We drive the Nissan Kicks, a small SUV built for 80 global markets - although not ours - where the Nissan Juke and Qashqai already dominate

What is it?

It’s not for you. It’s the Nissan Kicks, a small crossover developed initially for Central and South American markets but which will be on sale in more than 80 countries before long. The UK, though, won’t be one of ’em. Just when most car makers are becoming ever more global in their product offerings, Nissan is sticking to making things that are developed specifically for different regions. (Mostly, anyway; let’s gloss over the most recent Micra, designed for Asia and converted, rather badly, for Europe.)

Think of the Kicks as another of Nissan’s many crossovers, sitting in size between a Juke and a Qashqai. It's 4295mm long, compared with a Juke's 4111mm and a Qashqai's 4377mm, so it’s more or less square between the two and, to my eyes, is quite a nice-looking thing. Nicer than a Ford Ecosport, anyway, which is a small SUV out of a similar mould and with which the Kicks competes. Other rivals include the Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. In Brazil the Kicks costs the equivalent of £21,000, which is a lot, but only because all new cars in Brazil cost a lot because of local taxes. They’re even higher on most imported cars, so production of the Kicks starts in Brazil next year for that very reason.

The Kicks – quite a good name, too, no? – is based on Renault-Nissan’s V-platform. I said we’d gloss over the Micra but, in fact, it’s the same platform as that, plus the Note, although there are developments unique from those, such as the newly designed rear twist beam, for example.

The Kicks is powered, to the front wheels only, by a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine, making 118bhp in most markets or 113bhp in Brazil, where it’ll usually be part-ethanol fuelled because that’s so commonly available. The gearbox is a five-speed manual or a conventional CVT. 

Which all sounds pretty straightforward at the moment, but there are one or two technical novelties despite it being designed for markets perceived to be less sophisticated than Europe’s. The most notable is called Active Ride Control, which tries to do the same thing as adaptive dampers, only without the adaptive dampers. Instead, it applies individual brakes (most likely the rears, if I get my head around the concept) to prevent body pitch off the back of large bumps and crests, allowing softer spring rates but while still retaining body control.

What's it like?

Inside, the Kicks is pleasant. Almost remarkably so, in fact. It’s a straightforward cabin layout so there isn’t quite the same amount of flair as in, say, a Juke, but in terms of fit and finish it’s rather good, with upper parts of the cabin getting soft-feel materials and nice stitched fake leather on the dash. Lower cabin materials and those in the back are harder, but that’s no great surprise or shame. There’s a decent amount of head and leg room front and rear, and a 383-litre boot, so it makes pretty good use of its dimensions.

The 1.6 isn’t an engine you’d choose if it came to Europe, nor, even if you did, would you mate it to a conventional CVT, but for its market, it’s not a bad motor. Once you’re cruising it’s very quiet, but such is the nature of conventional CVTs that if you want to accelerate, you’ll not only be waiting a while for the needle to move around the speedometer but you’ll also hear the engine quite loudly in the meantime. The claimed 0-62mph time is 12sec, which feels about right, but it’s easier for all concerned not to try to match it. In mixed driving, our trip computer reckoned the Kicks was returning 35mpg. 

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Dynamically it’s mostly unshabby, too. Wheel sizes are 16in or 17in, so they fill the arches nicely without being over-large, and the ride is generally composed. There’s a moderate amount of body lean and body control is fine, if a touch looser than you’d get away with on most European-sold cars; particularly, it feels like there’s a spot of lateral shimmy that’s absent from most European-bound cars. Ours was a fairly short test drive, but I’ll admit I didn’t detect the brakes doing anything to reduce body movements.

The steering is light around town and moderately weighted at speed. It’s well geared but there’s some stiction off the straight-ahead and it’s less accurate than we’d like. Still, you turn it, it turns the wheels as much as you expect. It’s not like it only acts in an advisory capacity. 

Frankly, it wouldn’t demand huge amounts of tweaking to get this car to a standard where it could compete in Europe. The dynamic basics are already there.

Should I buy one?

Sometimes you drive a car destined only for overseas markets – like the Holden Special Vehicles W427, for example – and pine gently in vain, desperately hoping that it’ll one day come to the UK. I don’t quite get the same yearning for the Kicks, but that’s partly because, in the Juke and Qashqai, Nissan has covered those bases competently already. 

Were the Kicks wearing a badge from a car maker slower to the crossover phenomenon, though, or were its smaller crossovers unconvincing – like Ford’s is, for example, which is not something you hear too often about a Ford – then we’d be the first to suggest that the Kicks was given a tidy small turbocharged engine, a decent gearbox and a quick chassis makeover. If it was, it’d sit pretty high up the class in the UK.

Nissan Kicks

Location Brazil; On sale Now (but not in UK); Price £21,000; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, petrol; Power 112bhp at 5250rpm; Torque 112lb ft at 5250rpm; Gearbox CVT automatic; Kerb weight 1140kg; 0-62mph 12.0sec; Top speed 108mph; Economy 29.4mpg (combined, using ethanol); CO2/tax band na, na

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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