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Nissan has been awfully quiet off late as they rework their strategy for India — which will now focus on SUVs — and the revival starts with the Nissan Kicks that will launch in January 2019 to take on the Hyundai Creta, Mahindra XUV 500 as well as its own stablemate, the Renault Captur. The Kicks is to Nissan what the Captur is to Renault, a more stylish alternative built off the tried-and-tested Duster platform with the same engines and same mechanical package but a new top hat. But unlike the Captur, that has received lukewarm response at best, Nissan have focussed very heavily on styling and in the process turned out a compact SUV that really turns heads and can thus make a decent fist of the Creta’s market share.
“Lessons have no doubt been learnt from Alliance partner Renault’s experiment with the Captur and so the styling department have been given a free hand to completely transform the Duster/Terrano on which it is based”
Globally the Kicks is based on the new Micra platform which India doesn’t get, deemed too expensive for the country. And so the Nissan Kicks you see here is an India-specific model built, as Hashimoto-san, the chief engineer for the SUV says, with Indian tastes and preferences in mind. Lessons have no doubt been learnt from Alliance partner Renault’s experiment with the Captur and so the styling department have been given a free hand to completely transform the Duster/Terrano on which it is based. And the result is an SUV that, either from inside or outside, will not remind you of the SUV that it is based on.
The head of the Indian design studio, Tani-san, is an animated and enthusiastic character and he is all swooshing hands as he points out the design flourishes on the Kicks. And to be fair this has been designed with flourish, full of cuts, slashes and all Nissan’s global SUV design cues to rework every single sheet metal panel from the existing SUVs. It runs on 17 inch tyres on the top-end variant, maintains the Duster’s 210mm ground clearance and still looks balanced and proportionate without any unseemly wheel arch gaps. The roof rails are also functional and can take a load of up to 100kg. Overall it is a design that everybody will love — particularly in this shade of grey with the orange floating roof — and, very importantly, equally serious work went into transforming the interior rather than raid the parts bin.
The dashboard is all new and pride of place is taken by the floating 8-inch touch screen infotainment screen — a big, big step up from the unit in the Captur. It gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and with Google Maps finally working with CarPlay there is no need for inbuilt navigation which the Kicks does not get. The touch screen response is good, the graphics are neatly done and navigating through the menus on the infotainment is intuitive while the menus themselves can also be personalised. It’s actually very well done and the reverse camera is also complimented by a bird’s eye view that Nissan points out is a first in class.
The centre part of the dash has a leather insert, in the same shade of brown as the leather seats, and that gives it a genuinely premium look and feel, as modern as any of its rivals. The speedo binnacle has been borrowed from the Captur and I’m not a fan of the digital speed readout flanked by the tacho (unintuitively) on the left and a massive fuel gauge on the right.
There are also quirks in the cabin, a factor of its legacy. Remember the very awkward seat height adjust on the Duster? Well the Kicks gets a pump-lever but that only works on the seat base, not the entire seat, ruining lower back and under thigh support as you lower the seat. The seat feels nicest at its highest position, which is far too hight, and my head was almost touching the roof. The interior space is the same as the Renault Duster and in comparison the Hyundai Creta is more roomy, spacious and also airy with more comfortable seats too.
More quirks? The steering wheel audio controls aren’t on the steering wheel but on a stalk on the steering column to the right and behind the steering wheel. Easy enough to use but you need to get used to it and it leaves unsightly blanks on the steering wheel itself. Activation of the cruise control is via a switch on the right of the dash and the keyless entry is that big card-shaped key that is a carry over from the Fluence and Koleos.
“All are familiar territory as will be the fantastic fuel efficiency which will see that needle on the big fuel gauge move down very, very slowly”
There’s nothing that I can write that you do not already know about the K9K 1.5-litre diesel engine. There is no difference in the state of tune compared to the Duster, Terrano and Captur while BS VI compliance will come when BS VI becomes mandatory. It makes 108.5bhp of power and 245Nm of torque which gives it a 0-100kmph time in the region of 12.5 seconds and a top speed of around 165kmph. All are familiar territory as will be the fantastic fuel efficiency which will see that needle on the big fuel gauge move down very, very slowly.
On the refinement front too there is no change and the engine is quite audible, on start up and especially when revved hard. This engine cannot match the Creta’s 1.6-litre diesel on performance or refinement but it is not too far off of its benchmark either.
The diesel is mated to the 6-speed manual that has an acceptable shift quality while the heavy clutch pedal action of the original Duster is a thing of the past. No word on automatics as yet but it is only a matter of time before the Kicks gets the AMT from the Duster (I guess the Captur will get it first). While an AMT will not match the refinement of the regular automatic in the Creta having an automatic transmission is a no-brainer in this segment and if the AMT Kicks can undercut the automatic Creta but over 2 lakh rupees it should find takers.
On the petrol front the Kicks gets the Alliance’s 1.5-litre petrol that makes 104.5bhp and 142Nm of torque and is mated to the 5-speed manual. Again no CVT gearbox, something that is doing good numbers on the Duster, but that too should only be a matter of time.
Nissan’s presentation, not once, mentioned or even alluded to the carry-over mechanicals from its Alliance partner. Yet fact of the matter is the Duster’s platform is one of the plus points of the Kicks. It’s a testament to how inherently right the Duster was at the start that even now its blend of ride and handling is excellent for Indian roads, and so it hold true for the Kicks as well.
“In comparison with the benchmark, the Creta, the Kicks is nicer to drive on the highway with more stability and more planted manners while the Hyundai is nicer and easier to drive in the city.”
We drove the Kicks in Bhuj, on the single-track highway leading to the Greater Rann of Kutch — a typical Indian road with undulations, unmarked speedbreakers and animals forming mobile chicanes. And through it all the Kicks stayed planted with excellent stability over the undulations, great ride on the broken patches and confident handling to slice through the occasional corner and the not so occasional bovines. In comparison with the benchmark, the Creta, the Kicks is nicer to drive on the highway with more stability and more planted manners while the Hyundai is nicer and easier to drive in the city.
The Kicks is also strong on the brakes and the hydraulic steering has far more feel than what we are used to these days though the downside is you do get kickback from the steering if you hit a bump mid corner.
That’s going to be crucial and clearly the Kicks has to undercut its main rival, the Creta, by at least a lakh of rupees, to make a dent and revitalise Nissan’s operations. That means a starting price, for the petrol, of under Rs 10 lakh and this diesel top end at under Rs 13 lakh. It’s not a tall ask, after all the mechanical package has been around for ages and it is only the top hat that is new. Credit where credit is due though, and that top hat is really stylish, definitely the strongest selling point of the Kicks, and good enough to kick start Nissan’s Indian revamp.