Nissan has the crossover vehicle market covered like no one else. With the Juke, Qashqai, and X-trail taking care of the compact crossover class and the Murano and Pathfinder catering to those who are looking for a bit more space. While that’s a portfolio that should ideally keep any manufacturer content, the Yokohama carmaker seems to think otherwise. Nissan surprised many early last year when it announced the decision to go ahead with production of the Kicks, which debuted as a concept with the same name at the 2014 São Paulo Motor Show. The automaker even spent a substantial $192 million (Dh705 million) on preparing the factory in Resende, Rio de Janeiro, to manufacture the Kicks.

So, this is evidently a model in which Nissan sees huge potential, despite the fact that there could be overlap with others in its CUV line-up. The Kicks shares the V platform with Juke, but at 4,295mm is 160mm longer.However, it falls slightly short of the Qashqai’s 4,377mm overall length. So essentially in size it sits in between its two siblings, although the pricing starts Dh500 lower than that of the smaller Juke.

Styling is also a mix of many other Nissans. Although not as attention-grabbing as the Juke, the Kicks gets more interesting lines than the Qashqai’s. With the Nissan V-motion family face upfront, it carries cues from the Sway concept that previewed the all-new Micra hatchback. A couple of subtle creases and flared wheel arches add character to its profile, while the rear is livened up by the boomerang-ish taillights. Overall, it looks even more upmarket than the larger Qashqai, and better than most of its rivals, including the Ford Ecosport or even its French cousin the Renault Captur.

Inside too, the layout, fit and finish are all surprisingly better than you’d expect to see in a vehicle aimed at emerging markets and built solely in South American plants. It’s simple and straightforward, but nice touches like stitched faux leather on the dashboard lift the overall atmosphere in the cabin. Understandably in this class and price point, there are some hard plastics on the door cards and the centre console, but none of these are low-rent or tacky enough to warrant criticism. The designers have managed to squeeze the maximum out of the crossover’s relatively modest dimensions, leaving generous amounts of head-, shoulder- and legroom in the front and back. While they were definitely not floating around in the test car, the so-called Zero Gravity seats are comfortable to settle down into and are quite supportive on long drives. Meanwhile, a 383-litre boot with additional flexibility offered by the 60:40 split rear seats adds to its utility credentials.

Power comes from the sole 1.6-litre four-cylinder powerplant that is good for a decent 118bhp. It’s got ample grunt to pull the lightweight CUV along on leisurely drives, but the continuously variable transmission takes its sweet time to transfer the oomph to the front wheels if you demand quick acceleration. And of course, you’ll have to put up with the usual drone that’s associated with such gearboxes. Nissan markets the Kicks with a few ‘Active’ tech systems, such as the Active Trace Control, which engages the inner or outer brakes alternately to keep the vehicle stable around corners, Active Engine Braking downshifts the CVT, adding to the stopping power, and Active Ride Control apparently helps smooth the impact from road bumps.  I couldn’t tell whether these systems, er, kicked in while driving, but the ride and handling in general is very much in line with class norms, body lean kept to the minimum. The steering is light and easy while driving around town, and weighs up moderately as the vehicle gathers speed, although not firm or responsive enough to inspire much confidence.

It also comes equipped with a host of safety features including Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, tyre pressure monitoring, the extremely handy Intelligent Around View Monitor and parking sensors.

While it might look like Nissan is overdoing the whole crossover thing, the Kicks actually is a lively little utility vehicle that offers some practicality for those looking to upgrade from a small hatchback, and is even a good choice for those looking for a change from years of family saloon ownership. For the latter, the Kicks offers cabin space that’s comparable to a Sentra along with the additional advantage of high ground clearance. With the Qashqai having been away from our market, the Kicks is a welcome addition to something less edgy than a Juke and a tad more exciting than the X-Trail.


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