2023 Nissan Kicks Review: I Got My Kicks on Route 66

 |  |  |  |  April 2, 2023

by Paul Strauss
2023 Nissan Kicks Review: I Got My Kicks on Route 66

I don’t spend a whole lot of time driving entry-level vehicles, but when I do, I’m impressed by how good they’ve gotten compared to the starter cars of my youth. Sure, the 2023 Nissan Kicks SR I drove was kitted out with all of the options, bringing its sticker price to nearly $28,000, but you can get into a base Kicks for just North of $20,000. This little crossover has an approachable, modern style, made sportier with a black roof, rear roof spoiler, and 17″ black alloy rims.

During my week with the Kicks, I drove it everywhere – running errands around town, shopping for groceries, and a little time on Oklahoma’s red dirt roads. I also took it for a short road trip along Route 66 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where I visited the world’s largest pop bottle and loaded up on sugary soft drinks.

Measuring 169.1″ long, 69.3″ wide, and 63.4″ high, the Kicks is a step up in size from a hatchback but still small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like crowded condo parking lots. It’s powered by a small 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine that outputs 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft. of torque. It sends that power to the front wheels via a continuously-variable transmission. With a 0-to-60 time of 10 seconds, it’s by no means quick and is less potent than competing compact crossovers. However, the engine feels right-sized for its purpose as a versatile everyday car. The CVT is one of the better implementations I’ve experienced, with a smooth and predictable torque curve and surprisingly little of the whine commonly associated with CVTs.

Fuel economy is good, with an EPA-rated 31 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined. However, the Kicks has a diminutive 10.8-gallon fuel tank, so you’ll be filling up more frequently than you might expect – around every 350 miles. Nissan’s engineers did a good job with the Kicks’ suspension. Independent front struts and a twist beam in the rear offer a comfortable and well-isolated ride on the bumpy and potholed roads you might encounter in everyday driving. The electric power steering does a reasonable job of keeping things light and easy to control, though not exactly connected to the road.

The Kicks punches above its class in its interior styling and standard technology. Like most current Nissans, its front bucket seats are comfortable and very supportive. While the default seating material is cloth, the two-tone Prima-Tex faux leather seats that come with the SR-exclusive Premium Package are well worth the price. They’ll wear better than cloth, and I dig the two-tone look and sporty horizontal stitching. That $1390 package includes a crisp and punchy Bose 8-speaker audio system that incorporates a speaker in the driver’s headrest. It’s one of the better-sounding car audio systems available today, though I wish the front passenger got a speaker in their headrest, too – I can’t imagine that would have cost that much to include. The Premium Package also buys you heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a security system, NissanConnect services, a wi-fi hotspot, and a tonneau cover.

The cabin has a clean and modern look and incorporates lots of soft-touch materials. However, at highway speeds, it can be a pretty noisy place. This is where the Kicks feels like a more basic vehicle. The lack of insulation from road and wind noise is disappointing. The touchscreen in the center of the dash provides access to Nissan’s multimedia functions, with the base S trim getting a 7″ screen and the SV and SR times upgrading to a slightly larger 8″ display. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, and a USB-A, 12V DC, and optional USB-C port in front. Keyless entry and pushbutton start come standard, and remote engine start is included with SV and SR trims. I was surprised to find a brake auto hold button, too – this often-overlooked feature automatically holds the brakes for you after coming to a full stop.

Second-row passengers get similarly comfortable and well-appointed seats, though leg and knee room are somewhat limited if you’ve got taller folks riding up front. It’s plenty of space for kids and smaller adults, but if you’re six feet tall like me, you wouldn’t want to make a road trip in the back seat of a Kicks (or most compact crossovers, for that matter.) There’s a pair of USB ports in the back of the center console, though no HVAC vents.

Nissan includes its Safety Shield 360 tech as standard on every 2023 Kicks. This comprises a laundry list of features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic rear braking, and high beam assist. The SR model also gets a surround-view camera system, making parking easier – though its grainy video resolution is a bit behind the times. The SV and SR grades get a system that monitors driver alertness and intelligent cruise control. That system works well, keeping the Kicks at a safe distance behind vehicles on the highway even if their speed varies. It’s not intelligent enough to slow down in curves like more expensive systems, though.

Because of its raised hatchback design, cargo space is quite good for a vehicle of the Kicks’ size. Even with the second row in use, you get 25.3 cubic feet of storage space – significantly more than even the biggest sedan’s trunk. The back row folds in a 60/40 split configuration for versatility, and with both seats down, you get 53.1 cubic feet of cargo carrying capacity.

I really enjoyed my week living with the 2023 Nissan Kicks. It’s a great size in a market crowded with much-too-big vehicles. It’s not luxurious or powerful, but it’s a great example of how someone just starting their life as an adult can get into a good-quality car with a comfortable and stylish interior, premium features, and lots of safety tech without a massive investment.

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