To put it in the plainest terms possible, the 2020 Nissan Kicks is – on the surface, at least – among the most unremarkable vehicles on the market at the moment.
It’s not especially well featured, nor does it have the character of a city-sized hatchback like the Nissan Micra – the exact kind of car that crossovers like this are rapidly replacing. Yet in some of the simplest ways possible the Kicks is spectacular, delivering outsized space despite its diminutive dimensions.
Small though its footprint may be, the Kicks is like a clown car in its ability to pack people and stuff inside. The lack of an available sunroof certainly helps in the headroom department, but just about every interior measure is a miracle of subcompact packaging.
Where the Hyundai Venue feels narrow and upright – mostly because it is – this Nissan is roomy in both rows of seats. Small-item storage is lacking, with no covered console bin and nothing but a narrow cubby ahead of the gear selector to stash items like wallets and phones, but as far as moving people goes, the Kicks is second to none.
Meanwhile, cargo room behind the back seats is among the little crossover’s best features, with more space than some slightly larger models. Volume is listed at 716 L – more than the bigger Nissan Qashqai, not to mention the similarly sized Venue or Kia Soul. However, unlike that trio, the 60/40-split folding rear seats don’t fold flat. While it does nothing to affect the day-to-day usefulness of the Kicks, it’s certainly awkward when it’s time to move larger items.
User Friendliness: 9/10
The spaciousness inside the Kicks also makes for outstanding outward visibility in all directions. While the driver’s seat is manually adjustable no matter the trim, the ability to raise or lower its height means occupants of all statures can get properly situated to see what’s happening around them.
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to switchgear, with most controls centralized to the dash between driver and passenger. The automatic climate control system that comes equipped on all but base models is as basic as it gets, with a pair of large knobs for fan feed and temperature, as well as a set of buttons and a small LCD screen between them.
Sitting above the HVAC controls is a seven-inch touchscreen that’s surrounded by hard-touch buttons and knobs that handle the basics. While the screen isn’t the most responsive around, opting for anything but the base version adds satellite radio as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces. Either of the latter really helps to realize the full potential of the infotainment system, itself fairly barebones otherwise.
The same sentiment could be used to describe this Nissan’s design – particularly inside. Even with the top SR trim’s orange accent stitching on the seats, steering wheel, and dash, the cabin is a dull affair filled with bland black plastic panels. While the S and SV versions at least benefit from some additional silver accents to break up the monotony, there’s nothing especially stylish about this interior.
Outside is a slightly different story, the Kicks boasting something of a unique shape and sculpted bodylines. Both of the top trims can also be finished with a contrasting-colour roof and mirror caps to spice up the look a bit. It’s not quite as bold as the accent colour package offered on the Venue, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.
Any of the available contrast packages is fairly affordable, too, ranging from $335 to $500, depending on hue. It’s also the only item on the options list, with Nissan keeping the Kicks about as streamlined as possible when it comes to packaging.
Perhaps notably absent from the list of available features is adaptive cruise control and all-wheel drive, neither of which are offered on the Venue, either. While the latter may seem like an oversight, it’s also what keeps the price of the Kicks (and this new crop of crossovers in general) relatively reasonable.
While the base S model skimps on creature comforts – there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, for example – it’s not quite as stripped down as the Micra that came before it. That means every example comes with cruise control, air conditioning, and power windows and locks. There’s also push-button start and keyless entry.
Moving up to the SV or SR adds niceties like heated front seats, automatic climate control, proximity front door locks, and satellite radio. Those trims also include automatic exterior lighting, heated door mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels, while the top trim also includes some slick silver roof rails. The SR also gets faux leather upholstery and some hokey headrest speakers that went mostly unnoticed during testing.
The Kicks isn’t quite as well-featured as the newer Venue, which can be had with built-in navigation, a heated steering wheel, four-wheel disc brakes, and a sunroof, but much of what is offered seems fair for the selling price.
That’s especially true of the advanced safety items offered – many of which are included across the lineup. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, front and rear automatic emergency braking, and rear parking sensors are all standard. (Street-parkers, take note: the reverse automatic braking is rather sensitive, stopping well short of the comfort zone of the average city dweller.)
