2018 Nissan Kicks First Review
Starting Price: $18,965 | Price yours
Engine: 125-horsepower 4-cylinder
Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined
Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Similar: Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport
Nissan’s newest and smallest crossover SUV
The Nissan Kicks is an all-new vehicle, and acts as the gateway into Nissan’s lineup of crossover SUVs. In that regard it replaces the Nissan Juke, but aside from their soccer-centric names, the two are very different vehicles. When the Juke arrived in 2011, it was a trailblazer, among the first of the subcompact SUV class. Nowadays, that segment is burgeoning with diminutive crossovers like the Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Toyota C-HR and Ford EcoSport.
Whereas the Juke stood out with a turbocharged engine that gave it zesty performance and had love-it-or-hate-it styling, the 2018 Nissan Kicks has wider appeal. The Kicks doesn’t pack the potency or dynamics of the Juke, but it’s a better vehicle in almost every other aspect, from practicality and efficiency to safety systems and technology.
An affordable new SUV
The Kicks crossover SUV has a lot of positive attributes, but one of its best is its price and its pricing structure, which will appeal to younger drivers and the budget-minded. The 2018 Nissan Kicks has a starting price under $19,000 in base S trim. And this isn’t a case where the move up to the more recommendable mid-grade incites sticker shock. The Kicks SV model is still highly affordable at $20,665. Even the top-trim Kicks SR is a deal at just over $21,000. At a time when the average new car costs over $35,000, the Nissan Kicks is a refreshing value.
Even among its entry-level-SUV competitors, the Kicks stands out for its low cost. It undercuts the base prices of rivals like the Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax. It might just be easier to list the only vehicle that is substantially less than the Kicks -- the Kia Soul.
No penalty box
If about now you’re thinking, “You get what you pay for,” the Kicks has a confident reply to that, and the answer might just (ahem) kick you in the pants. Even in its least expensive form, the 2018 Nissan Kicks includes expected features like air conditioning and cruise control, along with push-button start, a touch-screen infotainment system with a trio of USB ports, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Even more impressive, it includes a safety feature that can potentially prevent an accident: forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. This feature has been around nearly a decade, debuting in vehicles like Volvos, but trickle-down automotive economics mean it is now widely available even in economy cars. Still, it's mighty impressive to see it in a new car with an MSRP below $19,000.
Before we get below the Kicks’ surface or even talk about our first impressions of how it drives, let’s look at its design. After all, the first thing most of us notice about a car is the way it looks, and the Kicks stands out, in a good way. That is to say, its predecessor the Juke also stood out, but not always for the right reasons.
The Kicks looks like a tidy bundle of youthful hope and dynamism. Its small size (overall length is only 169.1 inches) makes it a snap to park and maneuver. It’s a natural city dweller, the prime habitat for which it was made. The Kicks' styling also stands out from that of its larger siblings, the Rogue and Rogue Sport. Its arguably most distinctive design element, a rear-window pillar with a black finish that makes it appear as if the roof is floating, was adopted from the Nissan Murano.
Like a box of candy, the Nissan Kicks is available in a variety of fun colors. Moreover, it can be ordered with a roof that’s a different color, such as a combination of orange top and gray body, black top and white body, or white top and blue body. True to its value story, the premium color schemes are affordable, priced at either $150 or $545 depending on configuration. It’s the least expensive stylistic exercise we’ve seen in quite some time.
The Kicks’ cabin doesn’t stand out quite as much as its exterior, but after the Juke’s interior eccentricities, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Kicks is simpler by comparison, with the dash dominated by a 7-inch touch screen for the infotainment system and easy-to-use climate controls.
Also: The Nissan Kicks has new competition in the Hyundai Venue
As with other Nissans, the Kicks’ front seats are of the “zero-gravity” NASA-inspired variety. We found them comfortable, if not gravity-defying. Our favorite feature about them is actually the built-in armrest on the driver’s seat. This feature is getting rarer to find these days, and it’s a welcome surprise when you do. It makes cruising that much more comfortable.
In the second row, the rear seats ostensibly accommodate three, but even two adults will find space at a premium if both are of the taller variety. This is a subcompact SUV, after all. Behind the rear seats, the Kicks has impressive room for its size: 25.3 cubic feet. That space can be increased to 32.3 cubic feet with seats down, though they are still quite angled when folded. In this respect, the Kicks doesn’t have as much total space or the seat-flipping flexibility of the Honda HR-V.
Initial driving impressions -- adding lightness
The Nissan has a base curb weight of 2,639 pounds. That might seem like an odd way to start a section on how it drives, but it’s highly relevant. That number is light, even for this class. The HR-V from Honda and the CX-3 from Mazda, two automakers known for making cars that disdain excess weight, both tip the scales higher than Nissan’s Kicks. For a less relevant yet more impressive comparison, consider the tiny Mazda MX-5 Miata weighs only 307 pounds less than the 5-passenger Nissan Kicks crossover SUV.
This is important because, well, the Kicks isn’t very powerful. With only 125 horsepower, it's paltry by even subcompact SUV standards. The Kicks isn’t quick. If you want gee-whiz acceleration, look to a turbocharged Hyundai Kona or a turbo Kia Soul. Both are more invigorating. But the Kicks doesn’t feel dangerously slow.
