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2018 Nissan Kicks: First Drive Review

The 2018 Nissan Kicks is an all-new subcompact crossover, smaller than the Nissan Rogue Sport. It’s an entry-level model that replaces the Juke. As such, it’s not made for families. Nissan would prefer to see Kicks crossovers in the parking lots of music festivals like Coachella. The intention is to appeal to young professionals, those 25-to-35-year-olds who haven’t settled down and had kids yet, who want something easy to drive, easy to park, affordable to buy and run, and with connectivity to the digital world. It’s a shame, then, that Wi-Fi is not available. But the Kicks does have plenty of other things going for it.

Kold, Hard Kash

Let’s deal with the money aspect before getting behind the wheel. The 2018 Nissan Kicks starts at $18,965. Trim levels are S, SV and SR.

This low entry-level price means some cost-cutting, like having brake drums at the rear instead of discs, and 16-inch steel wheels, but standard equipment in the S is still pretty good — including automatic emergency braking, Bluetooth, three USB ports, a rearview camera, roof rails and automatic on/off headlights.

Moving up to the SV (from $20,665) brings 17-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, a 7-in infotainment display, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and satellite radio.

The SR (from $21,265) has LED low beams and daytime running lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a rear spoiler. This trim level is also eligible for a Premium package ($1,000) that includes a Bose Surround Sound system with speakers built into the front headrests, heated front seats, simulated leather seating surfaces and upgraded security.

Other options include a 360-degree camera system and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.

Kountenance

The styling is a joint effort between Nissan’s studios in Brazil and San Diego (the Kicks is also built in Brazil). It’s not so radical-looking as the Juke, which is probably a positive.

Nissan says the Juke was originally meant only for Europe and was brought into the United States as an experiment. Whether the company considers it a successful experiment is hard to discern from the more mainstream styling of the Kicks. It comes with the currently fashionable "floating roof" effect in the rear pillars and some interesting exterior color combinations like grey/metallic orange.

High Kicks

The Kicks has a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine making 125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque. These are modest figures, but there is an upside in terms of economy. The Environmental Protection Agency puts fuel consumption at an impressive 31 miles per gallon in the city, 36 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg in combined driving. The Kicks comes solely as a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

The cabin is commendably quiet, even when driving over concrete sections of freeway. There’s bit of road rumble on an occasion, but nothing that can’t be tolerated. Speaking of sound, the standard audio system is all about the bass, with not much detail in the higher frequencies. Even so, it’s acceptable.

"Zero gravity" front seats, supposedly inspired by NASA, are not quite the weightless experience their name implies, but they’re still fairly comfortable, well-shaped and supportive. And there’s nothing wrong with the elevated driving position. The rear section, meanwhile, is relatively spacious, with sufficient legroom and headroom for adults of average size.

The blind spot monitoring system has its warning light on the inside of the front door, instead of set into the side mirror. This is a good thing, because it’s more easily seen in a driver’s peripheral vision while looking directly ahead.

Engine power is adequate. The Kicks can deal with hills, but more accelerative punch would not go amiss when joining the freeway flow. The CVT is also bearable. It doesn’t display the usual old bad behavior of droning at high engine speeds and responding slowly to throttle inputs.

The main criticisms are that the steering feels oddly light when the front wheels are pointed straight. And it doesn’t weight up in a progressive manner as the steering wheel is turned. We would also prefer a more positive and confident initial bite to the brakes.

Cargo space behind the rear seats is 25.3 cu ft. Folding them down reveals a generous 53.1 cu ft.

Konclusion

In virtually every aspect, the Nissan Kicks compares well with its competition. These rivals include (in no particular order) the Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. The Kicks could make a fine first vehicle for rookie drivers, and they would be lucky to have it.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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