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2018 KICKS

August 12, 2018 GMT

As American consumers continue to embrace crossover utility vehicles — and in particular, small, fuel-efficient models — the automakers are obliging by introducing plenty of them for buyers to choose among, such as the all-new Nissan Kicks.

Not only is the five-passenger Kicks a compelling choice among the new crop of small crossovers, it’s also a great bargain with its starting price of $17,990 (plus $975 freight) for the base S model with lots of standard equipment, including automatic emergency braking. Nissan said the Kicks is the only vehicle in its class with this feature standard across the line.

There are three trim levels. Besides the base S model, there are also the SV ($19,690), which Nissan expects to be the sales volume leader; and the SR ($20,290), which also can be purchased with the SR Premium Package ($1,000), which turns it into almost a fourth trim level, adding the new Bose Personal Plus sound system. It comes with a “driver-focused” eight-speaker setup that includes a pair of lightweight 2.5-inch Bose UltraNearfield neodymium speakers inside the driver’s seat headrest. It also has compact 6.5-inch Bose Super65 speakers in each front door, cross-firing one-inch tweeters in each forward door pillar, and 5.25-inch wide-range speakers in each rear door.

Weighing just over 2,600 pounds, the Kicks is one of the lightest crossovers on the market, helping it to achieve best-in-class non-hybrid EPA fuel-economy ratings of 31 mpg city/36 highway/33 combined. The down side is that the fuel tank holds just 10.8 gallons, which limits the range on a single tank of gasoline.

The Kicks is one of five crossovers in Nissan’s U.S. lineup. The others are the Rogue Sport, Rogue, Murano and Pathfinder. Kicks essentially replaces the similarly sized Juke, which was introduced for 2011 and discontinued in the U.S. market after the 2017 model year. The exterior of the Kicks looks like a cross between the Juke and the Rogue, but without the odd looks that made the Juke one of those “love it or hate it” kinds of vehicles. The Kicks also isn’t as sporty or powerful as the Juke, which was also offered in a Nissan NISMO track-inspired version.

Under the hood of all Kicks trim levels is a normally aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 125 horsepower and 115 foot-pounds of torque, connected to a Nissan Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission. All models have front-wheel drive; Nissan said consumers must move up to at least the Rogue Sport to get all-wheel drive.

Nissan expects Kicks buyers to be mostly young (millennial) single or childless couple city dwellers, with household incomes from $45,000-$65,000. The Kicks is being marketed as an “urban adventure” vehicle with “personal style.” One YouTube video features a young urban man clearly enamored by the Kicks Bose audio system. But I can also see the Kicks being snatched up by retired people and empty-nesters looking for value and fuel economy. It is an incredible value.

There is a surprising amount of passenger and cargo space inside the Kicks, despite it being just under 170 inches long — about 3 inches shorter than the Rogue Sport and 15 inches shorter than the standard Rogue. Even at that, it has about four more cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat — 25.3 cubic feet overall — than the slightly larger Rogue Sport.

Although some additional advanced safety technology is available, all models have Nissan Intelligent Mobility with the standard automatic emergency braking and rearview camera system. Options include the intelligent around view monitor, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.

Like the Juke, the Kicks has bold wheel arches in the fenders, and similar to its larger siblings, it has a high crossover stance and the Nissan signature V-motion grille, boomerang headlights and taillights and a “floating roof” with a “wrap-around visor” look. Available are LED low beam headlights with LED accents.

There are seven exterior color choices, including Brilliant Silver, Gun Metallic, Super Black, Cayenne Red, Fresh Powder, Aspen White (premium color) and Deep Blue Pearl.

In another concession to the millennial target audience, the Kicks also is available in five two-tone exterior paint combinations (roof one color, body the second color): Super Black/Aspen White, Monarch Orange/Gun Metallic, Super Black/Monarch Orange, Super Black/Cayenne Red and Fresh Powder/Deep Blue Pearl.

My test vehicle, the SV model, came with the orange body and black roof, a $545 option.

Nissan said five people can ride comfortably in the Kicks, but I didn’t try that. I did have three on board for a long jaunt, and everyone had more than sufficient leg, knee and head room. The middle position in the back seat probably is best left to a smaller adult or a child, though. When the rear seat isn’t needed for passengers, the 60/40 split seatback can be folded to create up to 53.1 cubic feet of cargo space.

Nissan calls the Kicks’ instrument panel a “Gliding Wing” design. It includes a center-mounted 7-inch color display with a standard six-speaker infotainment system offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.

Among other standard features are a rear wiper, roof rails, intelligent auto headlights with adjustable sensitivity and timing (including twilight and wiper activation), electric power-assisted steering, hill start assist, and front disc/rear drum antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

Standard on the S model are 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers and 205/60R16 all-season tires. SV and SR models come with 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with 205/55R17 all-season tires.

Inside, there is a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel with audio and phone controls; six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat and four-way front passenger seat; Bluetooth hands-free phone system; power windows with front auto up/down; three USB ports; air conditioning; power door locks with auto-lock and remote; and dual illuminated visor mirrors.

Other standard safety features include front seat-mounted side-impact air bags; front and rear roof-mounted side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors; driver’s knee air bag; electronic stability control with traction control; tire-pressure monitoring with the Nissan East Fill Tire Alert system; and child-seat anchors and tethers with child-safe rear door locks.

The Kicks’ smaller engine gave me plenty of power, even for overtaking and passing, but I did not encounter any hills during my test of the vehicle in South Florida and the Florida Keys.

Plenty of interior storage is provided, along with two front cupholders and two front bottle holders. There’s plenty of room for two smartphones on a shelf at the front of the center console, which also includes the two cupholders. The rear doors have bottle holders, as well.

My test vehicle shifted smoothly with a minimum of engine run-up that’s often noticeable with continuously variable transmissions. Usually, it seemed more like a conventional transmission with defined shift points.

The interior is remarkably quiet even at highway speeds. The standard electric power steering was tight and responsive. And with the four-wheel antilock disc brakes, braking was safe and confident.

Other than the two-tone paint, the only option on our tester was the carpeted floor mats ($215). Total sticker price for my 2018 Kicks SV was $21,425, including freight and options.

Nissan assembles the Kicks at its plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico.