2018 Nissan Kicks

MIAMI — Though the vehicle started arrivng in showrooms in May, Nissan took time to “introduce” its latest model, a subcompact crossover dubbed Kicks, at a preview for media. It is the second such session company publicists have conducted for automotive journalists, the first being earlier in June in San Diego.

Frankly, I think they may be missing an opportunity here. Shouldn’t such briefings/drives be conducted somewhere along Route 66, like Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, or even Joplin, Missouri? (If you don’t get that reference, just Google “Kicks and Route 66.”)

Ah, but as charming as it can be, nothing along U.S. Route 66 matches the ambiance of a drive to Key Largo in the Florida Keys on a sunny June morning, even if you do have to negotiate Miami traffic to start. Fortunately, school is out, tempering the rush hour traffic a bit.

It started at the 1 Hotel in Miami Beach, where our hosts from Nissan had previewed the first new model to the Nipponese automaker’s fleet in eight years. The Kicks joins the Rogue, Rogue Sport, Murano, Pathfinder, and Armada as the sixth crossover/SUV in Nissan’s lineup.

Nissan is looking to take advantage of what looks to be a substantial growth in the CUV  segment, which includes such competitors as the Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, and Ford EcoSport. Sales are expected to increase from 119,700 in 2017 to over 306,000 by fiscal year 2022, a growth rate of 156 percent.

The Kicks is targeted for a mostly millennial audience of singles and couples with a median income between $45,000-$65,000 with no children who, Nissan marketing folks say, are “smart spenders, tech-dependent, image conscious, and socially responsible.”

Three things to know about the Kicks, according to James Marschner of Nissan Marketing:

1. The Kicks offers expressive style and smart design. The 2018 model was a joint design project from Nissan’s Design America facility n San Diego and new Nissan Design  America — Rio studios. The concept was shown four years ago at the Sao Paulo auto show, and the end result reflects the spirit of Brazil’s famous Carnival. It comes in seven exterior colors and five two-tone schemes utilizing the “floating roof” theme.

2. The Kicks is chock full of unexpected technology. Kicks is the only vehicle in its segment to offer standard Automatic Emergency Braking at a price that starts below $18,000. Also standard are a 7-inch touchscreen display, three USB ports, and Bluetooth Streaming Audio with  available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Even the base S model has remote keyless entry and push-button start and cruise control. An SR Premium Package features the class exclusive Bose Personal Plus Audio System.

3. The Kicks offers “incredible” value. The S model starts at just under $18,000 before the $975 destination and handling fee is added. The SV is listed at $19,690, the SR $20,290, and the SR w/Premium Package $21,290.

Available options include driving assist features such as blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert (SV) and intelligent around-view monitor (SR).

Unfortunately, my driving partner and I did not get to experience the new Bose Personal Sound system that Marschner and Steve Parrett, product communications manager, spoke so highly of, but I have kind of a tin ear anyway. Sound upgrades are kind of wasted on someone who spends a lot of time on AM talk radio, but I understand — and appreciate — those who feel otherwise.

The route for the 68-mile trip from the Miami Beach hotel to lunch at the Playa Largo Resort on Key Largo took us down Collins Avenue to Fifth Street, over to Interstate 95 and U.S. 1.

The planner also showed a little creativity by taking us through neighborhoods and eventually to Florida’s Turnpike, which takes you back to U.S. 1 in Florida City before the final 18-mile stretch on the mainland into Key Largo.

The Playa Largo Resort is situated on the Bay Side of the Keys, and it was tempting to extend the occasion as long as possible to take in the water views. This was indeed a post-card kind of afternoon that exudes the Margaritaville spirit of Jimmy Buffett, and the musical tones of the duo Gaby Gabriel and Lorena added to the “let’s-kick-back” atmosphere.

The Keys can do that to you — at least to me — at times.

But, alas, it soon was time to return to real life on the mainland.

The return trip took a different route and was longer by a couple miles, which gave me a bit more time behind the wheel. It’s a very comfortable vehicle to ride or drive, but I found myself wishing it had a bit more oomph to it.

The  1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine is rated at only 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque, numbers that Nissan folks acknowledge are on the low side, but say are compensated for by the light curb weight (2,672 pounds).

The real power killer to me is that a CVT (continuously variable transmission) is the only tranny offered. Though Nissan has improved it over the years, it still lacks the punch and driving fun a 6-speed manual would offer.

But if they want me to take it back down to the Keys, or even Route 66 for that matter, I’d be glad to oblige!

— Paul Borden