2018 Nissan Kicks SV Review: Value and Features in an Attractive, Compact Crossover Package
The Nissan Kicks ain't quick, but it's got more dukes than the Juke in the small crossover segment.
Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Nissan Kicks SV.
The 2018 Nissan Kicks SV, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $19,690 ($21,425)
Powertrain: 1.6-liter inline-four engine, 125 horsepower, 115 pound-feet; continuously-variable transmission; front wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 31 mpg city / 36 mpg highway
0-60 MPH: 9.7 seconds (Motor Trend)
Difference a Year Makes: 3,876 (Kicks) units sold in August 2018, vs. 571 for the Nissan Juke in August 2017
Quick Take: The arrival of the attractive little Kicks officially shuttered the Juke era, and Nissan made sure to pack its new offering with practical features—from additional cargo space to a sleeker design to a lower price point—all while setting a new bar in the segment for fuel economy.
One Big Question: In a rapidly growing and increasingly competitive sub-compact crossover category, what makes the Kicks worthy of consideration?
If nothing else, people are searching for functionality in their daily drivers. Nissan has reworked its tiny crossover offering into the form of the first generation Kicks, which ends the run of the funky little Juke. Sure, the Kicks might offer less in terms of on-road personality, but Nissan hasn't skimped on features in the Kicks, all while keeping the price tag pretty tidy: in entry-level S trim, the Kicks starts at $17,990.
To see how well this little crossover handles itself in the real world, I piloted the Kicks for a week on my daily 60-mile roundtrip commute between New Jersey and Brooklyn, and then from Jersey to Pittsburgh and back (that's 370 miles and six odd hours each way) for my bridal shower. I had a solidly-built Black Lab in the back seat, and needed to be able to fit a few gifts in the trunk on the return trip. And after all that driving, I can tell you the Kicks does the "every day" thing pretty damn well.
Nissan Kicks SV: The Pros
- Gas mileage in the Kicks is top notch; the claimed 31 city/36 highway bests anything of similar size and class, and I was averaging around 35.5 mpg overall. When driving it long distances, I did experience a bit of strife dealing with the sub-11-gallon gas tank, but that's to be expected with a vehicle this size.
- The tech on the Kicks is impressive, especially for the price. The infotainment system, displayed on a considerable 7.0-inch screen, was supremely easy to navigate, and my phone connected almost as soon as I hit "pair." It was a nice touch to be able to adjust the left side of the partially-digital dash—you can choose to display things like your audio selection or tire-specific air pressure. And as always, I'm a fan of cars that include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which were available on my SV model.
- The safety feature selection also impressed, with automatic emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot warning all standard. Yet despite the presence of the safety suite, I was never annoyed by excessive warning sounds or vibrations.
- Maybe it's because it calls to mind Volvo's great little XC40, but I found the Kicks attractive in a way that doesn't translate to the larger Nissan Rogue. The Juke, regardless of how you felt about its looks, was eye-catching; the Kicks brings quirk in a more modern-looking package.
- Despite its size, the Kicks offered a surprisingly comfortable cabin, specifically up front (I'm still waiting on the dog's notes on the back row). There are space-saving design elements throughout the front of the interior helping this possible, and even though some—like the placement of the ignition button—feel awkward, it was pleasant enough in the driver's seat for those six-hour journeys.
Nissan Kicks SV: The Cons
- The Kicks doesn't offer all-wheel-drive on any trim. This feels like a miss. Competitors like the Kia Soul and Toyota CH-R have also forgone AWD as an option, but others in the segment offer it. And many people likely expect AWD from an SUV, even a tiny one.
- The Kicks isn't out to surprise anyone with its power; it rocks a paltry 125 horses. Its light curb weight (2,654 pounds, to be exact) helps make the most of that, but there are plenty of times where the engine feels lacking. And it doesn't help that almost all of the Kicks's competitors boast more power.
- While the infotainment screen's size and speed impressed, the rest of the interior feels cheap. You can't expect luxury at this price point, but all the plastic does start to get to you.
Nissan Kicks SV: Value
The Nissan Kicks is an easy driver, with almost everything you're looking for at its size and price point. And it's not just a decent looking ride; it's comfortable, it offers a surprising amount of space and tech, and its fuel economy numbers are exceptional. It ranks high on value, for sure.
The Bottom Line:
After my trip-packed week with the Kicks, I didn't feel ready to run away from it the way I did after a similar road trip with the Ford EcoSport. The Kicks did everything I asked, and it did it without straining—too much. I found the Kicks especially appealing when parking on crowded neighborhood streets, and while zipping around the Pittsburgh suburbs. Nissan's standard continuously-variable transmission is the furthest thing from your mind when on local roads—it's smooth as butter. Drive it aggressively and you'll get a bit of simulated gear shifting (and you're also going to hear it from the engine in that case); but the tires are grippier than you'd expect, and the steering feels light, but easy.
This tiny SUV is a well-balanced act, with plenty of positives to make up for its shortcomings. The Kicks is ready to throw down with any and all Napoleon-complex-afflicted crossovers. Simply put, it's pleasant and practical, making it a worthy offering in the segment.