By Derek Price
Nissan is aiming its smallest crossover, the Kicks, at someone who wants a lot of new-car features without breaking the bank.
Carrying a starting price under $20,000 — a rarity these days, especially for a crossover — the Kicks is one of the best bang-for-the-buck vehicles I’ve driven in the past year.
You can feel its budget-oriented design in some ways, including when you mash the gas pedal and don’t get much of a response, but it punches above its class in other areas.
The 2022 Kicks doesn’t look or feel like a budget car. A redesign last year made its body more contemporary and interior more refined, giving it an air of quality and modernity that the previous iteration lacked.
Sharp headlights, an antagonistic grille and Nissan’s “floating roof” design that cleverly camouflages the C-pillar all give the Kicks a sophisticated look for an affordable car. Inside is more of the same story, where soft materials and tight construction impress for the price.
It has a stunning equipment list for its class, too, including two things that are very unusual in small, affordable crossovers: rear automatic braking and a 360-degree Around View Monitor that shows the car from an overhead perspective when backing up.
My tester, priced under $26,000 with options, included all those features and more. It also came with an excellent Bose sound system, part of the $1,200 Premium Package, that delivered rich, full music in part because of small speakers in the driver’s headrest. Bose says it provides “360 degrees of immersive sound,” and it’s an accurate description.
Every Kicks model, including the base S trim, comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That cheapest, sub-$20k model also comes with most of the features today’s buyers are looking for, including a 7-inch touchscreen, push-button start, keyless entry and three USB ports to power portable devices.
It skimps in the one area many people don’t care about: the powertrain. A 115-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission are merely adequate, seemingly meant for good gas mileage more than driving enjoyment.
A little more power and a manual transmission could show off the Kicks’ stiff chassis and nicely tuned suspension at their full potential, but alas, I’m not running Nissan for very good reasons. Most buyers don’t care about that enthusiast nonsense like I do.
The good news is that the powertrain does exactly what many buyers are looking for given 2022’s gas prices. The Kicks is rated for an impressive 31 mpg in city driving and 36 on the highway.
Pricing starts at $19,800 for the S grade and tops out at $22,340 for the SR before options.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2022 Nissan Kicks SR CVT ($22,240). Options: Premium package ($1,200), premium paint ($595), carpeted floor and cargo mats ($225), 17-inch black alloy wheels ($495). Price as tested (including $1,225 destination charge): $25,980
Wheelbase: 103.1 in.
Length: 169.1 in.
Width: 69.3 in.
Height: 63.4 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter four cylinder (122 hp, 114 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 31 city, 36 highway
Why buy it?
It’s a tremendous value for a compact crossover, offering a lot of content and sophistication for the money.