We won’t miss the odd-ball, peculiar-looking Juke. Fortunately, Nissan’s new, sharply-designed subcompact crossover Kicks joins its North American family – just in time.

MONTREAL, QC — The 2018 Nissan Kicks subcompact crossover has just hit stores, and is shaping up to be quite the contender in an increasingly crowded segment. Competitors include Ford EcoSport, Hyundai Kona, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R and Chevy Trax.

Nissan’s other two worthy offerings include the popular Rogue and new Rogue Sport / Qashqai.

Carmakers are falling over themselves trying to get a piece of this pie, which Nissan expects to grow by 60 per cent from 78,994 units sold in 2017 to more than 126,000 units a year by 2022, a number that would be nearly 10 per cent of the market.

The Newcomer

As a later entrant, Kicks has the advantage of some hindsight, which gives it a couple of competitive edges. It’s the lowest-priced SUV to feature automatic emergency braking as standard equipment, it offers amenities such as heated seats on a trim level thousands less than some competitors and proclaims to have the segment’s best fuel economy, at 33 mpg combined (6.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway).

Kicks also has some interesting “issues” that may or may not be a deal-breaker for some buyers: you cannot get it with all-wheel drive, at any price. The platform just won’t support a rear driveshaft. It’s one of, it seems, only a few vehicles remaining with rear drum brakes, and it has a CVT, or continuously variable transmission.

The suspension features independent struts upfront and a twist beam semi-independent at the back. It’s set up to be very tight, which improves handling but at the cost of a comfortable ride. I liked it but your mileage may vary.

Carmakers are falling over themselves trying to get a piece of this pie, which Nissan expects to grow by 60 per cent from 78,994 units sold in 2017 to more than 126,000 units a year by 2022, a number that would be nearly 10 per cent of the market. Pic: Nissan

2018 Nissan Kicks Performance & Handling

CVT Transmission

Most automotive writers don’t like driving CVTs. Most average drivers don’t even notice. So take my dislike for CVTs with that grain of salt. That said, Nissan generally doesn’t offer a shiftless transmission that isn’t a CVT — Titan, GT-R and Armada are the exceptions — so the company’s engineers have become pretty adept and building and tuning CVTs.

1.6L Engine

All of which is to say this one works pretty well. It does a good job of transferring the 1.6-litre engine’s meagre horsepower and torque to the wheels, and it simulates the shifting of an automatic. My advice is to drive it. You may well not find it objectionable. If so, ignore my rant.

The (Kicks) SR is loaded, no other package are available. Music fans — a population Nissan is targeting with its advertising — will appreciate the Bose sound system in the SR.

Dimensions, Light-weight

While the engine’s output may not seem great, the Kicks’ light weight gives it an acceptable power-to-weight ratio. It’s a bit poky, but for most situations it’s an acceptable tradeoff for fuel economy. “It’s not lugging around that much weight relative to its horsepower,” said Scott Pak, senior manager of product planning at Nissan Canada.

2018 Nissan Kicks review
The all-new 2018 Nissan Kicks, the newest entry in the fast-growing affordable compact crossover market, made its North American debut today at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November. Now it’s here. Pic: Nissan

US & Canadian Pricing for 2018 Kicks

3 Trims in S, SV, SR

The vehicle starts at US$17,990 / C$17,998 with air conditioning, power windows, rear-view camera and automatic emergency braking as standard. A move to the SV, at US$19,960 / C$20,898, brings in heated seats and an available two-tone colour package ($150) that lets you choose a contrasting roof colour.

Kicks SR

The top-line model, SR, is priced at $US20,290 / C$22,798.

The SR is loaded, no other package are available. Music fans — a population Nissan is targeting with its advertising — will appreciate the Bose sound system in the SR. It features a driver-centric digital processing routine, which uses headrest-mounted speakers to improve the driver’s appreciation of the music. It works quite well, with crisp, clear sound and none of the often muddled soundstage a surround-sound system can produce. 

2018 Nissan Kicks interior
Entry-level Kicks S gets standard 7″ Touchscreen Display with Siri Eyes Free. Pic: Nissan

Takeaway

No sunroof is available.

Steve Rhind, director of marketing for Nissan Canada, explained the lack of all-wheel drive was an effort to come to market at a certain price point. Engineering an all-wheel-drive capable platform would add to the price.

“Besides, with a great set of winter tires, you’re well-positioned to take on whatever the weather throws at you,” he said.

Getting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto requires moving up to the SV model.

Cargo space is 716 litres behind the rear seats, 915 litres when the second row is folded.

Learn more here: Kicks US | Kicks Canada

What others are saying about Nissan’s new subcompact crossover:

The Kicks keeps things simple — and that’s a high compliment. It’s a great commuter, with a comfortable and quiet interior, compliant ride, great gas mileage, loads of cargo space, and adequate performance for your everyday needs. And, with a starting price of $18,965, only the Kia Soul undercuts it at a starting point of $17,095. Fully equipped, it barely tops $22,000, while the C-HR, HR-V, Renegade, and EcoSport all max out in the upper $20,000 range — and in the case of the Soul, almost breaks the $30,000 barrier. – Jonathon Klein, Autoblog.com

In all, the 2018 Nissan Kicks is not a bad choice for the buyer who wants to get the most value for their hard-earned money, bringing an incredible amount of technology and style to the table at a price that costs less than attending most four-year colleges. – Eleonor Segura, Automobile

Kelly Taylor has been writing about cars since 2000. His favourite ride has been the Audi R8 from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, where he nearly traded the car for a Ford Ranger, a Greyhound Bus and the Blue Heron Gift Store in Kenora, Ont.