First Drive: 2018 Nissan Kicks

SAN DIEGO, California Allow me to emphasize this: the 2018 Nissan Kicks—as stated by the Japanese automaker—is not a replacement for the Juke, which remains on sale in other markets. But the Brazil-inspired Kicks is the newest member of the Nissan crossover lineup and enters a growing subcompact CUV segment that includes the Ford EcoSport, Kia Soul, Toyota CH-R, and Hyundai Kona.

Built in Aguascalientes, Mexico, the all-new Kicks is available in five two-tone exterior color variations via Nissan’s Color Studio configurator. My test vehicle sported the Fresh Powder white and Deep Blue Pearl combo and came decently equipped with the SR trim grade for a sum of $ 20,290 (plus destination fee).

Powering the front-wheel-drive Kicks is a 1.6-liter I-4 with 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque that’s paired with a CVT. The combo lets the Kicks reign over its non-hybrid competitors when it comes to fuel economy, achieving an impressive EPA rating of 31/36/33 mpg (city/highway/combined). One key advantage of the Kicks is its low curb weight of around 2,650 pounds, which helps compensate for the power deficiency, contributes to the fuel economy, and aids acceleration, braking, and handling.

I initiated the scheduled drive route by heading north from San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter toward Nissan Design America for a quick tour. After the NDA team went over some basics of design and color we drove to our next stop in Del Mar. But instead of taking going directly up Interstate 5, Nissan’s route called for a detour northeast to the mostly winding two-lane roads near the suburban community of Black Mountain Ranch. This is where driving the Nissan Kicks got interesting.

The ever-changing topography in this region featured ranches, wildflowers, exclusive real estate, giant trees, dirt roads, and mountains—a rarely seen side of San Diego. Driving the pint-sized Kicks on these roads was like a real-life round of Mario Kart. Given its 125-hp engine, I didn’t expect much but the Kicks proved apable and surprisingly fun on the twisty roads. Ride quality felt smooth and road noise was almost non-existent. I went off route a couple of times and effortlessly turned the Kicks around in a single attempt.

There are three trim grades to choose from: S, SV, and SR. The entry level Kicks S is priced at $ 17,990 and comes standard with automatic emergency braking, rear view monitor, three USB ports, cruise control, intelligent auto headlights, and a 7-inch color touchscreen display. Step up to the $ 19,690 Kicks SV and you get an advanced driver assist display, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Stepping up to the Kicks SR adds LED signature accents, black heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear roof-mounted spoiler, intelligent around view monitor, and an integrated dynamics-control module. My tester was also equipped with the optional premium package for $ 1,000. The perks of this package are heated Prima-Tex appointed seats, a security system, and a Bose Personal Plus sound system—the coolest feature of the pack.

Designed specifically for a small vehicle like the Kicks, the Bose Personal Plus sound system includes eight high-performance speakers and a digital amplifier with six channels of custom equalization. The highlight of this sound system is the pair of 2.5-inch UltraNearfield neodymium speakers that are built into the driver headrest. Utilizing the PersonalSpace signal processing system, the driver can control the field of sound for an optimized 360-degree listening experience. These integrated speakers deliver up-close audio in a live concert style by wrapping the audio around the driver.

NASA-inspired Zero gravity seats are standard and the Kicks accommodate up to five passengers. The Nissan Kicks also boasts more interior space than its key competitors, rating best-in-class in two categories: front legroom (43.7 inches) and front headroom (40.7 inches). Behind the second row is a generous 25.3 cubic ft. of cargo space—perfect for a shopping spree on payday or to haul your favorite gear. The hatch is a shout-out to six-feet tall individuals as it opens high enough that they don’t have to duck under it.

Additionally, there is an array of accessories available, ranging from roof rack cross bars to interior ambient lighting to the Kicks Color Studio Wheel program.

Nissan seeks to attract a diverse group of people with its latest entry to the competitive CUV segment. The target audience is singles and young couples with no children that mostly drive in the city. Marketing characteristics of these persons are: smart spender, tech savvy, creative, entrepreneur, and socially responsible.

In all, the 2018 Nissan Kicks is not a bad choice for the buyer who wants to get the most value for their hard-earned money, bringing an incredible amount of technology and style to the table at a price that costs less than attending most four-year colleges. If I were a fresh graduate in my early twenties, the Kicks would be an excellent starting point for a new set of wheels. Thanks to its stellar EPA rating, that is especially true in a commuter city such as Los Angeles.

And did I mention its best-in-class fuel economy?

2018 Nissan Kicks SR Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $ 18,695/$ 21,265 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 1.6L DOHC 16-valve I-4/125hp @ 5,800 rpm, 115 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD CUV
EPA MILEAGE 31/36 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 169.1 x 69.3 x 62.4 in
WHEELBASE 103.1 in
WEIGHT 2,639-2,672 lb
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A

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