Auto Industry Auto News

Get your kicks (not on Route 66, but . . . ) in a Nissan Kicks

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Sometimes in life, a wrong turn on the road can bring unexpected pleasures. Take what happened a few weeks ago when Nissan unveiled its 2018 Kicks compact crossover in Montreal.

As I had lived in that magnificent and intriguing metropolis for a number of years during the 1960s, I volunteered to navigate our drive out of the downtown so that my co-driver could have his turn at the wheel of the 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, front-wheel drive, five-seater that has a retail starting price of under $18,000.

I was so busy telling him about my adventures there as an English-speaking newspaper reporter, who learned Canada’s other Official Language by dating only unilingual French-Canadian women, that I wasn’t paying attention to where we were going and we missed our first turn.

By the time we’d passed under the Metropolitan Expressway at the north end of the city (oops, I mean autoroute Métropolitaine), I’d realized my mistake. But by that time we were way behind all the other Kicks that were being driven on a route through city and countryside designed to illustrate the car’s practicality and fuel economy.

By the time we got to the Municipalité de Verchères, a suburb of Montreal where a photo opportunity in front of a church had been arranged, everybody else had come and gone. In need of facilities, we asked at le Bureau du Maire (the mayor’s office, across the street) and were directed to a toilette at a sports field down by the St. Lawrence River.

And this is where we found our unexpected pleasure — a large statue overlooking the river dedicated to a young woman, Marie-Madeleine Jarret, now and forever known as Madeleine, l’héroine de Verchères. According to a plaque on the statue’s base, the 14-year-old Madeleine — home alone in 1692 with her two young brothers, “an old servant” and two soldiers — defended the Fort de Verchères for eight days against a war party of Iroquois.

We got much better photos of the Kicks at that location and learned a little bit more of the fascinating history of our country. I mean, who knew?

Once we got back on the beaten path and were able to put the Kicks through its paces, I came to appreciate what Nissan has been up to: to corner the market for people living downtown, as well as suburban and exurban 20-somethings who are just starting their careers and can’t afford both a nice apartment or condo and a car.

I have a 21-year-old son who is part of that demographic. Until now, he has been a disciple of transit. But he’s found a girl and they want to go places and they want to get up and go and not have to plan three weeks ahead to either ride-share or book a rental. He is working and still going to school. He has a nice place. He also can’t afford most of the cars we review here in Wheels.

So we’re talking about this and he says he kind of likes the Nissan Micra, which he can buy new for $9,998. I told him he was on the right track but for a few dollars more, he could take a step up to the Kicks and get more car and still not have to worry about going broke.

I told him, for example, that he could get the Kicks Model S for $17,998 — plus the sales tax and all the other stuff (licence, registration, freight and so-on) that is just a part of life when you buy anything these days. But for that $17,998-plus, he can get Intelligent Emergency Braking (which I think, incidentally, should be compulsory on every vehicle on the road in 2018) with forward collision warning, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, rear-view monitor, seven-inch colour touchscreen display, power windows and more.

For the Kicks Model SV ($20,898), he would expect to get all the features on the Kicks S plus 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels (the Kicks S has 16-inch steel wheels), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats, cargo cover, Sirius XM satellite radio and body colour outside door handles.

If he gets a promotion, which means a raise in pay, and he’s feeling flush, he might consider the Kicks Model SR (starting at $22,798-plus) and really live it up with Intelligent Around View Monitor, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-shift knob with chrome accents, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear-roof mounted spoiler and more.

Kicks also offers a standard Traction Control System, anti-lock brakes, electric power steering and a 10.3-metre turning radius great for the city (which my co-driver and I can vouch for, seeing that my navigating frequently resulted in us having to make U-turns).

The Kicks SR model also includes an Integrated Dynamic-Control Module featuring Intelligent Active Engine Brake, Active Intelligent Trace Control and Active Ride Control to help provide, as the manufacturer says, a higher level of driving enjoyment.

On the launch drive, my co-driver and I were impressed with the peppiness of the Kicks. The four-cylinder engine makes 125 horsepower and 115 lb.-ft. of torque, which is acceptable for what you would want. The low curb weight — 1,215 kilos — helps. Remember, that spoiler on the SR model notwithstanding, you are likely not going to be taking this car to the races along the 407 at 4 a.m. on a Sunday …

And the handling is just fine; the brakes and suspension more than adequate. Again, like my kid, you are most likely looking for affordable transportation, not something you can dolly up and put in the line at a Barrett-Jackson Auction.

The fuel economy of (city) 7.7 L/100 kilometres and (highway) 6.6L/100 km, making for a combined 7.2 L/100 km, will be a big selling point, particularly with the price of the stuff going up (seemingly) by the day. At my local Petro-Canada on the morning of July 1, the asking price was 137.8 cents, a full 10-cents higher than the morning before. Happy Birthday, Canada!

Talking about selling points, the Kicks models SV and SR will be available in five different two-tone combinations. The “Fresh Powder” white roof atop a “Deep Pearl Blue” body will probably be the most popular combination because it looks nice and is somewhat conservative. Someone more adventurous could opt for a Super Black roof and a Monarch Orange body. That will get the driver noticed, that’s for sure. And for the extra charge of a mere $150, I anticipate most buyers will opt to personalize the colour of their rides.

Now, my co-driver and I — try though we might — could not get our Bose Personal Plus Sound System to work. We were testing an SR, which boasts such a system. It is made up of eight speakers and there are two in the driver’s headrest for what Bose calls “360 degrees of immersive sound.” I’m sure it’s wonderful but when you purchase your Kicks, make sure the dealership shows you how to use it.

(An aside: I was a little concerned about this “total sound” thing. Might it not “mask” emergency sirens, or a warning honk from another motorist? Steve Rhind, director of marketing for Nissan Canada, assured me that you can still hear outside noises.)

And although my co-driver and I are both a touch above six feet tall (although being older, we’re shrinking), we neglected to try out the back seat in order to verify the manufacturer’s claim that the Kicks seats five “comfortably.” We will just have to take Nissan’s word for it; we plum forgot to find out.

Having said that, we both were quite comfortable in the front seats of the car. Again, this is a city-type car and going to Sobeys and the golf range might be the reason to own. Driving to Vancouver would be something else but a trip to the beer store or even up to Muskoka is really what this car is all about.

One more thing. Nissan says the rear hatch — which leads to 716.42 litres of cargo space behind the second row of seats that Nissan says is better than the Kia Soul and Ford EcoSport — opens high enough that a six-footer doesn’t have to duck. I suggest if you are in that height range that you still had better be careful.

I was daydreaming one time at the airport in Windsor, Ont., when a Lincoln Town Car came to pick me up and the guy popped the trunk and I bashed my forehead when I went to put in my carry-on.

That was a Lincoln and this is a Nissan Kicks, but beware anyway.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

FAST FACTS

Engine: 1.6-litre, 16-valve, 4 cylinder with Continuously Variable Valve Timing

Output: 125 horsepower, 115 lb.-ft. of torque

Drive train/Transmission: front-engine, front-wheel drive, Xtronic transmission (CVT)

Fuel economy (L/100 kms): 7.7 (city); 6.6 (hwy); 7.2 (combined)

Cargo Space (L): 716.42

Price: $17,998 S; $20,898 SV; $22,798 SR

Love it:

Lots of front legroom

Great for U-turns

Value for money

Leave it:

Cargo space OK, but could be better

“Comfortable” is likely a misnomer when talking about three adults on the back seats

Sound system tricky