The Kicks’ general appearance is best described as “majored in finance, minored in keg stands”.
Remember going to McDonald’s in high school, ordering a Junior Chicken and a McDouble and mashing them together to create a burger with a highly suspect name and more value than anything else on the menu? The 2020 Nissan Kicks SR is a bit like that value menu creation; arguably the most bang-for-the-buck on the market and a genuinely appetizing package for everyone from recent grads and retirees.
The 2020 Nissan Kicks’ general appearance is best described as “majored in finance, minored in keg stands”. It’s a shape both spunky and mature where cab-forward two-box orthodox styling meets sharp little flourishes. On the one hand, the upright yet streamlined shape is quite conventional with all the current trends of the segment on display including a floating C-pillar. On the other, its available contrasting roof gives it a whiff of backwards baseball cap and the raked roofline, double character lines down the side and flared front fenders finish up the grown-up skater-kid vibe.
It’s a chunky, funky compact design with the attitude of Gen-Y-focused cars of the early 2010s. Lower an ear to the muffler and one can almost hear the semi-nostalgic sounds of homemade Harlem Shake videos. Of particular practical note are rear windows that roll all the way down and an unpainted rear bumper, devoid of paint to be scuffed whilst loading and unloading cargo. Two little touches that can mean a lot to dogs and humans alike.
Just a wee thing in exterior dimensions, the Kicks pulls Tardis-like space efficiency out of its diminutive form. Drop the rear seats and it can haul an entire downtown Toronto apartment’s worth of Ikea furniture, a child’s pool full of eels and the hopes and dreams of the average SoundCloud rapper all at the same time. Fold the seats back up and two rear passengers fit comfortably with heaps of headroom, fields of footroom and genuinely comfortable rear seats. Three across will be slightly squeezed but that just builds character. Moving up front, this SR trim features modern orange-stitched leatherette dash trim that puts certain more expensive cars to shame.
The seven-inch infotainment screen has limited functionality but that just means Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are lightning-fast and the physical screen is a lovely smooth thing to interact with that includes plenty of redundant hard buttons. A separate seven-inch screen is featured in the gauge cluster on SV and SR trims which controls everything from fuel economy readouts to stability control deactivation. The only demerit is that CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available on the base trim, a connectivity limitation as much of a deal-breaker as having to use a Rogers My5 plan in the year 2020.
Moving away from flashy screens, the Kicks’ steering wheel is exceptionally small in diameter and D-shaped. While this is mostly a concession to interior space it manages to scream racecar while providing the driver with easy entry and egress. The driver also gets a wonderful seat-mounted armrest to enhance the comfort of the surprisingly plush stock seats. As for a centre armrest for the passenger, in the words of Willy Wonka, “You get nothing. You lose. Good day sir.” Ahh well, can’t have it all, especially when this level of kit comes standard on such a low-priced car. All models are equipped with air conditioning and a CVT transmission, push-button start and both a federally-mandated backup camera and a rear sonar system for parking.
Perhaps more useful than a passenger centre armrest are the little grocery bag hooks in the cargo area. They prevent pockmarked roads from making a vichyssoise out of recently-purchased shopping and are often absent on cars costing far more than the Kicks. Worth particular mention is the Bose stereo fitted as standard on our SR test car. While Nissan touts its headrest-mounted ultra-nearfield speakers, the overall system is clean, balanced and far better than the stereo in any $24,000 car has any right to be. Shuffle from Suicide Silence to Skrillex to Said The Whale and the system remains unfazed. It is best enjoyed with a slightly warm equalizer setting as the door drivers are quite small but it’s at least as good as a pair of Beats Studios.
Horsepower? Well the good news is that it starts with a one like many others in the segment. Many may balk when the other two numbers are revealed to both be twos, but that actually isn’t as dire as it sounds. Because the Kicks only weighs as much as a Cheesy Gordita Crunch, its 1.6-litre engine feels willing and eager. That featherweight construction also pays dividends in fun as the throttle is almost binary, the tiny little steering wheel provides instantaneous change in direction and the skinny little economy tires make the Kicks feel like a Jack Russell Terrier puppy on a freshly-waxed hardwood floor. Forget “slow in, fast out,” on-ramps with the Kicks encourage an approach of “fast in, scrub speed, find apex, trail brake, foot through the carpet to power out.”
It’s low grip, big smiles and a margin as vast as the Marianas Trench between the driver and actual trouble. A vehicle that anyone can master, even if their appendages are made of Spam. The turning radius is roughly two miles smaller than a gnat’s turning radius so it’s genuinely fantastic for whipping u-turns in tight areas. Sure the steering is as lifeless as the eyes of the CGI characters from The Polar Express and bumps in the road are somewhat pronounced but electric power steering is the norm in 2020 and the Kicks starts at under twenty grand. With the average new vehicle price in Canada cresting the $40,000 mark, expectations for refinement must be slightly tempered when looking at a starting price half that.
For those who are absolutely sure that their brains aren’t still going through puberty, the Kicks also serves incredibly well as safe, efficient transportation. Blind spot monitoring is standard on all trims, as is automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. An impressive ten airbags also come standard while the top trim gets a spiffy, albeit low-resolution, birds-eye parking camera system. Official fuel economy is rated at 7.7L/100km in the city and 6.6L/100km on the highway. Even whilst giving it the beans to keep up with Toronto traffic we averaged an quite good 7.3 L/100km over our week of testing.
While part of this is efficiency is due to the Kicks’ minimal weight, the well-tuned CVT transmission deserves credit for keeping revs and consumption low while cruising. Another boon to efficiency that’s also a potential turn-off for Canadian customers is the Kicks’ lack of all-wheel-drive, although dedicated winter tires are cheaper than all-wheel-drive and simply work better in the snow than all-wheel-drive paired with your standard all-season tires.
Not only is the 2020 Nissan Kicks SR great value, it’s a genuinely fantastic little car. Our SR tester as equipped came in at $24,443 although most will be content with the $22,098 SV trim level which offers significant equipment upgrades over the $19,398 base S trim. While a Toyota Corolla (reviewed here) offers a more refined experience it simply can’t match the level of kit or interior space of the Kicks SR. Bargain-hunters with good taste, your new ride has arrived.