MONTREAL, Quebec – Let’s face it; the automobile landscape is changing to fit our lifestyles and society. Cars are getting generally smaller for urban use, they’re much more fuel efficient because it’s good both for the environment and our wallet, and the younger generation of car buyers—a shrinking number, unfortunately—doesn’t want to drive the same types of vehicles as their parents.
The last point is important, because Baby Boomers and empty-nesters are trading in their family-oriented vehicles for small crossovers and SUVs. For carmakers, that makes the challenge even greater because they have to come up with two different variations of vehicles in a same market segment. That’s where the 2018 Nissan Kicks comes in.
It’s positioned in the subcompact SUV category, right where the Nissan Qashqai is duking it out with the likes of the Honda HR-V, the Hyundai Kona, the Mazda CX-3, the Chevrolet Trax and many others. While it might seem like a bad idea to have two vehicles of similar size competing against each other on the showroom floor, they actually aren’t.
The Kicks arrives just as the Nissan JUKE departed, so it would be easy to say that one is replacing the other. However, they’re actually very different.
Designed in the company’s new design studio in Rio, built in Mexico, the 2018 Nissan Kicks hits the Canadian market as a trendy, urban-type crossover that will compete mainly with the Kia Soul and the Toyota C-HR. All three rely solely on a front-wheel drivetrain, unlike the rest of the subcompact utility-vehicle crowd that can be equipped with AWD, so off the bat, they target a different kind of buyer. Buyers who would’ve considered a car, but are going for a crossover instead for its trendy style, (slightly) elevated ground clearance and (questionable) extra versatility.
The Kicks’ proportions are well balanced, and there’s definitely some character in the exterior design. The vehicle’s nose takes a little getting used to, with its narrow, V-motion signature grille. The base S trim level has a monochrome paint job, but SV and SR grades can boast one of five two-tone colours for an extra $150—definitely worth it for the extra style. However, our tester’s hood wasn’t properly aligned, with a bigger panel gap on one side compared to the other. It’s not a huge deal, but in 2018, we expect better build quality.
Cloth seats are standard in the Kicks S, as is air conditioning, cruise control, fog lights, keyless entry, variable intermittent wipers as well as a sound system with seven-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and three USB ports. Nissan is also proud to say that it includes autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning as well, which are usually optional features in subcompact SUVs. All this comes at a base price of $17,998 before freight and delivery charges of $1,795.
Moving up to the $20,898 Kicks SV, we get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a seven-inch digital driver display screen, heated front seats, an intelligent key, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, satellite radio and a cargo cover. This will definitely be the volume seller, and a good deal.
Meanwhile, the top-shelf Kicks SR adds a 360-degree camera system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, a remote engine starter, leather-wrapped wheel and shift lever, leatherette upholstery with orange stitching, a roof-mounted spoiler as well as electronic gizmos such as Intelligent Trace Control and Active Ride Control. We only get to drive the SR, so we have no idea how it compared to the lesser trims. It also benefits from an eight-speaker Bose sound system that places two tweeters in the driver’s headrests. Sound quality was pretty good, but the headrest speakers seem like overkill.
A heated steering wheel, a power sunroof and a wireless charging pad would’ve been nice, but they’re not available at all in the Kicks. Oh well.
The 2018 Nissan Kicks can seat five passengers, but it’s obviously better suited for four. Front-seat occupants enjoy plenty of headroom and legroom, and those riding in the back seat get a high cushion, meaning they sit straight with a fair amount of foot and head space.
Cargo space is rated at a surprising 716 litres with the rear seats upright—best in class—and after folding those down, which creates an uneven load floor, volume rises to 915 litres—lowest in class. In short, there’s plenty of room back there when all seats are occupied.
Under the hood is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque, connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission. Those numbers don’t quite stack up to those of its rivals—it’s actually the least-powerful subcompact SUV offered on our market—but around town, it’s fine.
Once we hit the highway, though, that’s when we some extra ponies would come in handy, but it’s not a dealbreaker. At wide-open throttle, the engine screamed its lungs out, and the continuously variable transmission simulated downshifts to provide the feel of a conventional gearbox. On the flipside, we get stellar fuel economy, as the 2018 Nissan Kicks is rated at 7.7 L/100 km in the city and 6.6 on the highway. We managed an average of 8.1 L/100 km during our test. There is no more fuel-efficient vehicle in the Kick’s segment.
This little vehicle can put up with rough pavement with little drama, although there is some road noise to be heard. The torsion beam rear suspension setup may seem old-school, as are the rear drum brakes, but the important thing to remember is that they work and they’re cheaper to replace. Overall, the Nissan handles well, and is engaging to drive, as long as we’re not in a hurry all the time.
The 2018 Nissan Kicks is an interesting little number, and we think it will sell very well in Canada. It’ll likely steal sales away from the Versa Note hatchback before putting a serious dent in the Qashqai’s popularity. Once again, Nissan introduces an unpretentious little vehicle that pushes all the right buttons and is offered at a very aggressive price point.