By our rough timing in this first drive, it took around 10 seconds to reach 60 mph. As with other Nissans, the Kicks uses a CVT (continuously variable transmission), a type of automatic with no set gear ratios. They are known for groaning and efficiency. The Kicks provides both. Floor the accelerator pedal and the sounds you hear are a powertrain working hard. On the flip side, it delivers up to 36 mpg in highway driving, tops in its class. And it must be said that Nissan’s CVTs continue to improve, simulating shift points like a traditional automatic transmission.
There are no paddles or any way to mimic manual shifting with the gear selector. There is, however, a little button on the transmission gear that enables “sport” mode. But we found it to be a take-it-or-leave-it function as it didn’t seem to make much difference when the button was pressed.
The Kicks is an ace in the city. It has a tight (34.1-foot) turning radius, which makes it a cinch to park and maneuver, and has good rearward visibility. That latter trait is refreshing, especially compared to competitors such as the Toyota C-HR, whose rear pillars trade sweeping style for poor sightlines.
The Kicks’ steering is light and easy, and the chassis has a way of soaking up bumps in a manner that feels a class-above. The Kicks would be an ideal car for a college kid or urbanite.
On the open road and at open-road speeds -- think 70 mph and above -- the Kicks can get a bit nervous. This was even more apparent on the 5 Freeway in the San Diego area where Nissan launched the Kicks to the media. California’s road surfaces can be hit or miss, and on the less well-loved portions, the Kicks’ small size and short wheelbase were apparent.
We never felt unsafe in the Kicks, even at higher speeds. It just wouldn’t be our first choice for a cross-country or even cross-state trek.
Front-wheel drive only
One thing to note, especially if you live where it snows or you have to contend with traction-compromised roads, is that the Nissan Kicks is only available with front-wheel drive (FWD) and doesn’t even offer all-wheel drive (AWD). It’s not the only vehicle in its class to nix AWD as an option -- the Toyota C-HR and Kia Soul do, too -- but it does mean that if you really want it, you’ll have to step up to a Nissan Rogue Sport or go with one of the Kicks’ other competitors.
As previously mentioned, the Kicks comes with a nice roster of standard tech that is bundled around a 7-inch touch screen. But there’s a few good reasons to spend the extra $1,700 for the midgrade SV trim.
The first is that is has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These systems integrate seamlessly with your smartphone to replicate major functions like audio and text messaging on the Nissan’s screen, and for enabling handsfree use of major features. The other reason for opting up is blind-spot monitoring. This is another impressive safety feature, and it can prevent you from colliding with a vehicle hiding on your side.
Opting up one notch further to the topline SR trim grants Nissan’s nifty AroundView monitor. While all Kicks include a backup camera (now mandatory on new cars), the Around View gives a 360-degree bird’s-eye perspective.
One thing you can’t get factory equipped on a Kicks is navigation. That means you’ll be dependent on your phone and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
An audio surprise
If you’re an audiophile on a budget, there’s more good news in the Kicks. Available on the Kicks SR and via its only option package is the Bose Personal Premium audio system. This new system sounds far better than what you’d expect, and certainly better than what you’d expect in such an affordable SUV.
It includes eight speakers, two of which are in the driver’s headrest, to create a sound field that can be personalized and “widened” or “narrowed” to suit your preferences. In addition to the upgraded audio system, the $1,000 Premium Package includes faux leather interior, heated front seats, and a security system.
Value, style and safety
No matter which 2018 Nissan Kicks you go with, you’ll get value, style and safety in spades. If your new small crossover SUV doesn’t have to be all-wheel drive or grant seat-of-the-pants driving dynamics, the Nissan Kicks deserves a good look. It bundles youthful design, class-leading fuel efficiency, smart packaging, and impressive safety features all in a package that undercuts most rivals in price. From our first impression of the new Kicks, Nissan’s entry-level SUV looks like an immediate winner.
2018 Nissan Kicks specs
Engine: 1.6-liter inline 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 125 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 115 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel economy: 31 mpg city/36 mpg highway
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT)
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Length: 169.1 inches
Width: 69.3 inches
Height: 62.4 inches
Ground clearance: 7.0 inches
2018 Nissan Kicks Exterior and Interior Photos
Trims, Specs and Sticker Prices
The 2018 Nissan Kicks is available in three trims: S, SV and SR. Major options are gained by moving up trims. Only one option package is available, and it’s limited to the SR trim. Here are the most notable features for each trim. All prices here include the $975 destination charge.
2018 Nissan Kicks S
Starting price: $18,965 | This week's Fair Purchase Price
7-inch touch-screen infotainment system with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, 3 USB inputs
Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking
2018 Nissan Kicks SV
Starting price: $20,665 | This week's Fair Purchase Price
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration
Automatic climate control
Heated side mirrors
Rear seat vents
17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
Nissan Intelligent Key (keyless entry)
2018 Nissan Kicks SR
Starting price: $21,265 | This week's Fair Purchase Price
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Sport cloth seat trim with orange accents
AroundView backup monitor
Rear roof spoiler
Premium Package ($1,000 available exclusively on SR trim)
Bose Personal Plus audio system
Prima-Tex upgraded seat material
Heated front seats
Vehicle security system
More New and Redesigned Models for 2018