2018 Nissan Kicks First Drive

Bringing style, efficiency and value to the small crossover party

Gary Witzenburg
Aug 30, 2018
Photographers: Courtesy of Nissan
Smaller than Nissan’s Rogue Sport but larger than its (now-defunct) bug-eyed Juke, this all-new, cleverly named Kicks fills the brand’s need for an appealing (and surprisingly affordable) entry in the fast-growing small crossover segment. With just one powertrain -- a 1.6L 4-cylinder driving through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) -- it’s also lower-priced and more fuel-efficient than anything else (except hybrids) in this class. And while it’s based on the subcompact Versa sedan, Nissan optimistically calls it a “compact” crossover.
Primarily aimed at “city living consumers,” Kicks starts at just $17,990 (plus $975 Destination) and tops out around $22K, and its EPA economy numbers are 31 mpg city, 36 highway, 33 combined. But the downside is that its naturally aspirated four-banger generates just 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, AWD is unavailable and there is no listed towing capacity. On the upside, Automatic Emergency Braking is standard even at that low price, Around View Monitor, Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems are available, and its seats-down total interior volume is an accommodating 119.2 cu ft.
Photo 2/26   |   2018 Nissan Kicks
Kicks’ Nissan signature “V-Motion” grille, boomerang head- and taillights and black-C-pillar “floating roof” differentiate it from most other small CUVs. Bold wheel arches, a rising side character line, a high waistline and dark lower body trim give it a tall, high-ground-clearance look. Intelligent Auto Headlights (I-AH) with adjustable sensitivity and timing (including twilight and wiper activation), a rear wiper and roof rails are standard, while LED low-beam headlights and accents, fog lights, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals and rear roof spoiler are available. And you can get your Kicks with one of five two-tone combinations: orange roof/grey body, white roof/blue body or black roof over white, orange or red body.
Photo 3/26   |   2018 Nissan Kicks Emblem
Inside the well-arranged, but mostly plastic-trimmed, cabin is ample passenger space that offers best-in-class front-seat legroom. Handy steering wheel controls and the mix of knobs and hard buttons for HVAC and touchscreen infotainment are generally good, the glove box is large, and there is ample open storage in the doors and console -- but no closed console box. The rear hatch opens high enough for six-footer to access the cargo area without ducking, and this small CUV’s good five-passenger room results from its flat rear floor and rear headroom and legroom comparable to that in some larger CUVs.
Photo 4/26   |   2018 Nissan Kicks Front
A flat-bottom steering wheel adds a sporty flavor, and the 6-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, 4-way front passenger seat and 60/40-split fold-down rear seat offer good comfort front and rear. Cargo space behind the back row is larger than that of four key competitors (Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport, and Toyota CH-R), Nissan says, and 32.3 cubic feet of rear-seats-down cargo room plus another 21.8 cubic feet in a below-floor compartment add up to 53.1 cubic feet of total usable space.
The “Gliding Wing” instrument panel offers a 7.0-inch-screen infotainment system compatible with NissanConnect, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but no available navigation. But there is an available Intelligent Around View Monitor (I-AVM) using four cameras to provide a virtual 360-degree bird’s-eye view around the car, split-screen close-ups of the front, rear and curb-side views and on-screen notification of objects moving nearby. Unusual in an “entry” class of vehicle, an SR Premium option Package adds a Bose Personal Plus sound system good for “360 degrees of immersive sound” from twin lightweight 2.5-inch UltraNearfield neodymium speakers in the driver’s seat headrest, 6.5-inch Super65 speakers in the front doors, cross-firing 1.0-inch tweeters in the A-pillars and 5.25-inch wide-range speakers in each rear door. The digital amplifier has six custom equalization channels, and a PersonalSpace Control offers adjustable sound settings.
Photo 5/26   |   2018 Nissan Kicks Interior
Photo 6/26   |   2018 Nissan Kicks Interior Steering Wheel
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Traction Control, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Hill Start Assist, Anti-lock Braking (with front discs and rear drums), electric power steering with a tight 34.1-ft. turning radius, a RearView Monitor, Bluetooth Hands-free connectivity, three USB ports, keyless entry, pushbutton start and seven air bags are standard, while SV and SR add the Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert and SR the Intelligent Around View Monitor (I-AVM). The top-line SR also adds an Integrated Dynamic-Control Module (IDM) with Active Engine Braking, Active Trace Control and Active Ride Control.
In addition, stepping up to the $20,290 SV gets you Automatic Temperature Control, Nissan Intelligent Key, body-color heated outside mirrors and door handles, a rear tonneau cover, “Easy Fill” Tire Alert, an Advanced Driver Alert Display, Remote Engine Start and SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The $22,290 SR piles on the LED front lighting, fog lamps, black heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, SR seat fabric, trim and accents, a roof-mounted rear spoiler and the Intelligent Around View Monitor. The base S rolls on 16-in. steel wheels, so you have to upgrade to SV or SR to get 17-in. alloys.
Photo 7/26   |   2018 Nissan Kicks Rear
With struts and a stabilizer bar in front and a twist-beam axle with twin-tube shocks in back, Nissan calls Kicks’ handling “nimble,” but we had no chance to verify that in a day of driving a mid-range SV in mostly urban and suburban workaday traffic. Helping considerably in all dimensions of vehicle dynamics (acceleration, handling and braking), however, is the Kicks’ relatively light (less than 2,700-lb.) curb weight, so it did feel agile in normal driving, and its turning circle is city U-turn tight. We averaged 32.3 mpg.
The non-turbo four provides adequate stop-and-go zip around town but runs out of oomph at higher speeds. We are not fans of CVTs, but this one seemed a bit less annoying than some despite the lack of steering wheel paddles for manual shifting or simulated fixed ratios for a more conventional automatic-transmission feel. On the plus side, we found the Nissan “Zero Gravity” front seats comfortable and the cabin surprisingly quiet except for the little four’s mild raucousness at wide-open throttle.
If you are looking for a very affordable but well-equipped small CUV, this new Nissan Kicks offers distinctive styling, good interior and cargo room and class-leading efficiency.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Vehicle type: Small CUV
Base price: $17,990 (plus $975 Destination)
Price as tested: $20,290 (plus $975 Destination)
Engines: 1.6L 4-cyl.
Transmission: Continuously Variable (CVT)
Horsepower: 125 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 115 @ 4,000 rpm
Curb weight 2,639-2,672 pounds
Towing capacity: N/A
EPA mileage rating: 31 mpg city/36 highway/33 combined

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