Before we start this review, a moment of silence for the Nissan Juke.
Yes, that odd, amphibious-looking crossover that was a bunch of fun to drive, interesting to look at, and a breath of fresh air in the stuffy small crossover segment.
And now to the all-new Nissan Kicks, the Juke’s replacement. While it certainly is more conventional, it does a lot of things very well, and comes in at a bargain price. That’s a different kind of a kick, to be sure….
Goodbye Froggy, Hello Smurfy
While some at Nissan tried to tell us that the Juke looked like an alligator poking its eyes above the waterline, it’s cute proportions made it more frog-like than anything else. But it was controversial.
The Kicks won’t polarize – it’s modern and handsome – with squared off lines, the V-shaped grille, boomerang headlights, and floating roof that’s all part of Nissan’s current design language. It has a European pedigree, too – with basic design cues first shown at the Sao Paulo Motor Show, and a design that was a collaboration between Nissan’s design studios in the US and Rio de Janeiro.
Ready to Samba, our top of the line SR tester wore stylish 17-inch alloy wheels and was dressed in Deep Blue Pearl with a Fresh Powder top. It may have international flair, but with our color combo, our tester could only be called Smurfy. People must still love Smurfs, because our Kicks got plenty of compliments and questions during our test period.
While it looks substantial, the Kicks is actually a handy size, and that makes it ideal for tight parking spots in the city, and also makes it easy to zip in and out of your favorite shopping center.
King of the Urban Jungle
Inside may be less adventurous than the exterior, but it scores big points. First of all, it is big, with plenty of room, with excellent front seats featuring Nissan’s extra-comfy Zero Gravity design. There’s a sporty leather-wrapped D-shaped steering wheel and leather-wrapped shift leather.
Our tester had the Premium Package, which replaces cloth with Prima-Tex, Nissan’s fancy name for a nice faux leather (seems like many manufacturers are doing this now), sporty orange trim, and heated front seats.
Rear seats are also adult-friendly and the cargo space is impressive – excellent with the rear seat up and huge with the rear seat down. Stuff like this probably makes it hard for Nissan dealers to sell Versas and Sentras.
- Although interior volume is a big win, it’s the technology that makes the Kicks a killer package, and a tremendous value. All trim levels get goodies like a 7.0-inch touchscreen, rearview monitor, six-speaker audio system, Siri eyes free, and Bluetooth connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto take a step up to the SV trim, but as we’ll see later, that’s a smart move.
- Our SR tester makes the case for the going full-boat. The materials all look high class, and feel good to the touch. The instrument panel has a 7-inch Driver assist display that lets you toggle through menus, and personalize your display. Being enthusiasts, we liked the tachometer screen, but you have a wide range, including drive computer, digital speedo – there’s an analog speedo that’s full time on the screen – tire pressure, temp, driver’s safety aid warning…lots of choices.
- The 7-inch touchscreen in the center is nicely sized, and features some cool tricks – you can put your Waze or Google Maps on the display – no having to look at your phone. The NissanConnect info-tainment system is easy to use. There’s also auto climate control to keep you comfy. Impressive, no?
Kick it up a Notch
But there’s more! Our SR had the Intelligent Around View Monitor system – other makers have this too, but Nissan was first – that gives you a 360-degree overhead view, plus you can toggle through front, rear, and curbside views. You have no excuse for a crappy parking job! It also features Moving Object Detection – really handy in the crowded mall lot.
You might never leave the parking lot, with the class-exclusive Bose Personal Plus sound system. It starts with eight speakers, including a pair of lightweight 2.5-inch speakers built into the driver’s headrest. With the Personal Space control, you can set up the sound from front-focused to a wider, enveloping sound. While it doesn’t sound like a great set of headphones – probably not all that safe on the road, anyway – it does fill the cabin up with quality sound. Cool stuff.
A Kick to Drive?
Nissan makes their bones about being a technology company, so we’d be pretty happy with a so-so experience behind the wheel, but the Kicks is fun to drive too. Power is served up by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder delivering 125 hp – not a lot with so many competitors using small turbo engines – but the Kick’s second-generation CVT is excellent, and does a fine job imitating the shift pattern of regular automatics.
With a low weight, and no AWD, the little Nissan is especially zippy off the line, and the CVT drops the rpms for a commendably quiet highway cruise. While you notice that passing is leisurely on the freeway, the payoff is outstanding – we measured 35 mpg on longer jaunts.
This size vehicle will probably spend more time in the city, and here the Kick’s excellent steering with good feel and nice weight, make it a capable point-and-shoot vehicle in traffic. It’s also tossable and seems to enjoy playtime. The SR might be the best choice for the enthusiast, with exclusive Active Engine Brake, Trace Control and Ride Control adding to the chassis’ natural abilities. While the ride is a bit bouncy on broken pavement, the excellent seats make sure you’re never uncomfortable.
Adding to that comfort is advanced safety tech. While all models feature Automatic Emergency Braking, stepping up the ladder gets you Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Add in our SR’s Around View Monitor, and you have an impressive suite looking out for you.
A Kick in the Wallet?
Here’s the best part. Great value. The Kicks S starts at $18,540, and is very well equipped, with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Bluetooth, three USB ports, keyless entry, push button start, roof rails and Intelligent Auto Headlights.
The SV is a small step financially, at $20,250, but is well worth the price. It hits the sweet spot, with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Nissan Intelligent Key, 17-inch alloys, Automatic Temperature Control, Easy-Fill Tire Alert, 7.0-inch Advanced Driver Alert Display, SiriusXM® satellite radio, Remote Engine Start10 and more.
Our top of the line SR starts at $20,870. It’s another small step financially, but a tempting one, with LED lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob, SR seat fabric with interior trim and accents, front and rear bumpers with body color inserts, rear roof-mounted spoiler, dark chrome grille accents, and that especially handy Intelligent Around View® Monitor.
That even leaves money in the budget for goodies, and in our tester’s case, included two-tone paint ($200), the SR Premium Package ($1,000), which adds 8-speaker Bose audio with headrest speakers, Prima-Tex seat trim with orange accent and stitching, heated front seats and a security system. Add in destination ($1,045), and our tester came in at $22,115.
And that’s a bargain. In the competitive set, a comparably-equipped Toyota C-HR goes out the door at $24,075. A similar Honda HR-V, $23,664. And the all-new Hyundai Kona is $24,445 – but it does give you a sunroof.
Loads of tech, fun to drive, super-efficient, and great bang for the buck. The all-new Nissan Kick is a real kick! Even without frog’s legs…
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.