2019 Nissan Kicks Review - Shut Up And Drive

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2019 Nissan Kicks SR

1.6-liter inline four, DOHC (122 hp @ 6300 rpm, 114 lb/ft. @ 4000 rpm)
Continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive
31 city / 36 highway / 33 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
34.0 (observed mileage, MPG)
7.7 city / 6.6 highway / 7.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$21,015 US / $25,341 CAD
As Tested
$23,330 US/ $26,164 CAD
Prices include $1,045 destination charge in the United States and $1942 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

I’m not a well-traveled man. While I’ll happily drive for fifteen hours or more from my Ohio home, I rarely fly anywhere — and now that I have kids, the expense involved in winging it keeps my wallet firmly in my pocket as I gird for some windshield time. Accordingly, other than a couple of very brief hour-long jaunts to Niagara Falls and Windsor, I’ve never traveled out of the US.

But this publication — and, ultimately, my paycheck — comes from Canada. Thus, I’ve been casually dreaming of a road trip to the Great White North, exploring where many have been before — and doing it like a local. I’d stuff myself with poutine, Timbits, and donair, all while driving the unofficial car of Quebec — the dirt-cheap Nissan Micra.

I’ve yet to apply for a passport. But I have Tim Hortons here in Ohio, and I can drive something close to the Micra – the 2019 Nissan Kicks. Sure, it’s a crossover rather than a microcar, but the essence remains. Cheap, efficient, cheerful, and not-at-all sporty make for an appealing package to this dad on a budget — especially as one of the kids will be driving in a couple of years.

While Nissan is careful not to call the Kicks a replacement for the still-available-elsewhere Juke, it most certainly is from the view of the consumer. It’s not nearly as funky looking — which can be a double-edged sword. That Nissan offers a couple of funky color packages — like the orange/copper roof atop this grey body — shows they are looking to grab some eyeballs with an otherwise-conservative crossover package.

I’m actually fond of the Kicks’ styling. I’m especially enamored with the low beltline, allowing for great visibility to all four corners. While this is a low-riding car being sold as a crossover, one does get the feel of a higher ride height since the eyes sit high up in the cabin. It’s nice to have a commanding view even in a subcompact crossover.

Unless you live in a neighborhood dripping with old Yugos and Geos, you will not win any stoplight races in the Kicks. 122 horsepower is adequate for most driving needs but, when paired with the standard continuously-variable transmission, it’s not a recipe for rapid acceleration. I never had problems when merging onto the interstate, though. Just don’t do it for pink slips.

The handling is exactly what one would expect from a budget crossover — competent for city and highway driving, but in no way fun to drive. The steering gives little feedback, but when paired with the excellent outward visibility, it’s easy to place the Kicks in tight gaps in city traffic. Using the top-down view from the surround-view camera makes parking in tight garages a cinch. No, all-wheel drive isn’t available, and I’m sure that it’s a deal killer for some. While winter had left us in Ohio during our test, I’m sure that front drive paired with a raised ride-height will be suitable for all but the worst snow situations.

On the highway, the ride is quiet and controlled. Very little wind or road noise filters through to the cabin. Only while accelerating do you really hear the racket of the four-cylinder and CVT — and you do hear it. But otherwise, the Kicks is a pleasant place to while away the miles.

The front seats are Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats, and they are marvelous. They do a great job of minimizing fatigue over a long drive. The kids had plenty of rear-seat room, as well — at a bit over six feet and several bites above my “ideal” weight, I can fit in the rear for short drives, but my knees do press into the driver’s seatback while adjusted to my size. Folks below the 95th percentile will be fine.

Cargo space is good, if not all that wide due to the intrusion of the wheel wells. A week’s worth of groceries for this family of four didn’t tax the hatch, but I did have to angle a pair of folding camp chairs across the hatch floor.

The optional Bose audio system fitted to this SR trim is quite good — as it borrows a trick from my now-ancient Miata. The Bose system places a speaker in the driver’s headrest to help put the sound right where you want it. I’m sure some audiophiles will chime in here telling me that it isn’t a good speaker placement — but those audiophiles likely stopped reading when I wrote Bose anyhow. All I know is the music from the SiriusXM, Bluetooth, or the paired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto sounds quite good to my unsophisticated ears.

One can indeed get into a Kicks right around $19,000 should the budget be especially tight. At that number, colors are limited to silver, white, and black, and bumpers and mirrors are black rather than painted. You give up fog lights, the eight-speaker Bose audio (that was optional even on my loaded tester), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the nicer 7-inch screen, push-button start, and the top-down camera view when parking. The big features that the base model lack are blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert — though you naturally have rear-view camera. At that price, it’s a compelling package — and the roughly four thousand dollar jump to this loaded SR trim isn’t too hard to swallow should the fancier bits be attractive.

I’ve yet to find a subcompact crossover that is perfect. Some drive beautifully but have limited passenger and cargo space. Others are comfortable but dull to drive. This Nissan Kicks errs on the comfortably numb side – but it’s a well-priced conveyance for those non-enthusiast car buyers who inexplicably can’t rattle off zero-to-sixty times. Rather, it’s a great choice for someone who just wants to hop in and drive to explore the continent.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jul 15, 2019

    Chris, I believe that even with the changes in the law initiated by the U.S. government that a U.S. citizen does not require a passport when entering Canada by car. However, you may need some sort of enhanced identification to return to the USA. Since I am not an American citizen, I have no first hand experience of this.

    • See 5 previous
    • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jul 15, 2019

      @highdesertcat From the Government of Canada website: 'Citizens of the U.S. who are members of the NEXUS program may present their membership card as proof of identification and as a document that denotes citizenship, when arriving by air (when coming from the U.S.), land, or marine modes. Citizens of the U.S. who are members of the FAST program may use their cards as proof of identity when arriving by land and marine modes only. Permanent residents of the U.S. who are members of the NEXUS or FAST programs must travel with a passport and proof of permanent residence, and may be asked to present these documents to the officer upon arrival at the border. Permanent residents of the U.S. who are members of NEXUS also need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) when flying to or transiting through Canada. Citizens of the U.S. and Canada are exempted. Visa-exempt foreign nationals need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to fly to or transit through Canada. Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid Canadian visa.' http://www.cbsa.gc.ca/travel-voyage/td-dv-eng.html

  • SavageATL SavageATL on Jul 16, 2019

    Manufacturers have figured out how to make the subcompact hatchback profitable. The Sparks and Sonics and Fiestas look too dorky in original form, but jacked up and given cyborg styling, they look . . . palatable, if not aspirational. None of these things would sell in regular "car" form, but as a CUV, they look tolerable. Let's face it, particularly as a man, driving something like a Chevy Spark makes you look ridiculous, or worse, like you live in your parents' basement off of Diet Dr. Pepper and Cheetos. For ladies, a Spark makes you look like you struggled to get through cosmetology school, but prayed a lot and managed to make it. This looks decent and not slumming or People of Wal-Martish. The lower level starts at $19K? The equivalent Versa was somewhere around $12K? This seems like a decent deal, but if I needed rear seat space/real cargo room, I'd look at the Journey again.

    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Jul 16, 2019

      You would look at a Journey? A wagon two feet longer than a Kicks? With much poorer fuel economy? There has to be something in between that you would like.

  • Tassos Most people here who think it is a good idea have NO idea how much such a conversion costs. Hint: MORE than buying an entire new car.
  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):