Opting for an economical car no longer has to mean making big compromises, and the Nissan Kicks is Exhibit A. It edges close to being THE ideal vehicle for younger-generation buyers who want advanced tech, eye-catching colours and good fuel economy in a ride that can actually travel beyond city limits. That said, the challenge of attracting sufficient numbers of buyers in a demographic that buys fewer and fewer vehicles is a real one.
Best not compromise
Three trims are available for the 2019 Kicks: the S, SV and SR. In my view, the no-brainer is to go for the SR, which is not that much costlier than the lower trims and comes with quite a few functions, of both the essential and the fun varieties. As it happens, this SR trim is the one I drove for a week.
Impossible not to have your attention drawn first to the two-tone roof Nissan has placed on its crossover, very effective at making the little Kicks stand apart on the road and in the mall parking lot. My tester was decked smartly in a dark blue body/white roof scheme, and it was quite a handsome affair. You can also choose a red, orange or metallic roof.
The standard wheels are 16-inch, and this grows to 17 inches on the SV and SR.
As we’ve seen with the company’s Juke, Nissan offers personalizable accessories through its Color Studio software. You can treat yourself to the Electronics package, for example, and give your Kicks exterior ground lighting, just like the luxury cars have.
The Kicks sits on the company’s V platform, also in use for the Versa and Sentra models. Unfortunately this platform is not designed to integrate all-wheel drive, so if you’re considering a Kicks know that you’re going to make do with front-wheel drive.
Inside, the environment is not as trendy as you’ll find in some rival models, but it’s certainly not a disappointment. The ergonomics are solid, construction quality is strong, the seating is comfortable and the relatively boxy shape of the model helps create a roomy space for occupants in both rows. In that respect the Kicks eats competitors like the flashy C-HR for lunch.
You can opt for things like the remote starter if you like warming up your vehicle before climbing in during the winter, as well as keyless entry.
My tester’s cabin was all the more welcoming and positive because of the contrasting orange stitching that really pops in the black interior. Sometimes that’s all it takes to liven things up…
Once inside, attention is drawn to the big data screen in front the driver; there’s also a tablet-like 7-inch touchscreen atop the central console, where you can make use of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The front row occupants get four USB ports.
The touchscreen is luminous and I found it nicely reactive. The screen’s menus are simple and easy to use, which may well factor in for more than one buyer who’s seen some of the older, less-ergonomic systems in place in some other models.
Exclusive to the SR trim is an excellent 8-speed Bose Personal Plus audio system; it can be had with the SR Premium package.
While globally the interior of the Kicks is a positive and well-designed environment, there are a few areas where it loses points. There are, for example, no closed storage spaces in the lower part of the central console, nor is there an armrest for the front passenger. These fall into the irritating-but-forgivable category, given the price point of the 2019 Kicks.
In back, as mentioned there’s enough space to welcome two medium-sized adults and keep them happy. In back of them, however, is a bigger positive. As in, the cargo area of this small SUV, which is higher in volume than many competitors. At 716 litres, the back section of the Kicks is simply superior to that of the C-HR and the new Kona, for example.
The new Kicks features an impressive array of advanced systems that a very short time ago were standard only on premium cars, for example an emergency braking system, blind spot monitor and collision alert. To the two higher trims, buyers can add more functions like the rear transversal alert.
Beyond the tech systems, however, Nissan has also included safety-enhancing features like the upgraded dipped-beam headlights that provide much better lighting than typically found in this price range. And of course the SUV comes with dynamic traction control which helps it recover when skidding or if it starts to lose control on a curve.
My tester, the SR, is the only version of the Kicks to benefit from powertrain software with integrated dynamic control to improve the handling and behaviour of the SUV on the road. It includes active engine braking and active driving control, notably. Another reason not to compromise when choosing the trim you want…
The Nissan Kicks is powered by a 1.6L 4-cylinder delivering 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. That power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Don’t bother perusing the options list for an all-wheel-drive system, there is none available. This, however, allows Nissan to keep the pricing of the Kicks down and edges fuel consumption down further, plus it’s one of the reasons why that trunk space is so generous.
Speaking of which, the official numbers are certainly excellent, and a major factor in drawing the interest of the model’s target customers: 6.6L/100 km and 7.7L/100 km highway/city. Translated into the real world, I finished my week of city-biased driving with an average of 7.5L/100 km – more than respectable for a model in this category. No complaints here…
On the road
Generally the drive is a comfortable one, although at certain moments it does feel a little stiff (or sporty, depending on how you want to feel about getting bumped around a bit). Let’s say the suspension is configured to deliver at least a modicum of pleasure to those who like their driving dynamics energetic, and don’t mind making a wee sacrifice in terms of ride comfort.
Ride quality is very good and I found nothing to moan about on smooth road surfaces. Straight-line acceleration is decent, helped by the fact that the Kicks weighs a relatively sprightly 1,215 kg (curb weight of the Toyota C-HR, by comparison, is 1,497 kg; the Hyundai Kona goes from 1,311 to 1,517 kg; and the Kia Niro weighs 1,409 kg).
As mentioned, don’t expect a velvety smooth ride from the suspension and relatively stiff body of the Kicks, but in that respect the SUV is also in sync with the crisp, responsive steering.
This Nissan kicks off (sorry) at $18,298 for the S trim; move to the SV and that rises to $18,298. The top-end SR starts at $23,398.
The 2019 Nissan Kicks edges close to being the ideal vehicle for those working within a budget but who don’t want to make any serious compromises touching on safety, advanced tech, cargo space and fuel economy. It helps that it’s such a looker as well, if a two-tone roof is something you see as a plus and not a negative.
There’s really little buyers have to sacrifice from their wish-list to get this reasonably priced small SUV, unless you count luxury or massive interior space. In which case you wouldn’t be looking in this category to begin with. And that’s what makes the Kicks a compelling choice; this is a practical and personable city car that can also serve you well when you venture beyond city limits.
- Affordable price point
- Safety functions
- Pleasant, roomy interior,
- Lots of cargo space
- Stingy on gas
We like less
- Not enough close storage compartments inside
- No front-passenger armrest
- No all-wheel drive
- Lack of raw power from the engine