Cars

2018 Nissan Kicks

When Nissan killed the Juke last year, I’ll admit it left a little hole in my heart. The ugly-cute crossover SUV was fun to drive and appealed to my emotions like few crossovers do. Now for 2018, Nissan has launched the Kicks. Yes, in a marketing move sure to upset my grade-school grammar teacher, the Kicks’ name is oddly plural (not unlike the Armada and Maxima before it). And while the Kicks is not a flat-out replacement for my favorite Nissan crossover, it’s certainly reaching for the same young and young-at-heart audience.

The Kicks, available in S, SV and SR trims, is technically classified as a hatchback by the EPA, but Nissan calls it an entry-level crossover SUV. It’s a bit larger than the Versa Note, Nissan’s more traditional, economy-minded hatchback, but is shorter in stature than the larger Rogue Sport. Whether you call it a crossover or a hatch, it starts at just a smidge over $18,000, making it one of the least-expensive vehicles out there.

We got our first glimpse of the Kicks way back in 2014 as a concept at the Sao Paulo Motor Show. While its design isn’t as crazy-funky as the Juke, you can certainly see the latter’s influence. A short wheelbase is capped by a sloping roof, heading into taillights that can only be described as asymmetrical. The Kicks is offered in seven colors, including groovy two-tone combinations, and you can even color-customize parts like door handles and mirror caps in the Nissan Color Studio.

Never lift

As with most inexpensive crossovers, the Kicks’ power is on the low side. A 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine knocks out a mere 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque. The good news is the Kicks competes in the lightweight category. In base S trim, it tips the scales at a mere 2,672 pounds, giving it a reasonable power-to-weight ratio. It’s no tire slayer, and steep hills require momentum and some planning, but this Nissan is not nearly as slow as I thought it was going to be.

As with most contemporary Nissans, power gets to the pavement through a continuously variable transmission. Upon full throttle, the transmission throws up a fair amount of noise, but it acts vaguely like a standard automatic, with simulated upshifts bringing the engine back to lower revs when just cruising along. If you’re hoping for all-wheel drive, you’re out of luck — despite its could-be crossover classification, the Kicks is only available with front-wheel drive.

A small, flat-bottomed steering wheel has nice weight to its action, with a relatively quick ratio that allows for crisp turn-in. That said, my tester exhibits a weird quirk where the wheel seems to have a hard time returning to center — the usual amount of back-to-center assist doesn’t seem to be there. The Kicks is nowhere near as fun to drive as the late, more-powerful Juke or the more-expensive Mazda CX-3, but it provides a competent driving experience on back roads, in line with other vehicles at this price.

On the highway, there is more wind noise than road noise, but it’s mitigated by a bumpin’ optional Bose stereo with eight speakers, including two in the driver’s headrest.

The Kicks gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 31 miles per gallon in the city, 36 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg combined. During my week with it I got a bit less than that combined rating thanks to my heavy right foot, netting 31 mpg overall. However, those EPA numbers pretty much kick butt compared to the competition. The Mazda CX-3, the best of the rest, returns only 29 mpg in the city, 34 on the highway and 31 combined.

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