When Nissan killed the Juke last year, I’ll admit it left a little hole in my heart. The ugly-cute CUV was fun to drive and appealed to my emotions like few crossovers do. Now for 2018, Nissan has launched the Kicks. Yes, in a marketing move sure to upset my grade-school grammar teacher, the Kicks’ name is oddly plural (not unlike theand before it). And while the Kicks is not a flat-out replacement for my favorite Nissan crossover, it’s certainly reaching for the same young and young-at-heart audience.
The Kicks is technically classified as a hatchback by the EPA, but Nissan calls it an entry-level crossover SUV. It’s a bit larger than the, Nissan’s more traditional economy-minded hatchback, but is shorter in stature than the larger . Whether you call it a crossover or a hatch, it starts under $18,000, making it one of the least-expensive vehicles out there. The Kicks is only available in front-wheel drive, not unlike some of its rivals.
We got our first glimpse of the Kicks way back in 2014 as a concept at the Sao Paulo Motor Show. While its design isn’t as crazy-funky as the Juke, you can certainly see the latter’s influence. A short wheelbase is capped by a sloping roof, heading into taillights that can only be described as asymmetrical. The Kicks is offered in seven colors, including some groovy two-tone combinations, and you can even color-customize parts like door handles and mirror caps in the Nissan Color Studio.
As with most inexpensive crossovers, the Kicks’ power is on the low side. A 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine knocks out a mere 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque. The good news is the Kicks competes in the lightweight category. In base form, it tips the scales at a mere 2,639 pounds, giving it a reasonable power-to-weight ratio. It’s no tire slayer, and steep hills require momentum and some planning, but this Nissan is not nearly as slow as I thought it was going to be.
As with most contemporary Nissans, power gets to the pavement through a continuously variable transmission. Upon full throttle, the transmission throws up a fair amount of noise, but it acts vaguely like a standard automatic, with simulated upshifts bringing the engine back to lower revs when just cruising along.
A small, flat-bottomed steering wheel produces a relatively quick steering ratio that’s weighted nicely. On-center accuracy is excellent, although not much feedback makes its way to the driver. The Kicks is not nowhere near as fun to drive as the more-powerful Juke or the more-expensive, but it provided a competent driving experience on back roads in line with other vehicles at this price.
On the highway, there is more wind noise than road noise, but it’s mitigated by an optional Bose audio system with eight speakers, including two in the driver’s headrest. I’m not an audiophile, but I can tell you that this system punches well above its weight. For a stereo at anywhere near this price point, it’s nothing short of exceptional.
The Kicks gets an EPA estimated fuel rating of 31 miles per gallon in the city, 36 on the highway and 33 combined. Those numbers pretty much kick butt compared to the competition. The Mazda CX-3, the best of the rest, returns 29 mpg in the city, 34 on the highway and 31 combined.
Cabin technology gets a huge improvement in the Kicks with three USB ports standard and the availability ofand Android Auto. The Nissan Connect infotainment system runs on a seven-inch touchscreen that’s standard across the board. The infotainment layout is a bit more streamlined, with a customizable home screen and menus that are easier to decipher. Onboard navigation is not available on any trim, but with smartphone mirroring, that’s not really a problem. Overall, the system is much more user-friendly than in other Nissans I’ve driven. Let’s hope the trend continues.
Driver’s aids are a bit on the light side, although automatic emergency braking is standard on all Kicks. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert come in on the mid-trim SV, while the top-of-the-line SR gets a 360-degree camera. Adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist are not on the menu like they are on the.
As much as I like the outside of Nissan’s runabout, there are a few interior features that feel really cheap. There is the expected amount of hard surfaces, which again, is forgivable at this low price point, but the door panel features an awkwardly proportioned design, resulting in a huge expanse of blank hard plastic. I understand that not everything can be soft and supple, but this just calls attention to the use of less-expensive materials.
At least there is some nice contrast stitching on the seats and dash. Most of it is orange to match the orange-and-black paint combination of my tester, but the center console is done in gray. It matches the headliner but still looks out of place. I would welcome a center storage box, because once my phone, sunglasses and soda are stored, there isn’t any place for a wallet or house keys.
The good news is Nissan makes its super-comfy Zero Gravity Seats standard. I’m not sure what kind of voodoo magic is in these seats, but apart from luxury vehicles, I think these are the best hindquarter cradlers on the market.
Cargo space in the Kicks is solidly mid-class. You’ll find 25.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats, a tad better than theand . This was enough to store three bags of video gear while shooting this review. The available 53.1 cubes with the rear seats folded is less than the Soul and HR-V, but much better than the Toyota CH-R and Mazda CX-3.
It’s tough to find a subcompact crossover offered as inexpensively as the Nissan Kicks. Starting at $17,990 (plus $975 delivery), it’s less expensive than the, and . In fact, only the Kia Soul, at a starting price of $16,200, bests the Kicks in price. Sure, most folks will spring for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and blind spot monitoring, putting the price closer to $20,000, but the new Nissan is chock-full of value. It offers excellent gas mileage, a fun and funky design and good utility.
Just don’t expect any grammar lessons.
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