Sports Utility Vehicle. This is a well abused term in the Indian car market with various manufacturers marketing their ‘grown up hatchbacks’ as SUVs. While we understand a 4×4 or an AWD is an expensive add-on and there aren’t too many takers, the vehicle itself should look big for the price, have enough street cred and most importantly, come with well sorted dynamics.
With these pointers in mind, I flew to the North West part of India, close to the Indo-Pak border to sample Nissan’s latest offering.
It’s called the Kicks. Not a new name for Nissan as this is a famous name plate globally. For India though, given the cut throat competition and ever demanding trends, Nissan pulled up their socks and worked hard to get through some major changes. And it shows. This one is a stylish large crossover (or an SUV) and the raised stance works well to massage the driver’s ego. Its high off the ground too, delivering class leading ground clearance of 210mm. Partly responsible for this are the massive 17 inch diamond cut alloys that also look nice in the process. The lamps by the way get LED projectors with cornering lights.
The front is nice. But chrome is definitely overdone – it will work though as we Indians want our cars to be ever shiny. Matt black cladding is all around, the roof mounted rails are robust and can take a load of upto 100 kg, the wrap around tail lamps gel in nice – overall, its a nice design and the contrasting roof adds to the bling factor. As a factory production model, an owner won’t ask for more. Its that good. It even gets an aluminium plate at the lip of the loading bay of the boot with ‘Kicks’ branding. Dimensionally, its longer, wider and taller than the Hyundai Creta.
A cool cabin?
Getting into the Kicks isn’t as easy a process as the Creta though. However once inside, the cabin design makes you smile – this is clearly the best interior ever seen on any Nissan product sold in India. Thankfully, there are no light coloured panels here but instead you get a mix of black and dark brown. Before I move on to the feature list, lets talk about the space first. At 6 feet tall, I still had about 2 inches of space left in terms of headroom and given the width, two well built adults up front won’t be rubbing their shoulders at all. As a driver, your vision level is way above the steering or the front wipers and this simply fuses more confidence into you in crowded spaces. The front seats also offer good under thigh support though the seat back isn’t too long for tall adults.
In terms of features, the Kicks is a bag of mixed beans. Don’t get my wrong – the 8-inch interface gives you bragging rights with the 360 view camera and the best audio quality in the segment. Climate control is standard across all trims, you get as many as four airbags and a cool speedometer display with an informative MID (multi-info display). Even the leather quality is really nice and the same soft touch leather extends to the central fascia and door pads of all four door. However, at the same time, there are clear shortcomings. If Nissan aims to lock horns with the Creta, they need to have essentials like a sunroof, powered driver’s seat and wireless charging in place. Even other features like a dead pedal, sunglass holder, or storage space under the arm-rest is missing. Even the cruise function activation button isn’t on the steering – but located on the right side on the fascia panel. Ergonomic flaw? Before I move to the second row, do note that the Kicks does not offer cup holders up front. There is however a deep storage space ahead of the gear lever.
The 2nd row of the Kicks is a good place to be. Feels nice in terms of space and comfort – the recline angle of the rear bench is nice for example. However, floor isn’t flat and the central hump will definitely intrude into the privacy of the middle passenger. You do get a dedicated charging outlet at the back along with a wide arm-rest. Two large sized, 6 feet tall adults can sit one behind the another and yet the rear occupant will have about 2-3 inches of knee room. Lastly, given the angular rear of the car, there is more than generous space above the parcel trays behind you. Trays, as there is not one, but two in here!
The boot space, at 400 litres, is less than the Creta’s and just over what the compact SUVs offer. But this is on paper – in reality, you can slot in a couple of large suitcase and still have ample space for 3-4 night strollers if you take off the parcel tray.
Does it have the punch?
Though the Kicks will be sold with a pair of engines, one each for petrol and diesel, we could only sample the latter on the drive and I had no regrets. This is the same 1.5 dCi motor that we have seen in everything from the Micra to Sunny to Terrano and even the large Evalia. World over, the motor is known for its reliable nature. As expected, it is paired to a 6 speed manual ‘box and surprisingly, no automatic on offer. When the Duster can use the same engine with an AMT, why not you Nissan? Likewise, the petrol motor too gets a manual and no CVT, again, unlike the Duster.
Fire up the motor and all that effort that has gone into keeping the NVH levels low is visible. I mean, audible. The cabin is surprisingly very quite – be it on the move or at idle. Full marks to Nissan for this. Slot into first and the same 6 speed manual feels a lot better here – shorter throws & smoother shifts. And while there is a hint of turbo lag at about 1500rpm, post that, the Kicks flies and how. Our drive from Bhuj towards the border had its own share of empty stretches and this diesel version did kick some, err, dirt, in the process.
For numbers, the engine revs all the way to 5000rpm and in the process takes you to just over 40 in the first gear, 76 in second and 114 in third. The initial gears are short (gearing) for better city usage while the tall 6th ensures that at 2000rpm, you are doing a very healthy 92 km/h. Even at 80 km/h, there is enough torque on avail for overtaking slower moving traffic without a downshift. The engine then is definitely one of the strongest points about the Kicks – not in the league of the 1.6 Creta, but surely rewards you with a good drive. And oh by the way, in case you like being chauffeur driven, the Eco mode will come handy to extract the most from each litre of fuel.
Complementing the engine is the suspension set-up. For starters, ride quality is extremely good and even comfortable over broken tarmac. We drove to our camping site at the White Rann in the dark and thanks to blinding lights of oncoming traffic, crashed into pot holes and broken sections at almost triple digit speeds. The Kicks never lost its composure and this a big boost in terms of confidence while driving off the road. Likewise, the steering, though on the heavier side at parking speeds, weighs up nicely as speeds increase. Its still not very direct for highway runs, but given the minimal body roll, makes the Kicks a dynamically sorted vehicle.
Another point I need to make here is that on the move, noise insulation is terrific and its only once you are past 100 km/h that wind noise starts creeping in. Otherwise, its very easy to have a quite conversation among fellow passengers. Good work there Nissan. The Kicks also comes with what Nissan calls as “Intelligent Trace Control” – their own version of Vehicle Dynamics Control. Also, its got the best in class turning radius of just 5.2 m.
Should you buy one?
The only remaining piece in the entire puzzle is the pricing. While bookings will be open later this week, prices will only be out next month. Dimensionally larger than the Creta and with slightly better (stylish) design, the Kicks offers a premium cabin but lacks a few essentials. The engine and ride quality are its USPs and so is the silent cabin. But to mark its territory in the 4m+ SUV segment, one that falls in the Rs 10-15 lakh bracket, Nissan will have to price this lower than its main rival, the Creta. Do we see a starting price of Rs 9 lakh for the petrol and Rs 10 lakh for the diesel version? There, I said it!