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Nissan Kicks: Newest Entry to Crossover Class of 2018

By Frank A. Aukofer, June 30th, 2018

The 2018 Nissan Kicks is the newest in a growing field of small crossover sport utility vehicles, though it is not accurate to call them subcompacts because their interior volume -- the combination passenger and cargo space -- nearly matches that of a midsize sedan.

For the Kicks, it amounts to 119 cubic feet, with 94 cubes for passengers and 25 for cargo behind the back seat. Another cubic foot, and the interior space would be in the federal government's large car category.

It becomes apparent when you climb inside. The Kicks has ample head, shoulder, and knee room front and back. Even the center-rear passenger, who usually is dissed in most vehicles, gets almost as much room as the outboard passengers with a nearly flat floor, although he or she must sit on a raised, hard cushion.

Nissan regards the Kicks's main competitors as the Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport, and the all-new Hyundai Kona. But there are others, including the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR, and Chevrolet Trax.

Although some of these can be ordered with either front- or all-wheel drive, the Kicks -- like the Toyota C-HR -- comes only with front-drive. The Kicks also betrays its economy orientation with disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear wheels. But they're effective, given its light weight.

This Nissan is an endearing package for young couples or singles with limited budgets. Nissan says the styling was inspired by a concept car that made its debut in Brazil. Five youth-oriented, two-tone paint combinations are available.

Three trim levels are available, starting with the base S model and moving up to the SV, SR, and the tested SR Premium, which is the top of the line. Prices start at $18,965 for the S, $20,665 for the SV, and $21,265 for the SR. The SR Premium adds $1,000 for a total of $22,265.

Standard equipment on all versions includes automatic emergency braking, cruise control, hill start assist, power windows, hands-free telephone system, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton starting, keyless locking, automatic headlights, and roof rails.

Features on upper-level models include Apple CarPlay, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, alloy wheels, SXM satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, LED low-beam headlights, around-view camera, and remote starting.

The tested SR Premium had all of that plus an upscale Bose audio system with eight speakers, a security system, and heated cloth front seats with faux leather trim. The seats, manufactured using Nissan's "zero gravity" design, were particularly luxurious with superb support and comfort.

At just an inch more than 14 feet long, 5 feet 2 inches tall, and weighing just 2,672 pounds, the Kicks is quick, maneuverable, and economical in urban traffic, as well as on desolate freeways and curving mountain roads. It cruises quietly at freeway-plus speeds, delivers an acceptable ride on rough surfaces, and holds a straight line without frequent steering corrections.

Though its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has but 125 horsepower and 115 lb.-ft. of torque, the light weight combined with a vigorous continuously variable automatic transmission delivers instant throttle response, making it feel faster than it is. However, some critics bash CVTs for their lack of shift points, as well as sounds and a feel that the transmission is slipping.

That's not the case here. Of all the manufacturers, Nissan likely has the most experience with CVTs and it shows. Unless you are overly sensitive or picky, you won't even notice anything unusual. Mash the throttle or feather-foot it, the Kicks easily moves off. City/highway/combined fuel economy on the SR Premium is rated by the EPA at 31/36/33 miles to the gallon.

The cargo area behind the second-row seats is well designed and roomy. Space more than doubles from 25 to 53 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded. However, even though they fold flat, they are a step above the cargo floor. There's an overhead privacy cover and a temporary spare tire resides under the cargo floor. Moreover, the tailgate rises high enough for a 6-foot-tall person to load or unload without ducking.

Though the Nissan folks say the Kicks is not a replacement for its quirky Juke, the Juke itself will be leaving the U.S. market. Its Kicks replacement amounts to a more-than-worthy replacement and entry in the increasingly competitive small crossover class.

Specifications

Base price $21,265 (as tested: $22,025)
Curb weight 2,672 lbs.
Displacement 1.6-liter
Engine type 16-valve DOHC 4-cyl.
Epa mileage rating 31 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 10.8 gal.
Horsepower (net) 125 at 5800 rpm
Overall length 169.1 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 115 at 4000 rpm
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact CUV
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