Why would I buy it?
- Strong mid-range performance
- Rides well
- Good-looking crossover
Why would I avoid it?
- Nissan's diminishing dealer network
The Nissan Kicks is undoubtedly a good-looking SUV with its charming style. It is well-packed with equipment and some segment-first features that double up as tricks up its sleeve. Still competition has moved way ahead; and it offers slightly better-quality interiors and modern features. Nonetheless, now this turbo-petrol engine has endowed the Kicks with new energy and enthusiasm. It makes for a strong performance for this SUV which has a good ride quality, is fun to drive, and comes at an attractive price-point. Only the volatile and sparse dealer network might concern prospective buyers.
Engines and Performance
Prospective buyers are now offered with the option of choosing between two BS6-compliant petrol engine options. The first and the familiar one is the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine, which comes mated to a manual gearbox only. Then, there's this new 1.3-litre turbocharged unit that produces 154bhp of power and 254Nm of torque making it one of the most powerful SUVs in its class. This HR13 DDT four-cylinder engine is a product of the Nissan-Renault alliance with Daimler's collaboration. It features a turbo that uses Nissan GTR’s mirror bore coating tech to reduce friction. And to better the responses, this engine also boasts of an electrically controlled waste gate, high pressure direction injection, and variable cams. And this mill is available with either a six-speed manual (on test here) or a CVT automatic.
Press the clutch and then push the engine start button. The motor whirs up to a start with an audible note at idle. It's certainly not one of the most refined petrol engines available today but still has low NVH levels. And before you get used to the clutch setting, you might stall the engine a couple of times. But there’s now an auto start/stop mechanism that covers up for this and quickly starts it again. It also responds well to modulation in throttle inputs. However, the turbo-lag is evident at low revs and you'll only feel a shove post 2,000rpm. From here till around 3,500-4,000rpm is the sweet spot to really have fun and that’s when you feel you're in the meat of the power-band. Once in this mid-range, the SUV makes quick progress to reach triple-digit speeds. It redlines at 6,000rpm but the punchy feel is till around 5,500rpm. Overtaking is easy too, if the engine is in its mid-range. Yes, the notchy gearshifts and heavy clutch do take away the fun of quick-shifting. But thankfully, it slots in correctly with well-defined gates, short throws, and a short travel.
Now our V-Box Tests are a good indicator of drivability and performance, so we put the Kicks under this test-cycle. In terms of straight pulling power, the 0-100kmph was clocked in 10.24 seconds. A respectable time that could have been faster if the revs were not limited and traction control could be switched off for a better launch. Then, when it came to the crucial test of driveability, the 20-80kmph in third gear was completed in 9.41 seconds and the 40-100kmph run in fourth gear was accomplished in 12.51 seconds. These are good figures solely due to the sufficient power and abundant torque available from this new engine. It makes it quite a stunner.
Ride and Handling
Now, ride and handling are amongst the many talking points of this SUV. It’s a boon to have such a set-up for our Indian roads, which strikes the right balance of a comfortable ride on both smooth and bad roads. The monsoon-lashed roads in Mumbai prove to be the worst of testing grounds and the Kicks took all of this in its stride with ease. And why not, when there's 210mm of high ground clearance to steer clear of all potholes and bumps. That said, even if it absorbs all imperfections of the road nicely, the suspension does feel a little firm over sharp edged-potholes. Nevertheless, it never felt unnerving.
Then, it's got good directional stability. It managed to hold on to the line on fast corners and switchbacks. There's quite a good amount of body roll induced when you do that with gusto, but go sanely and it won't be uncomfortable for passengers. Yes, it does have tidy road manners. And the steering with three-turns locks-to-lock indicates too much of an effort while parking, but it isn't very heavy to make you frown while putting in that extra effort.
Then, this steering also weighs up nicely and has an adequate feedback to let you know exactly how much to turn in and head in the direction pointed at. Sure the torque steer might surprise a few at the start, but then it's just about getting used to, as they will also to the slight judder. The latter is however only experienced at high speeds over road joints/sharp road depressions. Furthermore, the tyres provide good grip and with progressive brakes with front discs you can confidently stop the SUV even under panic braking. All-in-all a very fail-safe experience, in fact, quite a car-like to drive one for an SUV.
Interior Space and Quality
The Kicks like its exterior has remained unchanged even inside. This also means it continues with a clutter-free ergonomic cabin with a mix of premium looking materials and yet some scratchy plastic bits. Still the floating eight-inch touchscreen system with its layout of volume knobs and feature offerings provides a good user experience. The same old climate controls with multiple LEDs, window switches, and stalk controls being borrowed from the Duster/Captur might be a downer. Yet the leather upholstery adds premiumness to the cabin.
It's a spacious and big SUV with adequate headroom, knee-room, and is even wide enough to fit three adults in the second row. One might always wish for some more under-thigh support and an adjustable back rest, but here all the seats are sufficiently comfortable and supportive. A chocolate brown theme may work against making the interior look spacious but it’s an airy cabin with rear AC vents as well. Storage options are limited and not as smart as the new-age cars but a 400-litre boot-space is good enough for your weekend trips.
Features and Safety
The Kicks comes generously equipped with many new features like automatic headlamps, front fog-lamps with cornering function, electrically adjustable ORVMs, cruise control, cooled glove-box, rear AC vents, rain sensing wipers, and Nissan Connect. That said it misses out on auto-dimming IRVM, wireless charging, and a sunroof. Yet, there's a segment-first 360° camera with parking sensors. What’s more, it's well-equipped with a host of safety features as well including seat-belt and speed warning, adjustable headrests, vehicle stability management system, traction control system, electronic stability control, and hill start assist apart from ABS, EBD, and four airbags.
This new Kicks Turbo range starts from Rs 11.85 lakh and this particular XV Premium(O) dual tone trim that we have here costs Rs 13.9 lakh (all ex-showroom). It's pricier than the Duster which lacks as many features. But then, the Kicks is more affordable than the top-spec Kia Seltos which has many features but is less powerful.
The Kicks then has way more positives than negatives and puts forth a power-packed performance at a competitive price. The only chink in the armour is Nissan's dealer network that's considered to have inconsistent service support. Nissan surely will have to pull its socks up and reconsider its expanding strategy for after-sales service. Otherwise with the diminishing facilities it's going to be difficult to convince buyers to go for a good product like the Kicks, which is quite a capable and handsome SUV with a strong performance, robust build, good features, and excellent ride and handling.
Pictures by Kapil Angane