During the press briefing, someone from the back of the room asked the question I had been thinking since I saw the pricing on the all-new 2018 Nissan Kicks
: How do you do all this and still make money?
The base price of the Kicks is $18,995, which is almost $2K less than the 2018 Hyundai Kona, which I'd peg as its nearest competitor.
At a base price, the Kicks includes things such as automatic emergency braking, Bluetooth phone pairing, 3 USB ports, push-button start and intelligent automatic headlights.
That's pretty impressive when you consider that this is an entry-level crossover.
While the Nissan execs joked about pay cuts to bring this to market at this price point, the official answer they gave is that it comes down to engineering.
Well, that and the fact that this vehicle is built in Mexico and has already been launched in other parts of the world.
Just looking at the price point, I was prepared to immediately dislike the Kicks. I mean, how could it be better than the Kona (which I loved)?
I'd have to drive them back-to -back to be definitive: But Nissan might just have managed it.
We were driving top-tier SR models, but the overall fit and finish was excellent, and I was incredibly impressed with the Prima-Tex "leatherette" seating surfaces, heated front seats, reverse orange stitching, soft-touch dash and around-view monitor.
With an as-tested price of $23,025.
That's about as high a price as you'll find on a Kicks, and frankly, it had everything I could possibly want from advanced safety features to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The top price on a Kona will add nearly $6K to the bottom line.
However, I will point out the Kona includes the up-level engine and all-wheel drive - neither of which are an option on the Kicks.
Nissan's CUV is equipped with a 1.6-lter, 4-cyliner engine that delivers 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque. But with a top weight of around 2.6K pounds, this is more than enough power.
While you won't win any drag races, you will be able to merge with traffic and perform passing maneuvers without too much struggle.
In comparison, the base engine of the Kona is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that delivers 147 horsepower. But the Kona is also about 400 pounds heavier.
Trims and pricing for the all-new Kicks are as follows:
S ($18,995): Even this base model is well equipped with autonomous emergency braking, rear-view monitor, 3 USB ports, roof rails, push-button start, 7-inch color touchscreen display and cruise control.
SV ($20,685): Nissan expects this to be the volume seller and includes things such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, passive entry, tonneau cover, automatic climate control, remote start and rear passenger under-seat heater ducts.
SR ($21,285): At the top-tier trim, you'll see features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a roof-mounted rear spoiler, the Nissan's around view monitor and the integrated dynamics-control module.
I was so impressed with the Kicks during my brief test I was actively looking for things I didn't like. And I did find three pain points, but they're pretty minor.
1. This vehicle is not made for the fifth-percentile female (aka someone who's about 5-feet tall). In the far-forward, pumped-up seating position, my knee got trapped by the underbelly of the steering column. When I moved my foot from gas to brake or tried to exit the vehicle, I bumped my knee every time. Ouch.
2. The gearshift needs a gate after "D" that prevents you from shifting down to "L" in one fell swoop. Whenever I tried to go from Park to Drive, I invariably went all the way to the bottom of the gearing, which stopped at the low gear. I'd have to bump through gears, bouncing between Neutral and Low before I stopped at Drive. I really wanted some kind of a gate or stop that would prevent me from going to low gear without another press of the gear button once in Drive.
3. Grabbing the door handle doesn't unlock the door. A lot of vehicles will unlock the door if you do a double pull of the door handle so you don't have to hit the unlock button or manually unlock the vehicle before opening the door. But the Kicks doesn't do this. And it's kind of annoying. You either have to manually unlock the door or turn off the vehicle to unlock the doors. This isn't ideal if you're dropping off a passenger or just need to exit the vehicle briefly while it's still running.
However, from the Zero Gravity seats to incredible cabin quietness, I pretty much liked everything else on the all-new Kicks.
The Bottom Line:
I didn't expect to like the Nissan Kicks as much as I did.
Granted, I only had about an hour behind the wheel, so you have to take my first impressions with a grain of salt.
But the seats are comfortable, the acceleration is decent for a 125-horsepower engine, and the included technology is impressive.
I do wish there was available all-wheel drive, and the driver's position for a 5th-percentile female isn't great. Nonetheless, the new Kicks is an impressive entry in the compact CUV market, and it will definitely give the likes of the Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport and Toyota C-HR a run for their money.
Editor's Note: Driving impressions in this "First Look" review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Nissan covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.