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Cars 2018: Nissan Kicks Review & Road Test

There’s nothing hotter this year than a brand-new subcompact crossover suv, and that’s what Nissan is delivering just in time for summer. The all-new 2018 Kicks crossover replaces the Nissan Juke, which was a remarkably fun little crossover that never really caught on.

We got to drive the Kicks at the press launch on the roads around San Diego, California, and we think it’s a winner. Nissan is throwing out a wider net with this new crossover, sliding in under the price point of some of its major competitors and offering a compelling set of features for your money. The Kicks is arriving at Nissan dealers all across America this month, so it’s available for test drives right now.

Meet the Competition

Let’s cut right to the bottom line. The new Kicks is set to compete against the Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport, and the new Hyundai Kona. The base price (including all fees) on the Kicks is $18,965. The base EcoSport is $18,990 after about $2,000 of discount incentives. The Kona will cost you $19,980 after a $500 discount incentive. It’s possible to get a Soul as low as $17,095 with a manual transmission, but once you add an automatic to match the others, the Kia reaches $18,695.

Those prices are for a direct-comparison vehicle in the base trim, with front-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission. Both the Kona and the EcoSport offer optional all-wheel drive, and all of the competing models provide optional engine upgrades with more power at a higher price.

What’s in a Kicks?

The Kicks comes with just one engine and driveline configuration. It’s a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to Nissan’s latest Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission with front-wheel drive.

The Kicks driveline combination is effective. The little Nissan weighs about 2,650 pounds, which is light by today’s standards, and the Xtronic transmission makes good use of available torque. So the Kicks has plenty of power for freeway merging or any other reasonable acceleration you want. Nissan also did its homework on the fuel economy, with the Kicks offering best-in-class ratings of 30 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. In a long day of driving, we saw results pretty close to the advertised 33 mpg in combined city/highway fuel economy.

Safety is standard equipment.

The Kicks is one of the few affordable cars that provide automatic emergency forward braking with a forward collision warning as standard equipment. Adding those features to most competing models drives the price up quite a bit. Meanwhile, blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert come standard on both the Kicks SV and SR trim levels. Of course, the Kicks also comes standard with a full suite of airbags and both traction and stability control. The rear seat includes LATCH connections for child car seats.

All Kicks models come with a basic rear-view camera. If you buy the top SR trim, you also get a bird’s-eye view with the Intelligent Around View camera system, plus a special camera that shows the right-front wheel and fender. That’s nice when you’re parallel parking because you can see exactly how much space you’ve got.

The Kicks is for the tech-savvy buyer.

Nissan intends the Kicks mainly for a younger audience, and it offers a solid technology package. All Kicks models come with a 7-inch touchscreen display audio system. The basic system includes a CD player, AM/FM/satellite radio, USB input, and Bluetooth for hands-free phone calls.

The upgrade SV and SR trim levels add support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. Notably, Apple just announced that the next iOS upgrade will add support for Google Maps and Waze navigation apps in CarPlay. At the top SR trim level, you can also add the optional Bose Personal sound system, which comes as part of the premium package. The Bose system brings an amplifier and eight speakers, including a pair of speakers located inside the driver’s seat headrest for a completely immersive surround sound experience.

Just the Important Luxury Features

The Kicks is not a luxury vehicle, and a “premium package” on the top trim is the only option you can select. But in addition to the Bose stereo, the premium package also adds Prima-Tex leatherette upholstery with heated seats. That’s a big deal in most of North America. The premium package also includes a security system, which is handy for urban markets.

There’s one other luxury feature to mention, and that’s a quiet cabin. Most small vehicles have a lot of road noise, and sometimes it’s really bad. That’s why the quiet interior of the Kicks is impressive. We drove the Kicks on some of the noisiest freeways anywhere, and you can hold a normal conversation or enjoy your music very well.

Snappy Color Selection

When you buy a sassy little subcompact SUV, you shouldn’t choose a boring color. Of course, you can if you want, but it will look like every other SUV on the road: boring! When you see the great color combinations Nissan has for the Kicks, you’ll want to show some pizzazz.

The Kicks is available in basic black, silver, metallic gray, or white. But you can also choose a really nice Cayenne Red, Deep Blue Pearl, or our favorite, the bold Monarch Orange. What’s even better is that Nissan has some two-tone options for the roof: You can get white over blue, orange over gray, black over white, black over red, or black over orange. You can also choose a number of color-matched exterior trim accessories.

Carry all the things!

One great design feature about the Kicks is its large interior space. Nissan raised the roof so that even tall drivers will have several inches of headroom. Both the front and rear legroom measurements are best-in-class. With the driver’s seat set for a 6-foot driver, a 6-foot passenger can sit directly behind with plenty of space. The back seat is also wide enough to accommodate three adults for short distances, and two adults comfortably.

Behind the second row, the Kicks provides a generous 23 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and 53.1 cubic feet with the back seat folded down. One thing — the rear seat doesn’t fold flush with the cargo area floor, but raising the floor to do so would reduce the total cargo space.

On the Road

Smaller and lightweight vehicles often lack the mass to traverse rough pavement smoothly, but the same work that Nissan’s engineers put into making the cabin quiet also gives the Kicks a smooth, controlled ride. On a curvy road, the Kicks delivers confident steering and good road-handling ability. You’ll feel like you’re driving a much more expensive vehicle.

The Kicks had plenty of power to get onto a freeway with a short ramp, and to pull out and pass if needed. The continuously variable transmission takes the engine up to its highest registers when you ask for full acceleration, but it gets the job done. The brakes are pretty standard discs in front and drums in the rear, but they are more than adequate for the task at hand.

How would we configure this vehicle?

One of the best things about the Kicks is that the trim and options list is so short. You’ve got the basic S trim at $18,965, the sportier SV trim at $20,665, or the top SR trim at $21,265. If you add the premium package at $1,000, and you select the most expensive two-tone paint job at $545, you still come out at $22,810 for a loaded Kicks. That’s about where some small suvs start with their base trim.

With the comparatively small price difference among these configurations, there’s very little reason not to choose the top trim and get all the goodies. If we were buying a Kicks for ourselves, the Bose sound system and heated seats would be must-have features, along with the Android/Apple smartphone integration. By the time you equip competing crossovers comparably to the top-trim Kicks, they’re much more expensive.

Who should buy the Kicks?

Nissan thinks that the average Kicks buyer is going to be a young single or couple, but the company might be surprised at how broadly appealing this crossover could be. There’s plenty of room for a small family, and older people will like the value proposition as well. If you really need all-wheel drive instead of a good set of winter tires, the Kicks doesn’t offer that. But we noted that the Nissan Rogue Sport is just a little bit bigger than the Kicks, and you can equip that model with a capable AWD system.

The Kicks would make a great urban/suburban commute vehicle with its quiet, comfortable cabin and thrifty habits. Homeowners will find that the Kicks is great for a trip to the home supply store or a Costco run. That’s not to say Nissan is wrong, though. Active young people should like the Kicks for its low price and economy.