Preview: 2018 Nissan Kicks

Seems that Nissan isn’t able to help themselves releasing more and more crossovers to the world. Not six months after the Qashqai started selling in Canada, and amidst the Rogue continuing to lead the charge on the sales front, Nissan introduced their new Kicks – yes, that’s the name, don’t wear it out – at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It arrives about a month after it was announced that the Juke was on its way out, and it will be going after a similar customer base. It also has one of the weirdest names ever to grace a tailgate.

Which I guess begs the question: isn’t it a little too soon?

“First of all, the timing is very dependent on the lead time required to develop the product,” said Joni Paiva, President of Nissan Canada. “We don’t always get to pick the ideal timing for launch. Once you’ve got all the development done, it’s money invested, so you need to get things going.”

This, of course, is no bad thing.

“We are very fortunate to have all this product activity,” he continued. “This is going to be our sixth crossover in the lineup. It’s the largest and freshest lineup in the industry, and I will never complain about excess of product.”

Especially when you’re current lineup is selling so well; the Rogue continues to be a bestseller in Canada and the US, and the Qashqai, Paiva says, is coming along nicely so far, too. You want to keep riding that momentum, and so it goes with the Kicks.

“At the end of the day, this may bring us some synergy. We’re changing the face of Nissan in Canada.”

Originally shown at the soccer hotbed that is Sao Paolo, Brazil, the Kicks steps in to the slot vacated by the recently nixed Juke, offering a more laid-back look with details like the V-motion grille that do a better job of aligning with the rest of the Nissan lineup. Somehow, though, it manages to avoid the trap of looking too too much like a downsized Qashqai, which doesn’t quite pull off the same trick when placed side-by-side with its next-in-line, the Rogue crossover.

It’s a little tough to see how the Kicks manages to pull it off; I’m leaning towards its contrasting-colour roof (available in orange, black or white, it’s an updated take on the “floating roof” seen on other Nissan models such as the Murano and upcoming Leaf), and the way the rear side windows taper into the A-pillar, which is the one quasi-carryover from the Juke. Add the black-and-chrome rocker panels, and the Kicks gets a lower stance more reminiscent of a hot hatchback than a crossover SUV. That plays into Nissan’s positioning the Kicks as a competitor to vehicles like the Toyota C-HR – which, coincidentally (or perhaps not) debuted at last year’s LA show – as well as the Honda Fit. A way for hatchback drivers to perhaps graduate to something with a little more ride height, or a little more content within.

Like the C-HR, though, the Kicks will not be available with AWD. While that tends to be a bigger issue in Canada than it is the US, it begs the question as to whether or not it’s going to look like a slight misstep on Nissan’s part.

“Obviously for Canada, having AWD is an asset,” said Paiva. “But having AWD also comes with extra weight and extra cost so suddenly, your value position is completely different.”

“So, at some points we make these choices like, ‘Shall I have a good-looking, affordable crossover, pretty good power, pretty-good-looking inside at a certain price? Or, do I go classic with 2WD, AWD adding the cost and the weight?’”

Speaking of that “pretty good power”: the Kicks comes available with one engine, a 1.6L four-cylinder making 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, putting it right in the thick of things with the aforementioned C-HR as well as the HR-V, though it’s down around 20 hp on the Mazda CX-3. Your one transmission choice is Nissan’s XTronic CVT automatic, which works well for the traffic-clogged urban centres in which the Kicks is supposed to excel, if not so much for the sportier side of things. That can be a bit of a deterrent in a vehicle like this, but is becoming more and more the norm regardless.

In an effort to further wow the younger buyers that Nissan is hoping to attract to the Kicks, it offers a comprehensive set of standard infotainment features such as a seven-inch full-colour display, available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, eight-speaker Bose audio with headrest-mounted speakers as well as Around-View parking monitor and moving-object detection. That’s a lot of tech for such a small package, but it’s the kind of thing you have to do to succeed at this level.

Safety-wise, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and seven airbags are all standard while switching to the top-spec SR trim (it joins S and SV) adds blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. Those are some features rarely seen on an entry-level crossover, and it will turn some heads.

That’s a lot of kit, but with a small vehicle like this, all the tech in the world can’t save you if it’s not comfortable for passengers.

Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down in the vehicle and found the headroom to be incredibly generous, especially in the back seat. Doesn’t look like it should have that much space in there, but it does. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, meanwhile, means a little more room for the driver, too, and while I don’t really see the need for it in either the Qashqai or Rogue – where it also exists – it’s perfect for this more compact application. I’m also a big fan of the motorcycle-like instrument cluster, which is a reminder of an aspect of the Juke I rather liked.

Canadian pricing has not yet been released for the Kicks, but it starts at $19,999 in the US and if it plans on going toe-to-toe with the likes of the CX-3 and C-HR, it’s going to have to come it at similar pricing in Canadian dollars, too. We’ll know more as it nears its release in Q1 2018.

Kicking it up a notch. 11/30/2017 10:00:00 AM