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The smallest Nissan crossover and the smallest Honda crossover are not the biggest sellers for each maker, but they’re essential for the market – these are the vehicles bought by young drivers experiencing a brand for the first time, and empty-nesters, who have a little more money to invest in a reliable, practical car. Single people and couples don’t need a lot of space or power, but they do want practicality, and the fun-to-drive factor. The loaded Kicks is about the same price as the basic HR-V – which is the best of the two?

Nissan Kicks

The 2018 Nissan Kicks.

Tech Specs

  • Base price/as tested: $17,998/$23,248 + $1,795 freight and fees
  • Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder (125 hp, 115 lbs.-ft. torque)
  • Transmission/Drive: Continuously variable (CVT)/Front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.7 city, 6.6 highway

Honda HR-V

The 2018 Honda HR-V.

Honda

Tech Specs

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  • Base price/as tested: $23,100/$30,850 + $1,926 freight and fees
  • Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder (141 hp, 127 lbs.-ft. torque)
  • Transmission/Drive: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)/Front-wheel and all-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.4 city, 7.0 highway (FWD); 8.8 city, 7.5 highway (AWD)

Looks

Kicks: The Kicks looks cute and kinda funky, and it’s certainly a positive move away from the Nissan Juke, which it replaced in the maker’s line-up. The Juke was a very good vehicle but bug-eyed and polarizing, appealing to young hipsters but alienating older drivers. There’s no danger of that with the Kicks.

HR-V: Also cute and kinda funky, the Honda looks a little more stylish to this eye than the Kicks. Its sidelines sweep down toward the front, and the door handles for the rear doors are high up, integrated into the side of the windows.

Interior

Kicks: Even the most basic Kicks looks pretty nice on the inside, but comparing apples to apples, with the loaded Kicks SR against the basic HR-V LX front-wheel drive, the SR acquits itself well. Everything is well integrated with nicely flowing lines, and the acres of soft-touch plastic that furnish most cars at this price point don’t look too bad. There’s a large central display screen, as well as a digital display gauge beside the speedometer that would have been unheard of five years ago.

HR-V: The Honda’s interior tips more in toward the driver, with three traditional analogue gauges behind the steering wheel. There’s a storage area underneath the “floating” centre console, which adds a modern touch. There are also no physical knobs on the dashboard – the controls for the radio and climate are all touch-sensitive sliders, which can be tricky to adjust when the car is moving. Yes, there are physical radio and cruise-control buttons on the steering wheel, and voice-activated controls, but this still drove me nuts.

Performance

Kicks: I found the Kicks’ performance to be totally forgettable; my wife loved it. It was downright boring to mash the throttle to the floor at every light, and plan well ahead for every overtaking manoeuvre, but she was completely comfortable with swinging the little crossover through the city and parking in near-impossible spaces. And her own vehicle has more than double the horsepower.

HR-V: The HR-V was also dull to drive on the highway, though also responsive to steering and braking when up to speed. It makes 12 more lbs.-ft. of torque than the Kicks but it’s 120 kg heavier, which pretty much cancels out the extra power.

Technology

Kicks: There’s a surprising amount of tech in the Kicks, thanks to all those expensive Infinitis and Nissans laying the groundwork for software research in recent years. Even the cheapest Kicks has remote keyless entry and a push-button start. The loaded SR includes a 360-surround camera – it offers a true overhead view that’s handy when parking (I told a friend that there was a permanent drone flying overhead, and she believed me for a while) – as well as speakers in the front headrests.

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HR-V: 2019 models finally include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, like the Kicks. There’s no 360-degree camera, but standard items missing from the Kicks include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams.

Cargo

Kicks: As you’d expect, there’s useable space behind the rear seats, but when those 60/40 seats drop down, the floor is neither flat nor significantly more spacious. Nissan elected to offer more leg room to rear passengers, keeping the rear seats high and their backs higher.

HR-V: This is the forte for the HR-V – truly practical, the rear seats will fold their bottoms up for extra space in the footwells, or their backs completely flat to more than double the amount of cargo space. Honda learned this trick with the hatchback Fit and it has paid off with the crossover HR-V.

Verdict

Kicks 7.0

It’s a nice little vehicle, and an overall improvement on the Juke, but nothing special. Its strength is in value for money – dollar for dollar, it’s very well equipped, and especially so with its two less costly trims.

HR-V - 8.0

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More expensive at the basic level than the basic Kicks and perhaps closer to the Nissan Qashqai in dimensions and price, Honda’s smallest crossover leads in the features that matter, missing nothing important and tying in power. Its resale value will probably hold up a little better, and if you want additional features, like AWD or leather trim, they’re available without having to go up in size.

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