By on December 14, 2017

This morning’s Question of the Day was all about all-wheel drive and which models could stand a dose of four-wheel traction. So far, no one’s talking about the Nissan Versa Note.

Nissan, however, is more than happy to talk about the fact that its upcoming Kicks subcompact crossover will arrive with power relegated only to the front wheels. Hardly a brawny setup for a high-riding vehicle, but the automaker doesn’t seem to care much about the buyers it might be leaving behind. Toyota, on the other hand, harbors lingering regrets over its entry in the B-segment class, the C-HR.

Speaking to Wards Auto at the recent L.A. Auto Show, Michael Bunce, senior vice president for product planning at Nissan North America, expects sales near the top of the segment for the oddly-named Kicks.

“We don’t introduce cars in the U.S. – unless they’re the halos, the Zs and the GTRs – under (the) 50,000/60,000 (annual sales target),” Bunce said.

Geared towards singles in their 20s and 30s, the Kicks arrives next spring with modest power from its sole powertrain (125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, mated to a continuously variable transmission), 7.0 inches of ground clearance, the aforementioned FWD, and a long list of two-tone color combinations. The automaker expects high fuel economy, predicting a combined figure of 33 miles per gallon. Nissan’s plan is to market the hell out of the product to the youthful urban crowd – buyers who probably aren’t concerned about fording rivers or climbing mountains.

Also speaking to Wards was Bob Carter, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA. While Toyota’s C-HR also sports funky, youthful styling — funkier than the Kicks, for sure — as well as two-tone color combinations, the model’s sales aren’t exactly skyrocketing. Carter claims the C-HR’s front-drive-only setup has hurt its sales potential. Other subcompact rivals, like Honda’s HR-V, offer all-wheel drive.

The HR-V went on sale in May 2015, racking up 6,381 U.S. sales in that first month. Since then, the model’s monthly sales have nearly topped 10,000 units on several occasions, with November’s showing of 6,153 units serving as a 10-month low. The C-HR first appeared on lots in April of this year. While a ramp-up is to be expected, so far the model hasn’t cracked the 4,000-unit barrier. November’s C-HR sales amounted to 3,391 vehicles in the U.S.

It’s no wonder Toyota is talking about adding another small crossover (this one with all-wheel drive and a more rugged persona) to its lineup.

As for the Kicks, a volume floor of 50,000-60,000 vehicle per year would place it well below the HR-V in terms of sales, but (unless something changes) significantly above the C-HR. Bunce doesn’t feel like FWD will handicap the Kicks, as he doesn’t feel that the C-HR’s drive wheels was the problem. He blames price.

“In the U.S. there’s still a great correlation between size and price point, and we look at vehicles like the one you just mentioned where the price point is relatively high,” Bunce said. “When the customer sees it, they’re looking for AWD.”

With a planned entry price of less than $19,000, the Kicks would undercut the C-HR by roughly $3,500 — not an insignificant gap, and not a price point where one would expect all the trimmings.

[Image: Nissan]

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25 Comments on “Topical: Nissan’s Okay With a Front-drive Crossover, but Toyota Has Regrets...”


  • avatar
    smapdi

    I may be buying soon and the CHR’s lack of AWD has me completely ignoring it. I am very interested in the two Toyota small crossovers/suvs they have teased the last year though (FT4X and FTAC). I am waiting with fingers crossed they both make it to production so I have a couple more options.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Every C-HR I see is being driven by a blue hair. I have yet to see this “youth demographic” that Toyota is targeting magically materialize.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Maybe all the weird angles and patterns on the exterior and in the interior wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s. Kinda like doing Sudoku puzzles or other brain teaser apps.

    • 0 avatar
      smartascii

      All the carmakers do this. Apparently, no one working for any manufacturer has noticed that young people don’t have any money, as a rule, and the ones who do want to lease a German status-wagen, not buy a cheap car that everyone else knows is cheap.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        Thats in the US. I Believe the C-HR is booked out in the richer and developing Asian countries and it does well in the EU.

        I do get ya though.. its a hell of a lot of money for a 3,300lb 1.2 turbo fwd subcompact CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      theBrandler

      You don’t get the youth market with styling, you get the youth market with price. MOST, and I do mean nearly all youth under 30 go and buy used cars because $$$$$.

