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Nissan Kicks SR - Next Generation Eye Candy - A Review By Martha Hindes

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Nissan Kicks SR - Next Generation Eye Candy
A Review By Martha Hindes

Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

It only took a few minutes.

I’d had the 2019 Nissan Kicks SR CVT about a half hour and was driving down a nearby residential street. A boy, maybe 10 or 11, was standing on the sidewalk with his bike. When he saw the gunmetal gray Kicks with its bright orange roof, smooth silvery roof rails and kicky (pun intended) high-mounted spoiler in the rear, he did a major double take. He hopped on the bike, and raced along the sidewalk trying to keep up to get a better look.

If Nissan is using the Kicks to troll for future enthusiastic buyers, I’d say they succeeded. This vehicle fits perfectly into Nissan’s entry level subcompact slot, and with its attitude can be an aspirational lure that succeeds. Of course, that potential Kicks buyer chasing me down will need a few more years before being able to get behind the wheel.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of takers ready to hop aboard right now if the Kicks is the small crossover that catches their attention, especially at a subcompact price. Here’s why we think that it will.

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First impressions count. The Kicks name is a good fit for this downsized utility vehicle that debuted a year ago and keeps its eye candy appeal as a one-year-old. Check the overall lines, with sculpting, shaping and bulges in all the right places, like the rear haunches, high arched wheel wells and long beltline fold that slants up into the tail lamps below what Nissan calls a “floating roof” effect. Those features are highlighted with a dark chrome signature V-Shaped front grille, SR grade badging and aluminum alloy rims with five double spokes on 17-inch wheels. The result is just the right hint of irreverence without being over the top.

At a time subcompact sport utilities, also called crossovers, are flooding the market, styling is one of the Kick’s key elements . For a place on Nissan’s podium that wouldn’t draw a “HUH?” facial recognition styling reaction like the similar-sized funk-loaded Juke subcompact CUV that finally seems to have disappeared from its American product portfolio, Nissan got it right.

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This time they turned to what they term a Brazil-inspired styling influence from it’s Rio de Janeiro styling studio in conjunction with Nissan’s San Diego design headquarters. They paid attention to every aspect, inside and out, including more contemporary “boomerang” style, intelligent auto headlamps. And they still kept enough of the funk to make sure it won’t disappear in the crowd.

The Kicks would seat five comfortably as long as rear passengers aren’t widely oversized. But a very tall driver stretched out might back into rear legroom. This has one of the longest front seat tracks we’ve found in a vehicle. And there’s abundant headroom for someone who’s really tall.

Carrying packages or luggage shouldn’t be a problem, The liftgate should accommodate a six-footer loading items. The tonneau privacy cover lifts out of the way with lanyards. And an interior trunk area side light helps find those odd items that might have fallen loose during transit.

Expanded interior trunk space with the second row 60/40 seats folded down should accommodate a major shopping trip or plenty of luggage. We’ve never been able to translate cargo numbers into visualizing storage space. But EPA-rated 32.3 cubic feet sounds (and looks) impressive.

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The mmmm factor. You might not think you’re in an entry level vehicle when you sit inside, at least not in the SR version we tested. Handsome, charcoal gray leather-like seating (heated in front) on our test model and instrument panel had well crafted orange colored stitching that matched the roof. Flat bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter gave a sporty lift.

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For audiophiles, the driver’s headrest in our SR premium package model had built-in Bose “360 degrees of immersive sound” speakers, of eight total. The system allows for personal sound adjustments and audio direction focus. The 7-inch centered full color infotainment screen activates by touch and accommodates three interface choices, NissanConnect, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

All three S, SV and SR trim levels of the Kicks are front drive and are powered by the same 1.6 liter DOHC 16-valve four cylinder engine, rated at 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Unlike some automakers’ CVT’s in the past that gave the technology a rap for annoying shifting patterns, we found this smooth and unobtrusive, just a pleasure to drive. Push button and remote start promised to be a bonus during winter.

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Mileage for the Kicks has been getting high marks all around, but we didn’t fare as well on the instrument panel readout that shows a continuous score. That’s totally our fault. Our driving routes, stops, a shamefully extended phone call while stopped with the engine running and rush hour traffic get the blame for that. We weren’t driving to test for mileage as the history of the previous driver who scored in the high 30s apparently had done. Nissan gives mileage ratings of 33 combined, 31 city and 36 highway, for an 8 out of 10 fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating, and a 7 out of 10 tailpipe smog rating -- the kinds of stats we expect millennial drivers might pay more attention to.

On the safety side, although not 5-star rated at this time, there are features one might expect on a higher priced or luxury competitor, but are very welcome on a price conscious subcompact crossover. Surround view, with the tongue-twisting name of Intelligent Around View Monitor (I-AVM for short), on our test model gave a bird’s eye view – in motion – of what’s nearby at ground level when backing up. Small cameras hidden at the bottom of the heated, external side view mirrors are part of that function. The readout shares an IP screen with regular back up video. Rear hill start assist should help if needed on a steep slope.

With driving safety a growing concern in vehicles, as standard equipment Kicks provides automatic emergency braking, traction control and anti-lock braking among expected safety systems. The SR includes an Integrated Dynamic-Control Module (IDM). And how can anyone argue with the value of a standard hands-free text messaging assistant.

Nissan put its Integrated Dynamic-Control Module (IDM), with active engine brake, trace and ride control on the Kicks SR to boost driving fun. We did our best to tromp on the accelerator and have it lag. But even on a freeway entrance ramp it complied without complaining. Same for going around in circles with a steering radius that easily cut the corners and made overall handling flexible and agile. Nissan cites a tight 34.1 foot turning radius.

Where we felt what might be termed uninspiring was its performance on some truly rough roads. Those were on our home turf waiting repair after being chewed up by last winter’s yoyo like freeze and thaw cycles. Despite its fairly high ground clearance, this definitely isn’t a utility meant to concentrate on the sport factor such as off roading on rough terrain. Rather, it’s perfectly at home in an urban environment, on express roads, or maybe a trip to an easily accessible local beach. Or, for a night on the town, it has a classy attitude and presence that should be able to compete with any similar-sized crossover bearing a heftier sticker price.

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Inside, while the steering wheel-mounted audio controls seemed super sensitive to the touch, that could have meant the driver needed a little training.

Quick decisions. The vehicle we drove was provided by Nissan for a week’s worth of testing. But it didn’t take nearly that long for us to decide to give it a big thumbs up. Despite some missing elements from the departed Juke (stick shift, all-wheel-drive, no available turbo charger), we think it fits well in its niche with a meager $18,540 entry level base price or $20.870 base for the SR ($23,330 as tested, with premium paint, spoiler and Premium Package including audio). That seems well-designed to get a first time buyer, or active urbanite, comfortably into the Nissan fold.

And we suspect that future Kicks owner chasing us down on his bike is probably still smiling.

Copyright 2019, Martha Hindes, Automotive Bureau

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Martha's Phone Photo Nissan Kicks