It’s the middle of June and I’m driving south on I-95 headed for Key Largo, Florida. Temperature 95 degrees with humidity to match. There may be better times of the year to visit this tropical escape but I’m not feeling the heat as I push down the pedal on the all-new Nissan Kicks.
Nissan hosted a select number of auto journalists to kick the tires on their new CUV. So as I wind my way from Miami Beach down to the land of Bogie and Bacall, I crank the A/C and enjoy a comfy ride in what seems to be a deceivingly large yet smallish looking Kicks.
First, about that name. I assumed it was a tie-in to the World Cup but Kicks is not related to soccer and is oddly plural. Nissan is targeting this vehicle to the young-minded and creative types so maybe they can work the name into daily conversations better than me.
The Kicks is not a flat-out replacement for the recently killed Juke but it does fill the void of the not-too-expensive crossover SUV with an attitude. You can first see the attitude in the shape of the vehicle with its short wheelbase and sloping roof.
Color is a big theme for Nissan here as the Kicks is offered in five colors and several two-tone combinations. The French Powder top on Deep Blue Pearl base caught my eye and I can only imagine the customization that can take place with colored door handles and mirror caps via Nissan’s Color Studio.
The steering is smooth and the stop-and-go city driving is comfy with good braking. But taking it up to highway speeds took a little effort as the power is on the low side, as it is with most inexpensive crossovers. A 1.6-liter engine pops out just 125 horsepower. But I didn’t feel too concerned about getting it up to fast lane speed limits due to its power-to-weight ratio. The base model Kicks weighs just over 2,600 pounds making it a good competitor in the lightweight category.
The South Florida winds were whipping hard during my drive to the Keys yet the noise level was minimal. That could have been the result of the optional Bose audio system with eight speakers, including two right behind my head in the driver’s headrest. It is clear that Nissan wants to attract not just the young-minded set but also the people who like to listen to their tunes.
The Kicks has two 1-inch tweeters, one in each A-pillar; two 6.5-inch wide-range speakers, one in each front door; two 2.5-inch speakers built into the driver’s headrest; and two 5.25-inch speakers, one in each rear door. To balance out this impressive sound there is a digital amplifier with six channels of custom equalization and digital signal processing.
Nissan partnered with Bose to create this “Personal Plus Sound System” and is an option on the highest-level trim – about a $2,500 upgrade. This upgrade also includes heated front seats and a security system. Though I didn’t need the heated seats on this summertime jaunt I would recommend this upgrade package to audiophiles and those who want to crank up the jams.
My 65-mile drive was exceptionally comfy on my posterior thanks to NASA-inspired zero gravity seats. I’m not sure if there is gel or air inside but Nike may learn a thing or two about adding more comfort to its shoes by sitting in these bad boys.
There are three USB ports and the availability of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A seven-inch touchscreen fits nicely into the modern, gliding wing dashboard. There is no onboard navigation but that is a growing trend among all manufacturers as smartphone mirroring is on the rise.
Nissan touts that automated emergency braking comes standard on all Kicks. The mid-level SR model adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
For a low-to-the-ground CUV I had no problem getting my 6 foot-tall frame in the front and back. In fact I had several inches of headroom clearance and 43.7 inches of front leg room, which Nissan claims to be best-in-class. Three people easily fit in the back seats and, I imagine, baby and child seats would have a lot of room back there, too.
Cargo space in the Kicks is typical for a small-size CUV. There is 25.5 cubic feet behind the back seats that expands to 53.1 cubes when those seats are folded. Still plenty of room for a combination of luggage, gym bags, baby strollers or possibly a small surfboard.
I didn’t have to stop for refueling on my journey, in fact I barely noticed the gas level go down as I head south. The Kicks gets an estimated fuel rating of 31 mpg in the city, 36 on the highway for a 33mpg combined average. These numbers are a bit better than other vehicles in its class such as the Mazda CX-3.
As I pull into our seaside stopping point for lunch I park the Kicks in the glistening sun near the hot, white sand. A few gawkers approach and ask me about the unique shape and wanted to sit in it. It seems Nissan doesn’t have to worry about getting people to notice the Kicks and taking it for a test drive.
The impromptu audience may have been impressed when a Nissan representative told them the Kicks started under $18,000. No response when asked if dealers would accept Venmo for payment (oy, kids!). For me, that may be biggest selling point for this crossover as it is difficult to find a ride in this category at that inexpensive price point.
The S base model starts at $17,990 and is less than a Hyundai Kona, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and the Ford EcoSport. The SV adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an intelligent key and a few other features sets you back $19,690. The SR begins at $20,290 with additional things like LED low beams and signature accents, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and fog lights. My ride this afternoon was in the SR Premium package at $21,290 which allowed for that big time Bose audio system and speakers.
After contemplating my 90 minute trip over fish tacos and key lime pie I kicked back and stared out at the Atlantic Ocean. A parasail boat was pulling a young couple in the blue sky while a group of what looked to be new college graduates hung out near a pool dancing to thumping music. These are the people, I thought, who are the low-hanging fruit that Nissan covets for the this new CUV.
I then promptly got out of the blazing tropic sun, hopped back into the Kicks, and cranked up the A/C to head back up north to our starting point. All the while listening to the sultry sounds of Bertie Higgins (look him up) at crystal clear, noise shattering levels. Thanks, Bose. Thanks Nissan.