The 2018 Nissan Kicks has (finally) made its way to North America. The global model, which debuted in Brazil last year, is set to make waves in the hot subcompact SUV market as it goes up against the Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport, and Kia Soul among others.
Priced at just $17,990 to start, Nissan is going hard after thrifty shoppers who don’t want to compromise. That doesn’t just mean vibrant millennials. Used car shoppers will be able to get into a new vehicle, and all the safety and convenience technology that comes with it for under $20,000.
The other things that will attract buyers to the Kicks is its playful color palette, which is enhanced by adding genuine accessories like wheel inserts, air vent rings, and spoiler covers via Nissan’s Color Studio. A two-tone paint job runs just an additional $150.
The Kicks looks fun from the curb, and it is reasonably sporty to justify the thought. The Kicks is agile enough to scoot down city streets with easy and handling is a breeze. So is parking.
Size-wise, the Kicks is similar to the Nissan Rogue Sport but they’re clearly two different models aimed at two different audiences. The Rogue Sport is more for the Nissan Rogue shopper who doesn’t want all the space that the Rogue offers. It’s well-appointed and drives differently than the Kicks. The Rogue Sport also has a higher price tag that is more likely to appeal to empty nesters rather than recent college graduates, who are the target market for the Kicks.
Where the Kicks falters is with its powertrain and all-wheel drive. Powering the Kicks is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission that delivers fine power in city driving situations. Its 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque ratings are made better by the vehicle’s low 2600-pound curb weight. The Kicks is easy to get off the line but struggles on uphill climbs and on-ramps, as one might suspect. Once up to speed, passing on the highway isn’t a problem.
The lack of power is a tradeoff with good fuel economy. The SUV achieves a best-in-class fuel economy of 36 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg in the city.
All-wheel drive isn’t offered and that’s something that will likely move buyers in the snowbelt to the Rogue Sport or to the Hyundai Kona.
There are also some misses in the well-appointed interior. In the place of rubber or hard plastics, you’ll find the Gliding Wing dashboard covered in a leather-like material with contrast stitching. A 7-inch touch screen dominates the center stack but it is less satisfying to use than the available Bose Personal Plus sound system which offers 360-degrees of sound and puts speakers in the head rests of the vehicle for added sound dynamism. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on every trim above the base model.
The Kicks only has one arm rest up front and it’s positioned high on the body with no adjustability. During my time with the vehicle for testing, it was always the passenger using it despite it being on the driver’s side. Because there’s no center console storage bin, the cabin clearly has the space for another arm rest. Maybe in the refresh in a few years? I’d put it on the list.
Safety is a concern for drivers across the age spectrum and the Kicks comes equipped with automatic emergency braking standard. Blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and an around view monitor are available in higher trims.
The $17,990 starting price of the Kicks S trim isn’t just for show. The SUV’s other two grades just slightly add to that price coming in with MSRPs of $19,690 and $20,290 for the SV and SR respectively. The Premium Package is only available on the SR trim and offers the Bose stereo system, Prima-Tex seats, heated front seats, and a security system. It drives up the overall cost to $21,290. Destination and delivery charges are $975 meaning a top tier Kicks can be gotten for just over $22,000 before any dealership haggling commences.
The Kicks isn’t cheap (though it is cost effective) nor is it particularly quick. It does, however, hit the nail right on the head for what a diverse group of millennial buyers are shopping for.