Tasked with spending $20,000 on a transportation, most shoppers head to the classifieds.
The 2018 Nissan Kicks wants to be the antidote to a used Honda CR-V or Ford Escape. It wafts its eau du voiture nouveau toward budget-conscious shoppers, luring them away from the pre-owned lot to the main showroom, the one with free popcorn and hot dogs for the kids on Saturdays.
Truthfully, the 2018 Kicks offers more than good smells, a full warranty, and a low number on the odometer. It drives pleasantly, with the tight, well-oiled feel not found in a used car. It doesn’t force buyers to pay more for active-safety gear such as automatic emergency braking. It even has a dash of style and a hint of personality.
Under its hood, the Kicks uses a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at a paltry 125 horsepower—although with just 2,650 pounds to muscle around, the Kicks scoots through town with modest verve. Some credit is due to its continuously variable transmission (CVT) that intrudes little and delivers a zippy feel off the line without resorting to high-rpm droning.
Under its skin, the Kicks shares its platform with the dour Nissan Versa, which means its twist-beam rear axle and narrow tires hardly endow it with corner-carving poise. Quick steering that centers well on the highway indicates that Nissan did more than just slap a tall wagon body on unsold Versas, although the diminutive rear drum brakes decided to stick around.
Don’t look for all-wheel drive. Despite its 7.0-inch ground clearance, the Kicks is a front-wheel-drive hatchback on stilts with the resulting semi-elevated seating position for a marginally better view around traffic than the Versa.
It’s inside where the Kicks’ Versa-sourced platform makes its presence best known. At 69.3 inches wide, the Kicks isn’t the car for two linebackers to drive to practice. Its front seats feel good at first but they lack long-distance comfort and only the driver gets a center armrest. Surprisingly, the Kicks’ rear seat offers decent legroom for average adults and all four outboard passengers can happy wear top hats thanks to the commodious headroom. Just the car for the next Average-Size Abe Lincoln Impersonator convention. The rear bench has a middle seatbelt, but it’s hard to imagine a situation where it would be used—kids small enough to squeeze in there belong in car seats.
Behind the rear seats, the Kicks’ tall cargo area has 25.3 cubic feet of storage space. Fold the rear seatbacks forward and that grows to 53.1 cubes, but the cargo floor and folded seatbacks don’t create a flat space.
No version of the Kicks is opulent, but they’re all very well-priced. Though the base Kicks S delivers good value for its sub-$19,000 price tag, the Kicks SV earns its $1,700 upgrade with alloy wheels, upgraded infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a configurable LCD instrument cluster screen, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, alloy wheels, and automatic climate control. The Kicks SR pushes $23,000 fully equipped with heated seats, Bose audio, synthetic leather upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Even with all that gear, it’s cheaper than any 2018 Toyota C-HR.
It is far from perfect, but the well-packaged Kicks has value as its number one attribute.