Pedro Arrais review: Nissan Kicks a good crossover value

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Nissan has traded in an unique and quirky vehicle with the 2018 Kicks, a more conventional-looking design that will appeal to a broader audience in the growing subcompact crossover market.

A few years back, my wife and I were looking for a new vehicle. After narrowing down what she wanted in a vehicle, I proudly brought home a Nissan Juke for her consideration.

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With its bug-eye look — some said it reminded them of frog’s eyes — and other design details, my wife gave it an unequivocal thumbs down.

The Juke is now history (in North America at least). In its place Nissan has substituted it with the Kicks, a wholly conventional design that blends in nicely with the rest of the company’s crossover lineup — the Qashqai, Rogue and Murano.

I am sure that if my wife were in the market again, she would not kick (sorry) the Kicks to the curb this time.

The Kicks is available in three trim levels, starting at $17,998. I test-drove an SV model, with a manufacturer’s suggested list price of $20,898.

At $17,998, the Kicks is the lowest-priced subcompact crossover in the market, by a large margin. The Chevrolet Trax is a full $2,000 more. (For those keeping score, the Canadian price is just $8 more than the similar vehicle in the U.S. — without the 30 per cent exchange factored in.)

If Nissan is looking to capture a younger, more urban first-time buyer, that lone fact is sure to attract a lot of attention.

My tester, at $3,000 more, comes with a host of desirable features, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, intelligent key, heated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels.

While thoroughly conventional, the Kicks still retains enough external styling cues to set it apart from the competition, which includes the Hyundai Kona and Ford EcoSport.

Truth be told, the headlights of the Kicks bear a faint resemblance to the gone-but-not-forgotten Juke (but that could just be me).

The Kicks is powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 125 horsepower and 115 foot-pounds of torque.

On paper, the Kicks pales in comparison with all of the competition and performance is wanting. But somehow, the Nissan engineers have been able to tweak the continuously variable transmission to eke out the most of the engine. The Kicks is only offered with front-wheel drive.

It also helps that the Kicks has a mere 1,132-kilogram curb weight to move — that’s more than 360 kg lighter than the Toyota CH-R.

The smaller-displacement engine also delivers two other benefits — the lowest CO2 emissions in the segment, and also the best fuel efficiency by a large margin. Nissan is pegging it at 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 6.6 on the highway.

In the case of the Kicks, socially responsible transportation trumps performance, which the turbocharged Juke was well-known for.

The interior is logically set up and tidy. A seven-inch screen in the middle of the dash serves as the vehicle’s infotainment centre, controlling the audio, telephone and vehicle functions. A separate climate control panel is found beneath, with thankfully large dials for temperature and fan speeds.

There is a fair bit of hard plastic, but that is to be expected at this price range.

The back seat is comfortable for two and bearable for three. My only wish would be for Nissan engineers to incorporate fold-down head restraints to improve the rearward visibility. Outward visibility is otherwise quite good, even to the side.

The back seats fold 60/40 and the vehicle can swallow up to 915 litres of cargo (716 with the seats up).

Hats off to Nissan for incorporating automated emergency braking and forward collision warning — even on the base car. This is in addition to traction control and a low-tire-pressure monitoring system.

The top of the line model (not tested) completes the safety net with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and Nissan’s all-around 360-degree view monitor with moving object detection.

I should point out that the Kicks can be ordered with a contrasting roof colour to stand out from the crowd. I know it doesn’t add anything functionally, but the two-tone vehicles give the Kicks a youthful, fun vibe.

The 2018 Kicks isn’t going to set any enthusiast’s hearts aflutter. But that’s the point. It is an urban runabout with enough space for friends or a weekend jaunt. It is practical, possesses a hip vibe and fuel economy to make one wonder what the hype with hybrids is all about.

With its low price and decent list of standard equipment — especially the automated emergency braking and forward collision warning system — it is sure to attract the attention of safety-minded buyers. That last group includes parents considering purchasing a safe vehicle for their children.

The fact that it isn’t a speed demon might actually be another good reason to buy.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Subcompact crossover, front-engine, front-wheel drive

Engine: Normally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder, 125 hp at 5,800 r.p.m., 115 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: Continuously variable

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,295; width, 1,760; height, 1,586; wheelbase, 2,620

Curb weight (kg): 1,204

Price (base/as tested): $20,898/$22,793 (includes $1,795 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Nil

Tires: 205/55 R17 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 6.6 highway/ 7.7 city

Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car and roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain

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