That’s in addition to a government-mandated back-up camera, as well as seven airbags sprinkled throughout the cabin. Stuff like automatic high-beams, a rear-seat reminder, and driver alertness monitor get added to SV and SR models, while the top trim gets a bird’s-eye monitor – though much like the back-up camera, display resolution isn’t great.
Considering much of that advanced safety stuff is standard on a crossover that costs a little more than $21,000 before tax, the Kicks pricing has some appeal – even if it’s a far cry from the days of ultra-affordable city cars. On the other hand, never has there been an economy car with anywhere close to the kind of room for people and stuff as the Nissan Kicks.
While the cheapest version isn’t quite as affordable as the Venue, the SV and SR actually undercut comparable Hyundai models, albeit barely. The mid-pack SV model rings in at $24,028 before tax, while the top SR is $26,098 before the government gets its share. Even with the upgraded paint worn by the tester shown, an asking price of $26,363 means it should cost about $30,000 with tax regardless of which province it’s sold in.
The big secret to affordability here isn’t much of a secret at all: it’s the lack of available all-wheel drive. However, limiting traction to the front wheels also pays dividends when it comes to what’s motivating the Kicks, the powertrain barely up to the task as it is without the additional strain of two more drive wheels.
Harsh though this criticism may seem, it’s hard to get excited about what’s happening under the hood. While the 1.6L manages to feel at least halfway hearty when accelerating from a standing start, asking for anything extra once the Kicks is moving is all but fruitless as the four-cylinder – along with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) paired to it – strains to respond.
There’s only 122 hp and 114 lb-ft to work with here and it shows with each stab of the accelerator, the powertrain moaning and groaning to wring out what it can. Not that expectations of a vehicle like this should be high when it comes to blazing quickness, but the Kicks comes across as particularly gutless.
The CVT deserves much of the blame in that regard, buzzing, stretching, and straining to get the little crossover to the requested speed. It also lacks the drive mode selector offered in its rival from Hyundai, the sport setting there providing a subtle yet crucial difference when it’s time to pass or merge.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The lack of all-wheel drive is also a boon to fuel consumption, the Kicks returning rather miserly results despite its upright shape. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the smallest Nissan crossover should be good for 7.7 L/100 km in the city, 6.6 on the highway, and 7.2 combined. A weeklong test spanning 780 km saw a final tally of 6.9 L/100 km.
Driving Feel: 7/10
The Kicks really is the kind of vehicle that completely fades into the background of the drive; the forgettable grocery-getter packed with plenty of space but not much personality. Not that this segment is filled with perky and playful entries, but this one is especially sterile. Ride quality, however, is strong for the segment, delivering suspension damping that feels a little more upmarket.
While softly sprung, the Kicks never comes across as sloppy – though it tends to feel rather top-heavy during spirited cornering (because it is). Likewise, the steering doesn’t offer much feel, but resistance is good while tracking a true course without the need for constant correction. This is a crossover built for the city, sure, but it doesn’t feel out of its element on the highway or in a rural environment, either.
It was during a long and rainy drive through the countryside during testing that the Kicks impressed with its ability to insulate occupants from the happenings of the world outside. Wind and road noise is minimal on all but the most porous of pavement, the cabin remaining quiet enough to listen to talk radio at a moderate volume.
It was during that same drive that the comfort of the front seat was called into question, the lower cushion in particular causing cramping and fatigue after just a couple hours. While something of a common complaint in economy cars and crossovers, those with plans of hitting the open road behind the wheel of the Kicks for long trips have been warned.
No, the Nissan Kicks isn’t brimming with personality, but as far as practicality is concerned it’s all but unmatched in this segment and beyond. That the back seats don’t fold flat means it’s imperfect when more room is required, and the cabin is about as dull as the sharpener built into the side of a box of crayons, but it really makes the most of its footprint and comes fitted with a great suite of standard safety systems. With a little more pep in its powertrain, this could easily count among the best little crossovers on the market.
|Peak Horsepower||122 hp @ 5,800 rpm|
|Peak Torque||114 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||7.7 / 6.6 / 7.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||716 L|
|Model Tested||2020 Nissan Kicks SR|
|Price as Tested||$26,363|
$335 – Two-Tone Metallic Paint, $335