Nissan set up shop in India back in 2005 and together with its global alliance partner, Renault, set up a manufacturing plant as well as an R&D centre near Chennai. In India, Nissan has a two-brand portfolio – Nissan and Datsun the latter of which offers budget products for price-sensitive consumers. In recent years, Nissan’s products have not seen the kind of demand that its competitors across segments enjoy. But the brand hopes to turn it around with a slew of fresh models, ones that are quite different from those of Renault. A key part of Nissan’s attempt to revamp itself in India is the compact SUV, Kicks which is expected to launch in January 2019.
Nissan has a network of 309 dealerships across India, out of which 173 operate as service centres as well. The brand also offers the Nissan Connect feature across all models to access a variety of functions via a factory-fitted telematics control unit. These functions aim to improve the ownership experience in terms of convenience, safety and offering additional control to the buyers.
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.
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.
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.