The Nissan Juke was famous for its funky styling and for the fact that it was one of the few small SUVs that was actually pretty fun to drive. However, the Juke was expensive and not very practical, not to mention far from a best-seller. So when Nissan went back to the drawing board to come up with a replacement, it went in a very different direction.
While the new 2018 Nissan Kicks may lack the fun-to-drive nature of the Juke, it’s better in every other way. It has a roomy interior, lots of technology for this class and great value. And if you want funky styling, it’s still available in a few different two-tone paint jobs that make it stand out on the road.
Is It an SUV?
We would argue that the Kicks isn’t an SUV for one key reason: It comes only with front-wheel drive. The option of all-wheel drive is a strange omission and one that will be felt by those in snowy states. Perhaps Nissan thinks that customers who really want AWD in a small SUV can turn to the more expensive Rogue Sport (see them side by side), but between the Rogue Sport and the Kicks, I’d much rather have a Kicks.
The Kicks arguably competes both with subcompact SUVs like the Honda HR-V and Hyundai Kona as well as with other FWD-only pseudo-SUVs like the Toyota C-HR. Compare the Kicks with those vehicles here.
Apart from its lack of AWD, the Kicks’ other measurables stack up nicely against these competitors. It has the most rear cargo room (25.3 cubic feet), the most front and rear headroom, and the lowest base price by a healthy margin ($18,895; all prices cited include destination charges). That emphasis on value is really what sets the Kicks apart.
Value, Value, Value
This is going to sound like hyperbole, but the Kicks might present the best value in the automotive market today — especially its higher trim levels. The Kicks is sold in three trim levels: S, SV ($20,685) and SR ($21,285). The SR is offered along with a Premium Package that tacks on another $1,000, but that’s it.
All models come with a standard 7-inch touchscreen display, three USB ports, automatic forward emergency braking and keyless entry. The SV adds blind spot warnings, automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, remote start and satellite radio. On top of that, the SR adds some exterior parts including a rear spoiler and LED headlights, a 360-degree camera system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Slap on the Premium Package as my test vehicle did, which adds a Bose personal audio system with speakers in the head restraint, faux-leather upholstery and heated front seats, and that’s a formidable list of equipment for right around $23,025 (including $545 for two-tone paint and $215 for floormats). None of the Kicks’ competitors can match it, though some do offer more safety features (notably adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist). That 360-degree camera system, a class-exclusive feature to the Kicks, is a great help for parallel parking and other tight spaces. Like other high-riding vehicles, it’s kind of hard to see shorter objects in the immediate vicinity, and the camera alleviates many of those worries.
Interior Space and Quality
The Kicks also excels at using its interior space efficiently. It’s not a large vehicle, but you could be excused for thinking it is when you get inside. A lot of small SUVs and tall hatchbacks (as we’ll call them) have compromised headroom, but not the Kicks. I found a solid 3- or 4-inch gap between my head and the headliner in both the front and rear seats. Visibility is also a strength, as those tall side windows offer good views out from any seat, which backseat passengers especially will appreciate.
There are a few places where the Kicks interior quality does dip, however, reminding you of its budget-friendly nature. The window sills are hard plastic instead of a softer material, and the front passenger is missing an inboard armrest. There’s also an uncovered center storage console — valuables will have to go in the glove box to be hidden.
The three USB ports are well spread throughout the cabin; there is one up front in front of the gear selector, and the other two sit between the two front seats where they can be reached by anyone in the cabin. I was also a fan of the Kicks’ touchscreen placement; I could reach it from the driver’s seat easily, but it was still high enough to see without looking down too much. I came to appreciate how well thought out the Kicks interior is — a small vehicle with an interior that feels large is no easy feat.
How It Drives
Under the hood is a modest 125-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder that is mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The driving experience in the Kicks is the most average thing about it: This is not a fast vehicle, and 125 hp doesn’t provide enough go-go for fun behind the wheel. And like most CVTs, the Kicks is a little sluggish from a stop, but after you get going, the power comes on with more impetus. The handling, meanwhile, grades out a little better. I thought the rear end would be a mess, but it’s actually quite composed, and the Kicks rides decently over broken pavement without punishing its occupants. The steering is lightly weighted, but it tracks well on the highway.
There is one part of driving the Kicks that stands out: visibility. Those big windows give the driver clear sightlines out of all sides, including the rear window that looms large in the rearview mirror. I worried about those wide C-pillars, but the windows on the rear doors stretch way back so you have a good view of your blind spot on both flanks.
Fuel-economy ratings also give the Kicks an edge — an EPA-estimated 31/36/33 mpg city/highway/combined. None of the FWD versions of competitors mentioned earlier top 30 mpg combined.
The Kicks not offering all-wheel drive is a bummer because that can be a deal breaker for many car shoppers, including those who live where weather is a factor — especially since there are close competitors to the Kicks that do offer it, including the Rogue Sport out of Nissan’s own stable. But for me? I live in Los Angeles, where we pay absurd rents and fight through outrageous traffic on a regular basis for the privilege of year-round sun. Here, the Kicks not offering AWD isn’t to its detriment, and its small-footprint, big-utility combo makes it even more appealing in the cramped parking spaces of the city.
If you don’t need four driven wheels, the Kicks is an outstanding entrant in this class. It offers a combination of value and interior space I haven’t found in other models along with superior fuel efficiency. The Kicks might not be quite as fun or quirky as the Juke was, but it is the superior vehicle — and worth much consideration for utility shoppers.
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