2018 Nissan Kicks first impressions and drive review

2018 Nissan Kicks

San Diego, California — If you’re someone who looks at performance on paper, the 2018 Nissan Kicks doesn’t really look that great. A 125 horsepower engine is hardly worth bragging about, and it’s mated to a CVT, which enthusiasts tend to not like.

Yet that’s only part of the story. The Kicks is a car you do have to drive to understand, but when you do, it starts to make a lot of sense.

Starting at just under $18,000, the front-wheel drive only Kicks delivers safety and comfort at a price point others can’t hit. Standard autonomous emergency braking is something we’d like to see on every car, and it’s nice to see Nissan offer it here.

Available options include Android Auto and Apple Car Play, blind spot monitoring, LED headlights and a Bose upgraded stereo that actually sounds quite good. If you check all the boxes, you’re still under $23,000.

In a straight line, the Kicks isn’t going to win any races. But the CVT is programmed well — Nissan has been making these things for a long time now — and fits the characteristics of the engine well. There’s enough power when you want it to exploit some gaps in traffic, and it’ll do highway speed comfortably.

It’s not the spiritual successor to the Nissan Juke, it does replace the Juke is the subcompact crossover lineup. But the Juke was expensive, even if it was faster. The Kicks is more simple than that.

I wouldn’t say the driving dynamics are at the level of the Mazda CX-3, but you get a ton more usable space than that car. Fit and finish wipes the floor with the Chevrolet Trax. It’s more responsive than the Ford EcoSport and looks better than the Honda HR-V.

Fuel economy is solid, too. It’s EPA rated at 36 mpg on the highway, 31 mpg in the city, or 33 mpg combined. It does this without an annoying stop-start system.

It also comes in some great, funky colors that’ll stand out in a parking lot full of beige. Nissan’s Color Studio allows you to customize the look even more. Smart.

Also smart is the interior comfort. All of the touch points are soft, and the interior looks as premium as it can for the price. Nissan’s famed “Zero Gravity Seats” are on board, and they’re some of the comfiest in the class.

The base S trim delivers a lot of value for the starting price, but you’re going to want the SV trim in reality. Unfortunately Car Play and Android Auto aren’t on the base S trim, and there’s no factory navigation option. Believe me, you want this connectivity.

You also get blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert on the SV trim.

Though, if I were going to spec one out, I’d go full SR trim. LED headlights are a safety feature for me, so my vehicles must have them. A 360-degree camera system comes on the SR, too. It’s not something I think you really need with a car this size, but it’s a neat add-on.

I also think I’d spring for the Premium Package on the SR. It’s $1,000 and adds Prima-Tex appointed seats, which have a leather feel. They’re also heated, which you’ll appreciate in colder climates.

Finally, the Premium Package adds the Bose Personal Plus stereo with amplifier. Bose systems tend to be bass heavy, and this one is no different, but if you spend a little time messing with the settings you can make it sound pretty good. It’s likely the best stereo at this price point.

Because there’s no all-wheel drive, Nissan can keep the price low. Also with no all-wheel drive, Nissan can keep the weight low. At 2,650 pounds, the Kicks feels faster and handles better than you’d expect, while still retaining safety and comfort features we demand.

That’s where the Kicks should really be applauded. Yes, I’d like to see a few more options on the top-end trim — mainly adaptive cruise control and an auto dimming rearview mirror from the factory — but the Kicks is a prime example of doing more with less.

Nissan didn’t just pluck the Kicks out of a foreign market and put it on sale. They put the time and effort into it to make it appeal to American buyers. They did an excellent job at this.

Is it the best in the class? I’m not sure. This class is all over the place. It’s the best of them at this price point though. It should sell well.

The manufacturer provided transportation, food and lodging, plus the vehicle, for the purpose of this review. Our opinion is always our own. Check out our disclosure policy for more information.
Chad Kirchner
the authorChad Kirchner
In addition to Chad Kirchner's work here, he's a freelance automotive journalist for outlets around the world.