The best thing about the Nissan Kicks is the price. For about $22,000, the subcompact crossover comes well-equipped with advanced driver assistance systems and convenient technology. The worst thing about the Nissan Kicks is it is not a very good car.
There are no kicks with the Kicks. It makes me better appreciate its predecessor, the Nissan Juke. The Juke was at least different. It’s OK that Kicks is dull — so is just about every other small crossover, even with its two-toned roof like the Toyota CH-R. Kicks is more about the destination than the journey. But the journey in the Kicks is loud, harsh and priced accordingly.
“Why is it so bumpy?” my 11-year old asked on a weekend road trip. It felt as if a spring coil or strut in the front suspension was ready to quit. It picks up whatever the road is putting down, and takes in a lot of road and wind noise while doing so. We thought a window was cracked it was so loud on the highway.
The continuously variable transmission doesn’t steer us away from complaining either. Although much improved, it drones at heavier throttle and when the powertrain is cold. In normal around-town driving, it’s fine. It helped return an impressive 33 mpg at an average speed of 46 mph. But the gas station will still be a familiar sight due to the tiny 10.8-gallon fuel tank.
Once you get beyond that stuff, there’s a lot to like about the Kicks.
With its short overhangs, two-toned roof and aggressive body cladding, it looks like a cross between a Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Kona. Unlike the C-HR or Juke, it has normal door handles (on the door, not wedged in the window frame). But the Kicks is priced at least $1,500 less than the competition.
The small engine has something to do with the small price. But the 125-horsepower four-cylinder provides a bit of kick because the Kicks only weighs 2,672 pounds (in SR trim). That’s really all there is to say about performance — it’ll get you there.
The interior of the top SR trim surprises for this price. Leather steering wheel and shift knob, orange stitching and seat pattern to match the orange roof and a very simple interface combine for an attractive, minimalist cabin. The circular outer vents are kinda cool too. Most important for the targeted urban consumer is the advanced driver assistance systems, including the subtle-but-effective blind spot warning that appears on the side mirrors, 360-degree split-screen backup camera and easy to use steering wheel controls to access vehicle info. The 7-inch color touch screen is small but effective. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard on SR trim.
Rear legroom is tight, but the cargo volume with the seats up is near tops in the class. We fit our portable hockey locker, which is about 3 1/2 feet tall if not a whale, vertically in back so we didn’t have to fold down the seats. We also fit one adult, two kids and our stuff for a two-night weekend getaway. The dog fit, too, which is another benefit of the Kicks. It has good ground clearance of 7 inches, and a low step-in height of 15.4-inches, which is more like a sedan than a crossover. It is easy to get in and out of, but it is not too high off the ground, even for the pup wary of the lovely remote start function.
The subcompact crossover segment is loaded with options, and none of them really kick-start the heart. Kicks is another that sacrifices any sort of driving sophistication for above-average fuel economy and interior space at a below-average price. There are smoother, quieter small crossovers, but not with the interior appointments at this price.
2018 Nissan Kicks SR at a glance
Vehicle type: Subcompact crossover
Base price: $20,290
As tested: $21,250 (excluding $995 destination)
Mpg: 31 city, 36 highway, 33 comb.
Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: Continuously variable
Competitive rank: Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Ford EcoSport.