      Lets face it, average income in America is ~$50k, and that average is being made by middle aged folks. Youth, under 30, average is closer to $30k. Those under 30 who are make the high end, $70k+ they have massive student loan debt.

      Youth just don’t have buying power. Why after 50 years have auto makers not figured this out?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      I’ve noticed lots of older folks driving Jukes and Souls, as well. Besides having more money, they are past the point of being overly-concerned with image, not caring about being seen in something weird/quirky-looking to most.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Speaking of the Soul, the Soul (presently) is only available in FWD-from and has been a big seller for Kia.

        More so than the lack of AWD, CH-R sales have probably been impacted by its less than ideal for-factor when it comes to “utility” (which is the main reason many have switched to crossovers).

        Honda’s HR-V is nothing great, but it at least offers pretty decent utility for a subcompact CUV.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Shoppers with too many choices often choose none.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The C-HR just isn’t very good: it’s cramped, not all that quick, doesn’t ride well, isn’t fun to drive, has some serious ergonomic failings and is impossible to see out of even with a rear camera.

    It’s got all of the foibles of a crossover without many of the virtues of a crossover.

    Criticizing the C-HR for it’s looks lets it off the hook for it’s actual faults. It’s like a mini-Acura ZDX, which was another awful car that was awful regardless of how it looked.

    • 0 avatar
      saturnotaku

      Exactly. I don’t like the C-HR not because it doesn’t have AWD, but because I can’t see out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      sgtjmack

      You forgot that the back up camera is viewed in the rear view mirror, and is too small to be able to see anything that may be behind you. It’s like they went to the ten year old parts bin and said, “we can use this crap because it is left over and collecting dust.”

      They also have crappy leases on the C-HR, which makes it a lot harder for a lot of people to afford.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Yep – never understood that.

      Why get a (supposed) crossover when it doesn’t offer any of the utility of a crossover?

      And for models like the X4 and X6 – they compromise on the utility part b/c they are meant to be sportier variants, but the CH-R is in no way sporty.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    Frankly, I am surprised by this article and TTAC’s belief that the C-HR and Kicks are crossovers. Merely calling a vehicle a crossover does NOT make it so. It’s a bit like calling myself a billionaire (I’m not). A crossover MUST HAVE EITHER 4WD OR AWD AS AN OPTION.

    This is common knowledge.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I’m under the impression it’s not TTAC that’s calling them crossovers, it’s Nissan and Toyota that are calling them that. Same with the Kia Niro. They say it on the commercials.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        Yep this. Sites like this (and jalopnik etc.) do not make the rules, they make note of the trends.

        I have a reasonable amount of respect for the mid sized CUVs like the CRV Rogue Equinox CX5 Tuscon what have you… as glorified high ride station wagons the have their place in society however I do have practical issue with the subcompact CUV class.

        I suppose if you flat out cant stretch to a full sized CUV then there’s that but they aint cheap enough to make it worth the bother.

        And yes, being FWD only seems to be fine with buyers and thats all that matters.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      AWD does not give offroad ability ; it merely improves traction on icy roads.

      All crossovers are sold as FWD for the standard models in Australia, since AWD offers nothing except higher fuel consumption and quicker tyre wear.

    • 0 avatar

      ‘Crossover’ is exactly what its name suggests. A halfway house. A compromise.Basically a family hatchback fused with the appearance of something more exciting.

      FWD crossovers have been in favour in Europe for years, simply because perceived image and actual fuel economy are far more relevant to most buyers than the number of driven wheels.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    The AWD systems in all these things can still leave you stuck surprisingly easily, but everyone’s drank the Kool-Aid and thinks their CUV is as capable as a 4Runner. Nissan knows that you could stick AWD badges on an FWD car and almost no-one would know it wasn’t.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Most buyers of the Kicks will give a fig about which wheels drive it. It’s small, cute (sort of) and a CUV, so it must be good. Not that I’m in the market, but the CVT would be the killer for me, but I know I’m about the 0.005% that wants a manual.

  • avatar
    Joss

    All about getting them hitched to the brand them moving up to a Rogue. What’s Toy presently got that meets Rogue sales-wise?

  • avatar
    Yahne-san

    So basically Nissan has decided that since ugly and squareish failed in the Cube, it is time to try ugly and pointy in the Kicks?

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