By on May 18, 2020


Almost every day I go for a walk that takes me up the hill behind my apartment. And on that route, I pass by a black, base model Nissan Kicks parked in my neighbor’s driveway. A value special, for sure, and one with a decent amount of attributes — its starting price being topmost among them.

In a country far, far away, Nissan just introduced an altogether different Kicks, and at least one part of it should make its way stateside.

No, not the innovative powertrain, but the styling. The Nissan Kicks e-Power that debuted in Thailand a few days ago wears updated styling more in keeping with the brand’s current design language. Slimmer headlamps flow into a significantly taller grille bordered by a far thicker piece of trim, fooling the eye into seeing an even larger grille. Down below, the almost uniform lower air opening splits into two separate vents surrounded by body color fascia.


It would be difficult to see Nissan not opting to bestow these changes on the U.S.-market Kicks when refresh time comes around (which shouldn’t be too long a wait).

Of course, to Thai consumers, the big news with the Kicks e-Power is not its updated styling, but the appearance of a technology that once tempted Japanese buyers of the (Versa) Note.

Essentially, e-Power sees a small gasoline engine running continuously to charge a small battery that, in turn, feeds an electric drive motor. While the ICE in this novel take on a hybrid powertrain never shuts off, all the power sent to the front wheels emerge from an electric motor. The gas burner in this case is a 1.2-liter three-cylinder making 79 horsepower on its own. The miracle of energy conversion means that, as a generator, this little three-pot sees its output become 127 hp and 192 lb-ft of instant torque. Big fuel savings can be achieved by having a small gas engine urging a more potent electric motor do the heavy lifting, and in this application it’s helped further by engine shutoff during deceleration.

In the U.S. all Kicks come standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making a very modest 125 hp and 115 lb-ft. Don’t expect to find such a powertrain in any future Kicks sold here, however.

Nissan made no mention of other markets for the Thai-built Kicks e-Power, nor has it talked up the possibility of the technology making it stateside in a value leader small car. Here, e-Power seems reserved for larger, more prestigious vehicles. Last we heard, the automaker was running into difficulties making the concept work on larger, heavier vehicles.

Current economic turmoil means a growing need to save pennies while playing up certain strengths in certain markets, causing one to further doubt e-Power’s boat trip. Time will tell where it ultimately lands.

Arriving in mid-2018, the Kicks provided buyers with a new, more affordable stepping stone to the brand’s CUV family. Offered only in front-drive guise, the Kicks sold 58,193 examples in the U.S. last year.

[Images: Nissan]

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11 Comments on “Thai-market Nissan Kicks e-Power Could be a Design Omen...”

  • avatar

    So, Nissan has taken a whole lot of nothing and by giving it even less ICE plus a small electric motor offers up… pretty much the same

    Oh, where does the line form?

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a BIG difference between 115 lb-ft. and 192. The horsepower may be similar, but the high torque an electric motor puts out instantly is what’s pulling the car.

  • avatar

    How much money did Nissan light on fire developing that variable compression engine which received middling reviews and is barely available in anything?

    Then they have this e-Power system that is still apparently only viable in Asia and they built a BEV with the worst battery degradation in modern times.

    So not many wins in the efficiency department so far.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed. My 12 Leaf was pretty good except for the battery degradation.

      Edmunds said they actually hated driving their Infiniti QX-50 with that funky engine, and the fuel economy was terrible.

      Today’s Kicks isn’t bad to drive, but installing a complex hybrid won’t make it better.

      • 0 avatar

        This is not a particularly complex hybrid system and it should make it much better to drive in your typical around town driving. 192 lb-ft from a start which is going to be at least twice what is available from the current engine at low rpm. It will pretty much drive like a loud EV that doesn’t need to be plugged in.

  • avatar

    This is really just a hybrid drivetrain where the ability of the gasoline engine to directly couple to the driven wheels is removed. It’s a hybrid, but simplified, and thus cheaper to build and lighter. Packaging also gets simpler, the gas engine could be anywhere with any orientation. Assuming it’s efficient, I think it’s a brilliant idea. It’s should also be very nice to drive since there is no shifting and power should be instantly available. Anytime you take your foot off the throttle the engine probably stops, as when coasting or sitting at a light.
    Now, whether or not Nissan can execute it reliably is another matter.

  • avatar

    There is no miracle of energy conversion that allows the 79 hp produced by the engine to become 127 hp. It is the miracle of energy storage. What is happening is that the 79 hp engine is storing excess energy, for use later, in a battery that is apparently capable of a discharge rate that can produce 48 hp, if it has an adequate charge. In other words once you try to climb a long grade, like a mountain pass you’ll be down to that 79hp, once the battery SOC drops to a certain point. Maybe even less if the computer decides that some of that power needs to be used to charge the battery instead of getting you up the grade quicker.

    • 0 avatar

      Climbing the mountain pass can probably be done with the 79HP alone, it’s accelerating away from a stop light or merging with traffic or accelerating out of a tight spot quickly that creates peak power demand. But you don’t accelerate at full power indefinitely, you just need if for several seconds and then you’re cruising or coasting or decelerating or sitting at a traffic light. Proof is in the pudding but I think it’s a sound concept.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Little bit more power on the electric side and this will set up will get output all the way up to the power levels of an SR-20DE one could get in Nissan’s economy offerings from the mid 90’s. Progress!

  • avatar

    While the whole e-Power system started as a way to recoup some of the development costs of their EV program, it ended up being quite a sales and marketing success for Nissan in Japan. It didn’t hurt that the e-Power Note was the about only newish Nissan vehicle in Japan in a long time (or one that had this market in mind in development).

    It’s actually a pretty neat system for city driving but much less so at higher speed so it makes sense that it’s not coming here anytime soon. Apparently the gas engine needs to run full steam at above 60mph in the Note e-Power because it cannot replenish the battery faster than it depletes at that speed.

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