Video review: 2019 Nissan Kicks SR

Nissan's Juke replacement still has some room for improvement.

SUVs are selling like hotcakes across the board, but no single segment is hotter than the small utility vehicle market. Small 'utes are flying out of showrooms, and the segment seems to only be gaining momentum by the day. Given that fact, it should come as no surprise that automakers have begun stuffing every inch of the lucrative small 'ute segment.

Nissan in particular has been keen to capitalize on the small utility vehicle craze, with the automaker fielding three entrants -- the Rogue, Rogue Sport and the all-new Kicks you see here. Curious to find out if Nissan's third small 'ute is a charm or simply a third wheel, we decided to order up a 2019 Kicks for a week-long evaluation.

What is it?

Nissan refers to the Kicks as a crossover, but it's more along the lines of a high-riding hatchback. In fact, the Kicks is largely based on the Nissan Versa Note five-door.

And because of those hatchback underpinnings, you can only get the Kicks with front-wheel drive; there's no all-wheel drive option to be found at any trim level. However, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Kicks does ride higher than its car-counterpart, and added fender flares to a reasonable job of toughening up the Kicks' overall looks.

What's it up against?

Those in the market for a small utility vehicle will likely cross-shop the Kicks with vehicles like the Ford Ecosport, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V and Toyota CH-R. Of note, the CH-R is the only other vehicle on that list that comes in front-wheel drive only.

What does it look like?

Nissan has taken a Russian doll approach to its utility vehicle styling, so it should come as no surprise that the Kicks looks like a slightly smaller Rogue. Up front you'll find Nissan's corporate V-motion front grille and a pair of headlights that flow into the Kicks' front fenders. In profile you'll notice a sloping roofline and floating C-pillar that give the Kicks a little more sport than your typical sport utility vehicle. The rear of the Kicks closely resembles its larger Rogue brethren, albeit with slightly reshaped taillights.

To add a little fun to the mix, you can get your Kicks with a two-tone paint job. Several combos are on offer, including the blue and white scheme seen on our test vehicle.

And the inside?

Take a bird's eye view of the Kicks' interior and things look good. Our top-spec Kicks SR came equipped with a partial LCD gauge cluster, touchscreen infotainment system with a 360 degree backup camera, a Bose headrest audio system and a faux leather dashboard complete with contrasting double stitching. There's also plenty of room for adults in the Kicks' first and second rows, and there's even a decent-sized cargo area.

But take a closer look and the Kicks loses some of its luster. In order to be able to include those high-end features just mentioned, Nissan had to cut costs in some areas, and it shows.

Take for example the Kicks' gauge cluster. As we mentioned earlier, there's a really premium-looking LCD screen occupying a little over half of the gauge cluster. But the other bit is filled with a generic analog gauge complete with an old school trip stalk.

Rather than using a conventional center console in the Kicks, Nissan went with a more cost-effective molded plastic tray. That means there's not much cabin storage space to speak of -- you get a shallow tray that's obstructed by the parking brake and a cubby area in front of the shifter that isn't big enough for a modern cell phone, and that's pretty much it.

Look up and you'll discover that the Kicks doesn't have a sunroof. Look down and you'll find what has to be the cheapest looking carpet in any modern vehicle. We have a few other gripes with the Kicks' interior, but you get the idea.

Obviously Nissan had to design the Kicks to a price point -- we get it -- but the contrast between premium and cheap is just so stark; there really is no middle ground. We have a hunch that most buyers would gladly give up a headrest speaker in favor of a center console.

But does it go?

All Kicks models use a 1.6L naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine rated at 125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque. As previously mentioned, you can only get the Kicks with front-wheel drive, and a CVT is the only transmission on offer.

Those power figures may not look impressive on paper, but the Kicks feels peppy during around-town driving. It also has enough oomph to get up to highway speeds without much fuss.

Likewise, the continuously variable transmission fitted to the Kicks is well behaved. It doesn't drone on in the background and Nissan has tuned it to act more like a normal transmission (including stepped "shift” points) during regular driving.

While we were pleasantly surprised by the Kicks' drivetrain, we were disappointed by its ride and handling. Nissan tuned the Kicks to have a sporty ride, which means it's stiff and uncomfortable over any surface that isn't glass smooth. A solid beam axle at the rear certainly doesn't help the Kicks' cause.

Despite having a suspension that is clearly tuned for sport, steering in the Kicks is vague, particularly on-center. You can actually turn the wheel a few degrees without really steering the car. That disconnected feeling lessens the more you turn the wheel, but the Kicks never feels as sharp as it should.

We can't reasonably state if it actually has an effect of performance, but it's worth pointing out that the Kicks, which is a new model for 2019, comes with rear drum brakes.

The Kicks is also lacking a number of safety features found in most of the competition -- there's no adaptive cruise control or lane keep assist to be found. Emergency braking, blind spot detection and a rear cross-traffic alert system are at least available in the Kicks.

Fuel economy is a Kicks strong suit. According to the EPA, you can expect to see 33mpg in mixed driving.

The Kicks is also priced well for its segment. A base model can be had for $18,540, and the range tops out at just under $23,000.

Leftlane's bottom line

The 2019 Nissan Kicks is a mixed bag. On one hand, there are some nice features like a digital gauge cluster, a 360 degree camera and double stitching on the dashboard. But those premium features are juxtaposed with cheap materials and blatant cost-based omissions.

A surprisingly competent drivetrain with excellent fuel economy earn some points back for the Kicks, but those pluses are largely negated by a rough ride. The Kicks is at least inexpensive, so it has that going for it.

2019 Nissan Kicks SR base price, $20,290. As tested, $22,650.

Premium paint, $150; Carpeted floor mats, $215; SR Premium Package++, $1,000; Destination, $995.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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