Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Nissan Kicks

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

There’s never been a better time to shop for a compact, and the 2019 Nissan Kicks is the second fantastic example of this trend that I’ve driven in as many weeks (along with the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback, which we’ll get into below).

The Kicks simply blows the Corolla out of the water when it comes to cargo capacity.

Anyhow, Nissan’s onto something with this machine, and we’re likely to start seeing more of them on Canadian roads.

I’ll give you the conclusion right here: shoppers whose new-vehicle priorities include easy entry and exit, compact car manners and mileage, heaps of cargo space, loads of safety gear, and highly affordable pricing will likely find the Kicks to make amongst the most compelling arguments in the scene for you to open your wallet.

Why? It looks good. It (mostly) drives great. It has cargo space for days and days. As the owner of a hefty canine and a fan of cargo space, I couldn’t be more excited for you to check out the cargo hold in the Nissan Kicks. Neither Soul, Kona, nor CH-R quite hit the 550-litre mark in this dimension, while Kicks serves up some 716.

Additionally, most of the latest advanced safety technology in the marketplace, including blind spot monitoring and a collision alert system are on board. Ditto the handy Around View Monitor for parking. In fully loaded guise like my tester, you get heated leather, remote start, automatic lights, climate control, and more.

And the price. Fully loaded in SR trim grade, and including the $285 optional contrast-colour roof, my tester clocked in at under $23 grand. Did I mention that includes a fancy Bose stereo with a neato headrest speaker (driver’s side only, though), and powerful LED headlights? Also, Kicks is excellent on fuel.

Just one caveat: you can’t have all-wheel drive (AWD). That’s confusing, as Nissan lists the Kicks as a crossover, and usually, you buy a crossover if you want AWD. You might just call this one a tall hatchback, instead.

But sticking to two-wheel drive means the Kicks is cheaper. Lighter. Easier on fuel. Offers up that great big cargo hold which isn’t infringed upon by AWD system hardware packaged into the vehicle underside beneath it.

I drove the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback just before driving the new Nissan Kicks. It was also excellent, for the money. Similar pricing. Also a hatchback. Nicer interior. Also brimming with safety feature content. But the Corolla’s main weakness centres around the entire reason you make a vehicle a hatchback: its cargo hold. In Corolla, that’s shallower, narrower, and smaller than many a shopper will like. Translation? If you drove the new Corolla Hatchback an wished it had more cargo room, give the Kicks a shot. The two machines are similar in numerous important ways, but the Kicks simply blows the Corolla out of the water when it comes to cargo capacity.

The Kicks’s cargo hold is wide, deep, thick, and square. A low load-in height makes it easy to get things in and out, though a slight lip at the edge of the cargo area may complicate things for certain items. Ultimately, the size (and shape and layout) of this cargo hold make it one of the most useful on offer at this price point. Rear seats fold down for more space when needed in a jiff. Upright, they pack enough room to accommodate two average-sized adults in snug-but-comfy fashion.

Plus, with Kicks’s elevated crossover-like ride height, three other benefits are realized.

First, it’s easier to board and exit. You slide over to get in and out with less of a climb up or plop down to access or leave your seat. If you’re mobility challenged, or just like a vehicle that’s as easy as can be to board and exit, you’re nicely covered. Running a full day of errands and getting in and out of the vehicle a few dozen times? This one won’t wear you down. There’s decent to generous headroom throughout, too.

Second, the driving position. Through what seems to be careful attention to the design of the cabin against the outward sightlines and position of the dash, Kicks sees drivers sitting in a taller and more upright position, but without feeling like they’re towering above the road, or driving something any bigger than it is.

And third, ground clearance. You’re probably not taking the Kicks off-roading – but in wintertime, the tall stance means Kicks can more easily clear highway slush-boulders or the snowplough hump at the end of your driveway without striking the body or hanging things up, which increases the risk of getting stuck.

As sub-$23,000 vehicles go, the cabin is nicely done. Stitching and sculpting and accenting livens things up; the central touch interface is bright, responsive, and vivid; and the controls all fall logically to your fingertips with minimal second thought. The instrument cluster is half analog speedometer, and half totally customizable digital display, for a modern and high-tech flair.

No fewer than four power ports and USB connectors are within reach of the driver. Storage is decent for smaller items, though there’s no covered centre console storage bin, and no armrest for the front-seat passenger. Both of these things are bummers. Ditto the plastic steering wheel, which puts Kick’s most low-budget touch right at your fingertips at all times.

Safety feature content may provide redemption – and not just when it comes to the sensor-powered safety stuff, either. For instance, low-beam performance is above average for the segment, with high-quality white light delivered in abundance. The brakes operate with power to spare and a more precise-than-average feel, and the stability control system does a commendable job of keeping this taut, short-wheelbase machine in line on even the most slippery surfaces (mine was on some excellent Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, and yours should be on some good winter tires, too).

How’s it drive? A touch on the stiff and sporty side, but usually, comfortably so. Drivers okay with trading a bit of comfort in exchange for more energetic reflexes and a sportier drive will feel right at home. Drivers after floating-on-a-cloud comfort may have better options.

Main reason why? Kicks’s ride quality is largely at the mercy of the surface beneath. On smooth roads, there are minimal notable problems: it’s often taut and sporty, but not jarring or rigid. You’re not getting your spine pummelled, nor are you floating on a cloud, and it seems sprung to ride in the middle ground between stiff and sporty. The steering is a little quicker and more eager than the norm, and responds to even minimal inputs with a big reaction from the vehicle.

As a fan of something that feels more nimble and sporty than floaty and flubbery, I mostly appreciated the way the Kicks felt beneath and around me, most of the time.

Thing is, rougher surfaces can coax more noise and harshness from beneath the vehicle than some will like. Though this is partly a function of the Kick’s more athletic demeanour, and those after top-notch rough-road ride quality for the money may wish to try the Volkswagen Jetta, or Subaru Impreza.

A 1.6-litre, 125 horsepower four-cylinder powers all models, and Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard for enhanced smoothness, performance, and fuel efficiency. The transmission is excellent: unfailingly responsive and uniquely superb at being virtually invisible, much of the time.

Operated gently, it’s a nicely behaved driveline – as smooth and responsive as you need for around-town driving. This CVT transmission mostly feels just like a normal automatic, and enhances responsiveness to levels beyond what you’d expect given the engine’s output. Even opened up, Kicks steams along nicely and never sounds much like it’s running out of steam. The Kicks isn’t a rocket, but it performs better than the numbers lead on.

One final gripe: the seats are comfortable, unless they’re cold – in which case they’re stiffer than a tortoise in rigor mortis. Thankfully, the seat heaters are powerful enough to soften the seats in quick order on cold mornings.

End of the day, the biggest return on investment in the Nissan Kicks will come to shoppers after top levels of safety gear, cargo space, feature content, fuel economy, and flexibility for their dollar. There’s probably never been a better time to be shopping new in this price range.

Engine Displacement 1.6L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 125 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Peak Torque 115 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 2019 Nissan Kicks SR
Base Price $22,798
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $24,978
Optional Equipment
$285 – Two-Tone Paint $285