MONTREAL, QC: With the number of small crossover vehicle buyers expected to increase some 60 per cent by 2020
, Nissan is adding the 2018 subcompact Kicks as the sixth member of its CUV/SUV team.
Canada will undoubtedly be a prime market for this Mexican-made five-seater, due to Nissan’s claimed best-in-segment fuel economy and price for the Kicks.
My co-driver at the recent media launch aptly described the Kicks as an “honest” vehicle, meaning that for the money, it gets the job done in a pleasing and competent manner.
The Kicks is based on a 2014 concept shown in Brazil that was inspired by the exuberance of the Carnival in Rio and it certainly retains the spirit of the event in its choice of five exterior hues. And for an extra $150 you can have the roof done in white, black or orange for a two-tone effect.
But what is going to draw the most attention is cost.
There are three trim models – S starting at $17,998, SV at $20,898 and SR at $22,798.
But don’t think the Kicks is a “stripper” to get to that price point.
The base “S” is fitted standard with Intelligent Emergency Braking (IEB) and Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Bluetooth hands-free and Siri eyes-free, rear-view camera, seven-inch touchscreen, Easy Fill tire pressure warning, cruise and power locks and windows.
Other standard equipment includes Traction Control System (TCS), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and Hill Start Assist (HSA), front disc/rear drum Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and electric power steering.
The toptrim SR includes an Integrated Dynamic-Control Module (IDM) featuring Intelligent Active Engine Brake, Active Intelligent Trace Control and Active Ride Control, to help provide a higher level of driving enjoyment.
SR also offers Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Intelligent Around View Monitor (I-AVM) equipped with Moving Object Detection (MOD).
Kicks S grade comes with 16-inch steel wheels, with 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels standard on Kicks SV and SR grades mounted with 205/60R16 all-season or 205/55R17 all-season tires respectively.
I enjoyed a very pleasant day of driving in and around Montreal at the Canadian press introduction, despite ongoing rain showers, at times quite intense.
What made it pleasant was being teamed with long-time colleague Eric LaFrancois who hails from Montreal’s south shore in the town of Chambly and who promised me a wide variety of road styles and points of interest along the way.
The first thing we noticed was how the Kicks almost leapt forward from launch.
It was partly due to the aggressive “tip in” speed of the CVT and because the Kicks is fairly light at 1,215 kg (2,674 lb) resulting in a very good power-to-weight ratio despite only have 115 lb/ft of torque.
Crossing the Champlain Bridge, the Kicks was nimble enough to deal with the glut of Montreal rush hour traffic, which smoothed out as we heading south in the rain.
Noise from the factory-fitted tires was noticeable due to the “sizzle”, meaning the sound that comes from tires on wet pavement at speed. We agreed more expensive after-market boots would probably be worth considering.
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Otherwise normal highway driving was without incident or complaint, except the engine seemed to run out of breath when asked to pass at above highway speeds.
Suspension and braking is done by MacPherson struts with disc brakes up front and a torsion beam with drums at the rear. Simple and effective, they also mean lower production costs.
In a dark red with black top and roof rails, the SR version we were driving was well equipped with Prima-Tex synthetic leather seats with orange stitching and other amenities including the Bose Personal Plus Sound System with eight speakers including one in the driver’s headrest.
This is the kind of sound system you’d expect to find in cars at twice the price and includes 6.5-inch Bose Super65T speakers in each front door, cross-firing 1.0-inch tweeters in each A-pillar and 5.25-in wide-range speakers in each rear door.
The Bose PersonalSpace Control feature is built into the infotainment system’s audio settings, giving passengers adjustable listening options from front-focused sound to a wider, more enveloping experience.
At the Kicks media briefing, Nissan officials described the sound quality as “immersive,” which probably sets the bar for audio in the sub-compact crossover segment.
Also setting the standard is a claimed best-in-segment fuel economy of 7.2/6.6/7.7L/100 km city/highway/combined.
I saw my instant readout bounce between 6.7 to 7.8 during a mix of in-town and secondary roads, which I thought was pretty good.
Another thing we noticed was interior passenger volume, which includes claimed best-in-class for front legroom.
The interior was well laid out but where I would have expected a tachometer was a large fuel readout display. I know modern technology does not allow the engine to over-rev, but I still like to see what my engine is doing.
Interestingly, the rear liftgate was designed so the lower lip is high enough to allow a six-foot tall person to load the cargo area without having to stoop over.
What we concluded from the ride-and-drive was Kicks is a very clever move on Nissan’s part to solidify its CUV/SUV position in the changing Canadian market, especially when it comes to crossovers.
For the price and the content, the 2018 Nissan Kicks is going to be very attractive to Canadians — particularly first-time new vehicle buyers.
2018 Nissan Kicks
Front-wheel-drive, seven-step continuously variable transmission (CVT)
1.6-litre inline four-cylinder (125 hp, 115 lb/ft)
7.2/6.6/7.7L/100 km city/highway/combined
716 litres (25.3 cu ft) behind second row
S, $17,998; SV, $20,898; SR, $22,798