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2020 Nissan Kicks e-Power: Torque On Tap

The Nissan Kicks e-Power is an enigma. It is not an EV, but it is not a hybrid either. What it is, is a Series Hybrid, also referred to as an “Extended Range Electric Vehicle. Which melds the properties of an EV drivetrain with a petrol engine.

So you get a 1.2L engine under the hood, a 41-litre petrol tank, and no charging port. And being a B-Segment subcompact crossover SUV, it is actually smaller than a Nissan Qashqai. Though you still get 423-litres of trunk space, which is still rather decent for its size.

While appearances are rather subjective, the Nissan Kicks does look rather good in terms of exterior styling, to me at least. Although the Sunrise Orange may be a bit much for some. Up front, the Kicks sports Nissan’s V-motion design grille, which is rather similar to the one on the Serena e-Power. The two-tone paint scheme of the kicks adds to the “floating roof” design, with its black roof and blacked-out C-pillars. There is a rear diffuser that is also finished in the same colour as the exterior, which adds to the sportiness of this SUV.

Inside, the dashboard of the Premium Plus model we tested is finished in black and bright orange Nappa leather. You get proper dials for both volume and radio tuner controls and an 8-inch NissanConnect infotainment system that supports Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay (sorry Android users). Air-conditioning controls are minimal, but simple enough to operate. And the instrument cluster has both an analog speedometer, and a 7-inch TFT display that displays trip information, fuel economy or different drive modes.

There are a host of standard safety features as well. Intelligent emergency braking, rear parking sensors and a reverse camera display in the rear-view mirror (which may be a little disconcerting for some). Cruise control comes as standard, but the Premium Plus model features an improved intelligent cruise control system that monitors the speed of the car ahead of you. Other additional safety features the Premium Plus model has include Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Warning Systems.

Down on the centre console, you get a Start/Stop button, a drive mode select button, and a toggle switch for EV mode. Because it’s not a full-on electric vehicle, the Kicks e-power has a tiny 1.48kWh battery pack. Comparatively, a Nissan leaf EV has a 40kWh battery pack, which is rated for 242km or 270km of range (EPA and WLTP ratings). So in the Kicks, you’d only be able to coast in full EV mode for roughly three minutes before the engine turns back on with an audible low hum. Now this is where things get interesting.

The Kicks e-Power has three different drive modes; Normal, S (for smart) and Eco. Full electric drive only works in S or Eco modes, while Normal mode feels like you’re driving any other car. All three drive modes can draw power from braking force, though the energy regeneration is lower in Normal mode. Although the car automatically switches the engine on and off, you can opt to charge the batteries up in S or Eco modes. By pulling down and holding the EV switch, it enables charge mode and the engine stays on until the battery is fully charged. Battery levels are levels kept within 20% to 90%, which is optimal to preserve battery health.

The electric motor produces 127 horsepower, which puts it comfortably within the Category A COE limit. But because the wheels are driven by an electric motor, you have all 260Nm of torque available from the second you put your foot down. Although there is a slight delay, the Kicks surges forward and propels you forward with a surprising amount of grunt. 0-100km/h takes a claimed 9.7 seconds, but you’d be hard pressed to find another CAT A car that pulls this hard. And because the tyres are 205mm section across all four wheels, the Kicks grips well even when you’re driving on a highway off ramp at speed.

Under heavy load, you can hear the muted roar of the 1.2L three-cylinder engine as it spurs up to keep up with the power delivery. And it dulls back down to a low purr but stays on as you approach highway speeds. But for drivers accustomed to gasoline engine cars, the engine noise feels…… almost normal. Akin to a car with a CVT gearbox. But during testing, I averaged just 18.6km/L, which is not far off from Nissan’s claimed 21.74km/L (4.6L/100km). And I was by no means driving in an efficient or economical manner.

In both S and Eco modes, you get Nissan’s one pedal drive technology, which allows you to brake or decelerate by simply taking your foot off the accelerator. Above speeds of 80km/h, you wouldn’t really feel a surge in braking power. But between 20-70km/h, the braking force is more noticeable when you let off the throttle.

And when the car slows down under 60km/h, the brake lights come on as the car begins to crawl to a halt. Which is a comforting thought, as I spent a good hour wondering if drivers behind me would notice me braking. Although, when the vehicle rolls to a complete stop, the brake lights turn off after a second or two. So you’re better off keeping your foot on the brake. Just in case. Or you could just leave it in normal mode.

Admittedly, when I first started out this review, I never thought that I would like the e-Power platform as much as I do now. EV’s may get a lot of flak from consumers for numerous reasons. Range anxiety, battery or motor issues, servicing costs. But the Nissan Kicks e-Power system is designed to fill the void between a full EV and a normal gasoline engine powered car.

And in my humble opinion, it really does bridge the gap between a full EV and a combustion engine, albeit without the silence of an EV. But if this is the way Nissan intends to bring e-Power to masses, consider me a convert. You really do get the best of both worlds. And that instant torque is seriously addictive. I just wish they added a Sport mode.

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