Nissan Kicks — A pleasing personality

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Nissan has joined the rapidly expanding subcompact crossover SUV segment with a stylish, easy-to-like and relatively inexpensive vehicle with a rather unique name. We found the 2018 Kicks enjoyable to drive, comfortable all-around and with a host of amenities including an excellent-sounding eight-speaker Bose audio system in top-level SR trim that can be purchased for about 22 grand.

If you like the style and personality of Nissan’s newest offering, it can be yours for as little as $18,985 including destination charge. We can't think of a less expensive yet more desirable new vehicle currently on the market.

The standard features list is amazingly long and includes things you only wish you could get as options on competing base models — automatic emergency braking and forward collision alert, automatic headlights, three USB ports, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, automatic up/down front windows, keyless entry and push-button start, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth phone and streaming audio.

Plunk down about $1,500 more and the mid-level SV trim brings an upgraded infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, automatic climate control, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a cargo cover, remote engine start, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Go all in with the top SR trim with the Premium package for just over $22,000 and you will own a ride that even us old and jaded reviewers could live with as a daily driver. That cash outlay will bring such additional goodies as LED headlights, a surround-view camera (very cool if you haven't experienced one), nice faux-leather heated seats, a leather heated steering wheel, and the aforementioned outstanding Bose audio system. Another feature only available on the SR model is Nissan's Integrated Dynamics-Control Module designed to improve comfort by using the brakes to help balance the car in corners and curves or when the road undulates.

Even though the Kicks is loaded with attributes, one of its few so-called downsides is a leisurely persona — what's the hurry? Stop and smell the roses — with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine making 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Granted, 125 ponies seems like a bare minimum, but get behind the wheel and you will find that its recorded 9.7-second 0-to-60 time is just a number.

Thanks to its light weight — just 2,654 pounds — and its engine tuning together with its just-right shifting from its simulated gear setup, the little Kicks feels sprightly around town, and with plenty of grunt for those pesky merging and passing chores — provided you are willing to put the pedal to the metal and exercise a bit of caution on a two-lane road or when you need extra speed to keep up with freeway traffic.

The real bottom line is gas mileage. The Kicks is one of the most fuel efficient small SUVs on the planet, EPA rated at 31 mpg city, 36 highway and 33 combined with front wheel drive burning regular gas. The Kicks is not available with all-wheel drive.

The interior feels comfortable and friendly. Although we found much black plastic inside our top SR trim test car, it was nicely textured and padded, and fit and finish appeared first class. Our test car featured orange fabric panels on the seats and doors and orange contrast stitching on the leather-trimmed dashboard. Gauges are clear and switchgear is intuitive and easy to use. For those who enjoy a good sound from their audio system, Nissan has made available two optional systems — a 300-watt 7-speaker Rockford-Fosgate system that can be added to any trim level for $595, and as noted above, the Bose system that can be added in top-level SR trim with the $1,000 Premium package.

The front seats proved comfortable and reaching a good driving position was easy. One trip included hauling three adults with no complaints about rear-seat room or comfort. The cargo area behind the seats (25 cubic feet) proved large enough to easily transport a folding wheelchair. We think two sets of golf clubs would also fit without any drama. Cargo space with the seats folded increases to 53 cubic feet.

It seems the younger set wants more personalization these days and Nissan has made it possible with its Color Studio offering 12 accessories for a bit more color and, well, more kick(s). We most like the ability to add a two-tone body/roof paint scheme for $545.

Our top trim SR with Premium Package, the two-tone paint, and the Bose audio carried a bottom line of $22,025 including destination charge.

Base price: $18,985; as driven, $22,025
Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 125 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 115 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Length: 169.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,672 pounds
Turning circle: 34.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 25.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 53.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 10.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 31 city, 36 highway, 33 combined
0-60: 9.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR

The Good
• Winning personality
• Excellent gas mileage
• Long list of standard equipment

The Bad
• All-wheel drive not available

The Ugly
• More horsepower would be welcome