by Frank A. Aukofer
If the 2018 Nissan Kicks landed a part in a western movie, bystanders likely would be moved to say, “Seems like a mighty fine ride.”
The Kicks is the latest in a proliferation of small crossover sport utility vehicles, though it is not accurate to call them subcompacts because their interior volume – the combination passenger and cargo space — nearly matches that of a midsize sedan.
For the Kicks, it amounts to 119 cubic feet, with 94 cubes for passengers and 25 for cargo behind the back seat. Another cubic foot and the interior space would be in the federal government’s large car category.
It becomes apparent when you climb inside. The Kicks has ample head-, shoulder- and knee-room front and back. Even the center-rear passenger, who usually is dissed in most vehicles, gets almost as much room, with a nearly flat floor, as the outboard passengers, although he or she must sit on a raised, hard cushion.
Nissan regards the Kicks’s main competitors as the Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and the all-new Hyundai Kona. But there are others, including the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Chevrolet Trax.
Although some of these can be ordered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Kicks — like the Toyota C-HR — comes only with front-drive. It also betrays its economy orientation with disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear wheels. But they are effective given the Kicks’s light weight.
It’s an endearing package for young couples or singles with limited budgets. Nissan says the styling was inspired by a concept car that made its debut in Brazil. Five youth-oriented two-tone paint combinations are available.
There are four trim levels, starting with the base S model and moving up to the SV, SR and the tested SR Premium, which is the top of the line. Prices start at $18,965 for the S, $20,665 for the SV and $21,265 for the SR. The SR Premium adds $1,000 for a total of $22,265.
Standard equipment on all versions includes automatic emergency braking, cruise control, hill-start assist, power windows, hands-free telephone system, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton starting, keyless locking, automatic headlights and roof rails.
Features on upper level models include Apple CarPlay, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, alloy wheels, SXM satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, LED low-beam headlights, around-view camera and remote starting.
The tested SR Premium had all of that plus an upscale Bose audio system with eight speakers, a security system and heated cloth front seats with faux leather trim. The seats, using Nissan’s “zero gravity” design, were particularly luxurious with superb support and comfort.
At just an inch more than 14 feet long, five feet two inches tall and weighing just 2,672 pounds, the Kicks is quick, maneuverable and economical in urban traffic, as well as on desolate freeways and curving mountain roads. It cruises quietly at freeway-plus speeds, delivers an acceptable ride on rough surfaces and holds a straight line without frequent steering corrections.
Though its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has but 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, the light weight combined with a vigorous continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) delivers instant throttle response, making it feel faster than it is. Some critics bash CVTs for their lack of shift points, as well as sounds and a feel that the transmission is slipping.
That’s not the case here. Of all the manufacturers, Nissan likely has the most experience with CVTs and it shows. Unless you are overly sensitive or picky, you won’t even notice anything unusual. Mash the throttle or feather-foot it, the Kicks easily moves off.
City/highway/combined fuel economy on the SR Premium is rated by the EPA at 31/36/33 mpg.
The cargo area behind the second-row seats is well-designed and roomy. Space more than doubles from 25 to 53 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded. However, though they fold flat they are a step above the cargo floor. There’s an overhead privacy cover and a temporary spare tire resides under the cargo floor. Moreover, the tailgate rises high enough for a six-foot-tall person to load or unload without ducking.
Though the Nissan folks say that the Kicks is not a replacement for its quirky Juke, the Juke itself is going away from the U.S. market. Its Kicks replacement amounts to a more than worthy replacement and entry in the increasingly competitive small crossover class.
- Model: 2018 Nissan Kicks SR Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 125 hp, 115 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/25 cubic feet. (53)
- Weight: 2,672 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/36/33 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $21,265.
- Price as tested: $22,025.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) Nissan