REVIEW: 2018 Nissan Kicks SR – Modern Affordable Done Right

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The new 2018 Nissan Kicks is a vehicle that those on a limited budget will be happy to own. This is how to bring new car buyers to a brand and keep them for the future.

What is it? 

The Nissan Kicks is a subcompact vehicle that one might call a hatchback car, or maybe a crossover depending upon how you define the terms. We’ll go with “car” since the Kicks does not have all-wheel drive available. What is not in doubt, is that the new Kicks has a modern, crossover-type look. Nissan calls the Kicks a CUV (compact utility vehicle) but to our way of thinking there is a world of difference between the FWD Kicks and a vehicle like the Subaru Crosstrek or the AWD Hyundai Kona CUV we just tested (and loved). We would expect an urban-living Kicks buyer might cross-shop vehicles like the Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Nissan Leaf, or the Chevy Bolt.

Pricing and trims

The Kicks starts at just $19K including destination and delivery. There are not many other vehicles priced lower than that you’d be happy to own or have a loved one show up in. The mid-level SV trim costs under $21K. The top of the line SR we tested rang in at $21,630. It is possible to add another $1,000 to the Kicks if you opt for the Premium Package our tester didn’t have. That adds premium audio and heated seats.

Safety

To its credit, every Nissan Kicks comes standard with automatic emergency braking. This is not yet a government-mandated safety system and we love that all of the Kicks built have this proven safety-tech. The SV and SR add rear cross traffic alert and blind spot warning. Neither IIHS nor NHTSA has safety tested the Kicks yet. Our understanding is that the Kicks was originally introduced in the South American market. Given that, we would suggest looking closely at the IIHS small frontal overlap crash test results if they are available before heading out to consider buying the Kicks.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Nissan Kicks uses a 125 hp four-cylinder engine and a constantly variable transmission (CVT, meaning gearless) transmission. This combination yields outstanding fuel economy. How good? The gasoline-powered Kicks has a $100 per year lower cost for fuel than the Chevy Cruze diesel. This puts the Kicks on par with the Toyota Corolla Hatchback, which we consider the current gold standard for fuel economy.

Nissan is using words like “urban” and “city” a lot in its Kicks marketing materials. Although we generally don’t get why anyone wants or needs a car in the city given Uber and Lyft’s explosion of popularity, we are inclined to agree the Kicks makes a lot more sense in the city than say, an Armada. The Kicks is zippy around town and in the city where one is dashing from stoplight to stop sign and trying to cut into a stream of traffic at an intersection. Its transmission is perfectly suited to this task. Nissan was a pioneer in CVTs and you can feel the advancement in this one. It is never annoying. Nissan programs it to “shift” when you are heavy on the power pedal and if you were not told it was a CVT you would most likely assume it was a conventional automatic. 125 hp may not sound like much these days, but the Civic Si a handful of generations back did just fine with that much power and car magazines raved about it. You never feel like you need more power “in the city.” When the road opens up a bit or when heading up an on-ramp you are reminded this is not a “hot hatch.” Who cares? Buyers of the Kick are on a budget. They are not expecting a Golf GTI.

Ride and handling

The Kicks steers directly, stops well, and turns in great. It handles bad roads better than most sports sedans. Keeping the Kick’s low price point in perspective, this Kicks is a fantastic car to drive.

Seating

Noplace in a car with a low price point do you feel that cost-limitation more than in the seat. Nissan does its best, but our top-trim Kicks did not have power adjustment for the driver, had no lumbar support, and no seat heat. In our initial drives we thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad at all.” Thirty minutes later we were folding up a T-shirt to stuff behind our lower backs. Seating in the back is tight, but that is expected. Two young couples will pile in, the front couple will move up their seats a bit, and everyone will happily head out and never even bat an eye. As a parent who puts a 7-year old into a Honda Fit periodically, it is also clear that the Kicks is much better ergonomically than the best entry-level small cars of just one generation ago when it comes to buckling children into the back. Nissan has room for improvement here though. The rear seat buckles are not rigid enough. When a child or a parent tries to push the buckle into the slot, they seem to disappear into the seat crack.

Cargo

Hatchbacks are great for many reasons, but they shine as affordable as cargo haulers. The Kicks is not a large vehicle, yet it manages to offer 25 cubic feet of cargo volume and 32 with the rear seats folded. By comparison, a Hyundai Kona has 19 cubic feet with the seats up and 45 with them down. Under the cargo floor is a compact spare tire. Bonus.

Infotainment and controls

With entry-level affordable hatchbacks, the most important question is “Does it come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?” The answer in the case of the Kicks is, “Yes, but only on the SV and SR trims.” The base Kicks S trim lacks the important technology, and we’d skip it for that reason alone. Plus, the difference in a monthly payment will be about one large Coolata.

Overall

What we used to think of as “cars” are going away as entry-level vehicles in America. Replacing them will be vehicles like the Nissan Kicks. Higher up, squared off, with better visibility and ergonomics, and with four doors and a large rear hatch. The Kicks is a good-looking vehicle to our eye, drives very well, particularly in urban areas, and can come with good infotainment courtesy of the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility on the top two trims. We’ve just skipped over the huge list of standard content that the Kicks SR has (AC, power everything, keyless entry, push-button start, SatRad, Bluetooth, etc). What one can get new for around $20K out the door today is frankly stunning. Nissan’s Kicks is a vehicle that owners will enjoy owning. Maybe equally important, it’s a vehicle that will keep them coming back to Nissan when it is time to move up to a Rogue Sport or Rogue.

 

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham