The recently minted Kicks, the first new Nissan nameplate in eight years, is billed by the automaker as an entry-level crossover.
But while its base price, $17,990, sure qualifies it as entry level, I don't know that I buy into the crossover label. True, the subcompact Kicks' high stance and body styling evoke a crossover SUV. But to me, a crossover ought to be available with all-wheel-drive, as indeed, the overwhelming majority are. The Kicks, like its chief rival, the Kia Soul, is available only as a front-driver.
So, for me the Kicks, like the Soul, qualifies as a cute, useful hatchback.
The joint product of Nissan's styling studios in San Diego and Rio de Janeiro, the Kicks is a cutie aimed at young singles and couples who tend to be urbanites earning between 45 and 65 large. The research suggests they are a tech-savvy band that will welcome the car's value story, surprising spaciousness, and excellent fuel economy.
The Kicks comes in three flavors: the base S model; the SV (starting at $19,690), and the sportier, top-of-the-line SR ($20,290).
The Kicks is nicely equipped. Even in base form, its standard-gear litany includes automatic emergency braking, a rear camera, an automatic transmission, and a seven-inch touchscreen. The SV, which I spent most of my time in during the regional press introduction in Miami, tacks on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, satellite radio, blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts, and remote and push-button engine start, and substitutes 17-inch alloy wheels for the base car's steel 16-inchers.
The SR adds goodies like a leather-wrapped wheel, LED low beams, and a surround-view camera.
From a utility standpoint, the Kicks gets good marks. Legroom in the second row accommodates 6-footers, and with the second-row seats folded down and the trunk well in use, a generous total of 53 cubic feet of storage space is afforded.
The interior of the Kicks is attractive enough, although the almost exclusive use of hard plastic on the dash and door panels reflects the inevitable cost-cutting at this price point. (The use of rear drum brakes instead of discs is another.)
The car is comfortable enough, however, and reasonably quiet except when the little engine is flogged. The ride is fairly firm. Visibility is generally good, although the rear view is somewhat diminished by rear-seat headrests that don't fold down when not in use.
The Kicks is powered by a 1.6-liter, normally aspirated four that develops 125 horsepower. That's fewer horses than almost all the subcompact crossovers and would-be crossovers it competes with, but the vehicle's exceptionally light weight (2,672 pounds) diminishes that disadvantage. In the end, its 0 to 60 in 9.7 seconds puts in the middle of a rather leisurely pack.
Its buyers probably aren't expecting Secretariat. An engine that gets the job done, typically in an urban setting, is good enough. What they probably were expecting, and will certainly get, is excellent fuel economy. The car's small engine, gas-sipping continuously variable transmission (CVT), and light weight conspire to produce best-in-class EPA mileage ratings of 31 city and 36 highway.
Like its subcompact brethren, the Kicks doesn't exactly come out to play. But its driving dynamics are decent enough. The little guy cornered competently and afforded steering that felt nicely weighted and furnished more feel than most of its competitors. The braking, while nothing to write home about with a reported 60-to-zero reading of 126 feet, was still par for its class.