honda engineers are at culling mass. Compared to the tubby Toyota CH-R, it’s about 660 pounds (299 kgs) trimmer, a staggering difference that’s about as much as a newborn elephant.
This li’l Nissan also crushes rivals in fuel economy, burning appreciable less in all driving cycles. Expect it to sticker at 31 miles per gallon (7.7 L/100kms) in city driving, 36 (6.3 L/100km) on the highway and 33 MPG combined, likely best-in-class scores across the board. Efficiency aside, it’s also incredibly spacious, with more than 53 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity and 25.3 cubic feet (716L) behind the rear seats. Only the Honda and Kia offer more cubes, each with a minor advantage.
The Kicks also provides ample space for passengers, with tons of headroom in both rows. The back bench is large enough to easily accommodate a pair of six-foot-tall individuals without complaint, a major achievement for a vehicle this small.
Up front, you’ll find a pair of Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” bucket seats, which are decently comfortable, though they do sit a bit high for my taste. Unfortunately, an armrest for the front passenger is absent, a minor complaint.
Aside from this and a dashboard screen that’s not quite centered, shifted ever so slightly to the right, something that’s sure to rankle those with automotive OCD, there’s very little to criticize. Nothing about the Kicks is egregiously chintzy. The car’s fit and finish is top-rate, with plastics quality that’s better than you’d ever expect at this price point. It’s the same with feature content.
“V” is for Value
Simplifying things, the Kicks is offered in three trim levels: S, SV and SR. The most-affordable form of this vehicle goes for just $18,965 in the US ($17,998 in Canada). Loaded up, our top-of-the-line SR model was still outrageously affordable at $22,630 ($22,798 in Canada) out the door, a price that includes the $1,000 Premium Package, $215 for two-tone paint and a $215 set of floor mats. If you’re curious (and you should be!), destination fees total $975 and are included in the above totals (Canadian fees are an extra $1,795).
Riding atop Nissan’s V architecture, the Kicks shares many major components with their Versa small car, something that’s allowed them to amortize development costs and keep prices impressively low.
But even in entry-level form this vehicle is decently equipped, featuring a seven-inch color touchscreen, sun visors with vanity mirrors, power windows and even automatic emergency braking, all standard.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are available on SV and SR models, ditto for an intelligent Around-View Monitor, which provides a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the vehicle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support are standard in these two trims as well, while the SR variant benefits from LED low-beam headlamps at no extra cost.
Bundled with the Premium Package is an eight-speaker Bose sound system that absolutely rocks! Crank the volume to even unsafe levels and there’s no distortion or rattling, just a fusillade of crystal-clear tunes. It’s remarkably good for a vehicle at in this price range.
Unlike some of its competitors, the Nissan Kicks is offered with just one engine, a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder. On paper, its output is a meager 125 horsepower with 115 pound-feet of torque.
Multiplying and routing that limited twist to the front tires is a standard continuously variable transmission, which makes the most of what little the engine has to offer. Curiously, all-wheel drive is NOT available at any price in the Kicks. Nissan’s logic is that if a customer wants this traction-enhancing feature they’ll step up to a Rogue Sport or another model in their range.
SEE ALSO: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport Review
Fortunately, that unimpressive horsepower figure does not impact real-world performance. Thanks to its low curb weight the Kicks accelerates with much more vigor than seems possible, its resourceful transmission aiding performance significantly. Keeping noise in check, heavy throttle results in simulated gear changes from the CVT, a welcome feature borrowed from other Nissans and one that helps keep the powertrain from droning annoyingly.
While not as silent as a Rolls-Royce Phantom, at speed this itsy-bitsy crossover is remarkably quiet, with little road or wind noise detracting from its on-road experience. Body motions are likewise well controlled with the Kicks rolling only a bit through corners. The whoa-pedal also feels nice underfoot even though it operates a pair of drum brakes at the rear, an obvious bit of cost-cutting.
Really, steering feel is the Kicks’ only dynamic weakness, providing a completely wooden experience. The wheel feels like what I imagine a Conestoga wagon driving like, provided they came with internal-combustion power instead of oxen and a steering wheel rather than reins, but you get my point; the handling in this vehicle isn’t all that great.
The Verdict: 2018 Nissan Kicks Review
With remarkable fuel economy, tons of interior space and a plenty of worthwhile features, the 2018 Nissan Kicks could be flirting with best-in-class honors in the bourgeoning subcompact-crossover segment. It’s the real deal and a gentle reminder to folks like me that you should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case a vehicle by its window sticker.
The Kicks is on sale right now. Examples should be arriving at dealerships across the country as you read this review.
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