Just as the Nissan Versa proudly proclaims itself as the cheapest new car available in America, the 2018 Nissan Kicks can truthfully proclaim that it's one of the most wallet-friendly crossovers on the market. Buyers can scoop up a base Kicks S for under $19,000 after destination charges, and even at that bargain-basement price they'll get bells and whistles like automatic emergency braking and a seven-inch color touchscreen. But as enticing as the stripper model is, we're ponying up the additional $1,700 for an SV. The mid-pack model brings along features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic climate control, and blind-spot monitoring. Here's the Kicks we'd be trying on for size:
- Model: 2018 Nissan Kicks SV
- Engine: 1.6-liter inline-four
- Output: 125 hp / 115 lb-ft
- Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
- Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
- Fuel Economy: 31 City / 36 Hwy
- Options: N/A
- Base Price: $20,665 (including a $975 destination charge)
- Best Value Price: $20,665
With all of 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque, the Kicks is no paragon of speed. However, the 1.6-liter four-cylinder has enough gusto to move the 2,650-pound crossover around town without too much trouble. Initial throttle tip-in delivers a peppy takeoff, and sprinting off once the light goes green doesn't require pinning the throttle to the floor or sending the tach needle into the red area.
Get the Kicks onto the interstate and it becomes clear that those 125 ponies aren't going to be entering the Kentucky Derby anytime soon. There's just not enough power here to merge or accelerate with any authority, and overtaking in particular isn't for the faint of heart. There's no doubt that the Kicks is first and foremost an urban runabout.
To keep costs down, antiquated bits of tech found their way underneath the all-new Kicks. The most glaring of these are the rear brakes, which are of the old-as-dirt drum design. Luckily, the rear drums pair well with the front discs and the low curb weight to provide a satisfactory stopping experience. Also old-school is the torsion-beam rear suspension, a now-outdated piece of hardware that can't provide the ride or handling of a more complex design such as an independent rear suspension. We were impressed, however, with the lack of choppiness or noise over the road – the Kicks does a good job of mitigating unwanted motion and muffling the moans of the powertrain or the howls of the wind.
Prefacing the Kicks was the Juke, that homely, frog-looking thing that vexed dealers for seven years before it was finally put to rest. Thankfully, the Kicks doesn't wear any of its predecessors' design language, and we're happy to report that from no angle does it appear even remotely amphibious. Instead, the Kicks looks decidedly modern, offering that baby, traditionally masculine styling currently in vogue.
The nicely sculpted character lines also belie this front-driver's lack of capability, and the abrupt rise of the beltline at the back of the of the rear door helps convince onlookers that the Kicks is less a Versa-based hatch and more of a true crossover. All trims use blacked-out pillars to give the impression of the also-trendy floating roof. Overall, the sheetmetal of the Kicks has just enough verve to draw in style-conscious shoppers.
While the exterior is playful and novel, the interior is anything but. You can't expect greatness in a car with an 18-grand sticker price, but we were disappointed with the materials, comfort, and compromises that were rampant within the Kicks. For instance, the rear seats fail to fold flat, making it difficult to utilize the 53 cubic feet of total cargo space that's technically available when they're dropped. And at just 49 inches of rear hip room and 51 inches up front, it's also noticeably narrow inside – don't expect to stuff three adults abreast in the second row. In both rows, the materials used are all subpar at best. Look around and it's nothing but a hodgepodge of somber black plastic, mouse-fur carpet, and a sad-looking headliner. We get that this car was built to deliver a hearty feature count at an affordable price, but it's too bad that even top-spec SR trims couldn't have had a little fun with the look and feel of the Kicks' innards.
At least there's enough features here to make a stripper BMW blush. Base models get niceties like a seven-inch touchscreen, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and a rearview camera. SV trims step it up with Apple CarPlay, 17-inch wheels, blind-spot monitoring, and keyless entry; top-shelf SR models come with heated seats, headrest-integrated speakers, a Bose audio system, and LEDs. On a feature-per-dollar analysis, it's hard to beat the Kicks.
The Best and Worst Things
The exterior is fun and cohesive, and is probably the best expression of Nissan's design language. Coupled with the impressive feature count, we have no trouble imagining buyers falling for the Kicks.
Unfortunately, you can't often have your cake and eat it too. The Kicks suffers from lack of power, a depressing interior, and mediocre drum brakes.
Right For? Wrong For?
Urban millennials who don't yet have a family and merely need to get around town would find the Kicks a good choice.
However, if your family is bigger than two or you find yourself on the highway more often than not, stay away from this little bugger. The lack of room and absence of high-speed manners would make this a poor choice.
The Bottom Line
Well equipped and affordable, the 2018 Nissan Kicks is a strong value proposition for the buyer who isn't put off by the interior and doesn't find themselves traversing the highways and byways of America. If you're just looking to navigate around your local city streetscape, the hip Kicks is an enticing option.