“Kicks” is an odd name for a car, isn’t it? As a verb, it means to hit something with a foot. As a noun, it’s slang for sneakers.
But at Nissan, Kicks means the entry point into its SUV lineup, a replacement for the slightly less oddly named Juke. In this case, the unconventional name—I still don’t know if it’s meant to be a verb or a noun—comes with rather more conventional styling. The Juke was widely criticized by people who opine on how cars look, but the Kicks looks for all the world like a Nissan Rogue that shrunk in the wash.
Nissan would probably consider that a success, as it means the application of its corporate design signatures like the V-motion grille and wraparound headlights did what they were supposed to do. Our test Kicks came in a fetching two-tone paint scheme—this is an optional extra, but even if opting for one color all over, you still get a “floating roof” thanks to the black plastic panel on the C pillar. (Hiding a C pillar like this continues to be a popular styling detail throughout the industry, even though I personally think it’s horrid.) I’ve got no such qualms about the other bits of black plastic that adorn the Kicks; these run from stout wheel arch extensions along the bottoms of the doors to the rear bumper. It’s a car that has been designed for life in the city, and these should help protect it against the inevitable bumps and scrapes that entails.
There’s only a single powertrain available for the Kicks, a naturally aspirated 1.6L inline four-cylinder engine coupled to an Xtronic automatic transmission. If you’re the type to complain that “crossover” and “SUV” now gets applied to vehicles that look like they might go offroad but which lack all-wheel drive, this is your cue—the Kicks is resolutely front-wheel drive. (With 7 inches/17cm of ground clearance, you could still take it a little way off the beaten path.)
The engine provides the little crossover with 122-horsepower (90kW) and 114lb-ft (155Nm), and that feels like plenty in this application. It’s not a heavy car at 2,672lbs/1,211kg (for the SR trim), nor a particularly sporty one. On the other hand, it is rather economical, with an EPA rating of 33mpg combined (31mpg city, 36mpg highway).
On paper that’s better than other comparable small crossovers like the Toyota C-HR, the Ford EcoSport, or the Hyundai Kona, although the 17-inch wheels on the SV and SR trims might eat into that to the tune of around a mile per gallon. In practice, the EPA rating is achievable; during a week with the Kicks in and around Washington, DC, even I was able to get about 30mpg. Try doing that with one of those downsized turbocharged fours that were being touted as the future not so long ago.
The Kicks’ interior is a pleasant, if no-nonsense, affair. Because our car was the $20,870 SR trim, that means bits of it were wrapped in Prima-Tex, a synthetic leather-like fabric, with orange contrast stitching. Ahead of the driver is a large analogue speedometer and a 7-inch digital display that replaces a second analog dial in the cheaper ($18,540) S trim Kicks.
A second 7-inch display lives in the center stack—this is the touchscreen infotainment system. It’s not quite as good as the one I keep raving about in Korean cars like the Hyundai Kona and Kia Soul, but it’s also less objectionable than systems fitted to more expensive Nissans and Infinitis. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are present and correct, which is good because using your smartphone is the only way to get navigation in a Kicks. For driver assists, automatic emergency braking is standard across the range, with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts standard with the SV and SR trims. Cruise control is available, but it’s not adaptive, unlike ProPilot Assist as found in the Leaf or Rogue.
Despite the Kicks’ diminutive size—169.1 inches (4,295mm) long, 69.3 inches (1,760mm) wide, 62.4 inches (1,585mm) tall, with a 103.1-inch (2,619mm) wheelbase—there’s actually a decent amount of room inside, even in the back. Nissan’s official figures say there’s 33.2 inches (843mm) of rear leg room; it won’t be perfect for a family that includes large teen children, but for occasional use or with small kids, it should be perfectly acceptable. There’s also a wealth of useful storage cubbies, bins, and receptacles. The trunk has 25.3 cubic feet (714L) of storage with the rear seats in use, not counting some extra room below the trunk floor. This goes up to 53.1 cubic feet (1.504L) with the rear seats folded flat.
If you’ve read this far, it’s probably obvious that the Kicks isn’t going to work for everyone’s lifestyle. But it is a surprisingly charming little thing, managing to be both cheap and also cheerful. If you’re looking for a city runabout or a first car that comes with a warranty (as opposed to buying something used), there are definitely worse options out there.