Affordable economy cars are not dead, they have merely been transformed into SUVs. So yes, you can buy a Nissan Sentra, and expect 29 mpg city, 39 mpg highway. But say you want an SUV, or at least the look of one, then you can opt for the Nissan Kicks.
There’s a slight difference in fuel economy, however, at 31 mpg city, 36 mpg highway. And you’ll pay at least a grand more for what is basically a tall hatchback, rather than a real SUV. But sedans no longer hold sway with most buyers. Still, one has to wonder what type of kicks the Kicks provides. We spent a week finding out.
The 2023 Nissan Kicks anchors the bottom of Nissan’s SUV line-up, with a price starting at $20,290. Offered in ascending S, SV and SR trim, the 2023 Nissan Kicks returns unchanged for the new model year, meaning it continues to be offered solely with front-wheel drive, despite an appearance that might suggest otherwise.
And no matter which trim level you opt for, you’ll get the same 4-cylinder driveline, which includes a continuously variable transmission. But it admirably serves its purpose as an affordable utility vehicle. Just don’t expect to get your kicks from driving it.
Its wardrobe looks modern without seeming goofy, something you could never say about the late Nissan Juke. It wears its style well for such a small ute, with a handsome sophistication the lacks the dwarfish awkwardness that afflicts too many small SUVS. The car’s side sculpting lends the car a deceptively long look despite its short 170-inch length. It looks athletic yet refined, even though it wears the latest in Nissan design hallmarks, including the floating roof and V-Motion grille.
You wouldn’t expect an opulent interior in a car this inexpensive, and, well, you don’t get one. Yes, you do get acres of hard plastics, but they’re nicely grained and Nissan does try to offset it somewhat by fitting cloth armrests on the door.
The SR trim test car benefited from a lavish list of optional equipment, most notably the $1,390 Premium Package, money that’s well spent, as it adds an eight-speaker Bose audio system, you’ll also enjoy heated front seats and steering wheel, imitation leather seats, Nissan Connected services, a Wi-Fi hotspot and keyless entry.
The cabin appears larger than it is thanks to the supportive front seats and an elevated seating position with plenty of headroom. A crucial convenience is the padding on the center console’s sides where the front driver and passenger’s knees rest. For a car this shirt, there is a surprising amount of front legroom, while legroom is sufficient for backseat passengers. With the back row in use, there is a roomy 25.3 cubic feet of cargo space.
All Kicks get their power from a 122-horsepower 1.6-liter double overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. It runs on regular unleaded gasoline at a rate of 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, according to the EPA.
Safety and Technology
Speaking of safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Nissan Kicks with an overall crash safety test score of four stars. Front crash safety is four stars for the driver, three stars for the passenger. Side crash protection is rated at five stars, however. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates its crashworthiness as “Good.”
Remarkably, it comes with an impressive array of standard driver-assist safety systems, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, rear automatic braking and high beam assist.
With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen on S versions, and an 8-inch touchscreen on higher models, Kicks owners receive a respectable tech package. A USB-C port is optional; three USB-A ports are standard. Although there isn’t an inbuilt navigation system, most drivers will still utilize smartphone apps in its place. The test vehicle featured the $575 Interior Electronics Package, which adds interior ambient lighting, door pocket light, frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror and a universal remote.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that the Nissan Kicks feels lively enough around town, it feels breathless at highway speeds, where its lack of power results in a long, slow boil to get to 60 mph. But what it lacks in brute strength it makes up for in fuel economy, which is more crucial to a Kicks buyer.
Driving in metropolitan areas doesn’t seem quite as lethargic. The Kicks excels in this situation, feeling livelier than you may anticipate. Yes, steering is lightweight and lacks road feel, but that’s far from surprising. Although the ride is exceptionally pleasant for its class, there is a noticeable body lean when cornering, as well as some tire and road noise, although that is typical for its class.
Certainly any kicks you get from the Kicks comes from fuel economy, which came in at a hair over 34 mpg — an impressive showing for this little city crawler. That said, it’s overall bemeanor is that of a typical economy car that just happens to look like s all SUV. BUt its heart is really that of a tall hatchback.
2023 Nissan Kicks SR Specifications
|L: 169.1 inches/W: 69.3 inches/H: 63.4 inches/Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
|1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive
|31 mpg city/36 mpg highway/33 mpg combined
|122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque
|Base price: $22,850; As tested: $27,515 including $1,295 destination charge.
The 2023 Nissan Kicks is a practical transportation widget, an ideal urban runabout that makes for a lively grocery getter that doesn’t draw attention to itself. And with a price that starts at less than $21,000 for the base S trim, it many just give an added kick to your budget, thanks to its affordability. But skip any expectations of driving thrills, for there are few to be found here — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
2023 Nissan Kicks — Frequently Asked Questions
Are Nissan Kicks reliable vehicles?
Consumer Reports rates the 2023 Kicks as having average reliability when compared to other new vehicles.
Will Nissan Kicks ever be AWD?
No. The Kicks is offered solely with front-wheel drive.
What is a Nissan Kicks comparable to?
Competitors include the Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona and Kia Soul.