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2023 Nissan Kicks SR

Low-cost Kicks loaded with a bevy of standard features …

Remember when entry-level cars were bare bones beaters?

I’m thinking Ford Mavericks, Chevy Vegas, and AMC Gremlins of my youth, or more recently Honda Civics, Toyota Tercels, and Nissan Sentras.

Times change and this week’s cute low-cost two-tone mini crossover is chock full of modern electronics and features that you might not anticipate at this price point. Heck, some cost extra even on higher-end vehicles.

Meet Nissan’s snazzy Kicks SR, that’s the top of three trim levels, but don’t let that worry your cost-conscious brain.

The name alone is fun, and memorable. At least more so than a certain electric EQB I drove recently.

No, the Kicks is not the bargain basement beater of yore.

Standard is a bevy of safety equipment including (hold on now) blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, rear sonar, high-beam assist, rear automatic braking, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian sensing, and an AroundView (360-degree) camera. Even that last item is optional on many vehicles costing much more.

OK, so what are we calling entry-level these days?

How’s $21,585 strike you for the base S model? Need a bit more in the way of features, then move up to the SV model at $23,445, or this top-end SR for $24,145. That’s a deal that should have you doing the happy dance right up to your credit union’s loan officer.

What else will you find on this high-end low-balling Kicks SR?

Heck, there’s intelligent or smart cruise control just like all the fancy cars and trucks now have, plus a very readable 7-inch touchscreen, 4 USB ports, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote start, push-button start, rear seat heat ducts, and I know you younger readers will like this, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Bingo, hook up the phone, iPad, etc. and crank the tunes or use your own navigation system.

The Premium Package here adds nearly everything a buyer would want inside.

Now you may be saying, that’s all well and good, but I need a fancy sound system and heated seats, minimum. And a heated steering wheel and WiFi hot spot would be primo too, and cloth seats are for poor folk, I need at least a good-looking leather imitation.

Hold on buster, a Premium Package that adds just $1,390 to the price tag includes all of that, starting with a Bose 8-speaker audio system, plus NissanConnect Services via Sirius XM and a security system.

The test car added a snazzy two-tone gray and black paint scheme to increase curb appeal, and that’s only a $650 option and includes a small black spoiler over the rear window.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Nissan Kicks SR review by Mark Savage

Less necessary options included a $435 exterior package with crossbars for the standard black roof rails, plus finished exhaust tips. If you intend to pile stuff on the roof this is a smart choice.

This interior does not look, feel, or function like a bargain basement model.

Less necessary yet is a $575 interior electronics package with 20-colors of ambient colors that can be dialed in to impress your friends or significant other, plus a door pocket light and frameless rearview mirror with universal remote.

A visual upgrade, the $495 17-inch black alloy wheel option is something most of us would welcome, along with the $225 carpeted floor mats and cargo mat.

No power hatch back there, but there is a wiper, a Wisconin necessity item. And excluding things like a power hatch and AWD helps keep Kicks among the lowest cost vehicles you can buy new. Even with add-ons the tester hit just $27,915, one of the lowest priced test cars I’ve had in the past couple years.

A hatch in back allows for easy loading and the back window wiper is standard.

If you want to consider others look first at the Hyundai Venue that also doesn’t offer AWD, but is in the same size and power category as the Kicks and also looks like a crossover.

Moving up a bit in price and power is Toyota’s equally cute C-HR, or less cute Corolla Cross, which does offer AWD. One also could check out the Honda HR-V that I tested a couple months back, or the Hyundai Kona, Kia’s Niro, Soul, or Seltos. Again, some offer AWD. Finally, for more power there’s Mazda’s awesome CX-30.

As for the Kicks, it touts just 122 horsepower from its 1.6-liter I4, but the automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is programed to give it a fair amount of oomph from a standstill. So acceleration is good for in-town stoplight getaways. Of course the engine works a little harder than those offering 140+ horses, and you’ll hear it. But it quiets down once you’re cruising.

Sharp looking tail for an economy model.

Road noise is noticeable at highway speeds, but certainly not an issue in city driving.

Handling is light and responsive, not sporty, but sort of fun on winding roads. Plus the suspension is pretty compliant for a short-wheelbase vehicle. There’s some jiggle, but the ride never becomes severe or bothersome.

Gas mileage, and this is a gas-powered car, is quite good too. I got 31.7 mpg in about 60% city and town driving. The EPA rates Kicks at 31 mpg city and 36 highway.

Inside, the fake leather seats are well-shaped and two-tone gray with orange stitching on the dash and steering wheel to add a bit of pizazz. The touchscreen is easily read and used and includes both volume and tuning knobs, a bonus. This driver’s instrument panel has an old-school analog speedometer, but digital info screen to the left of that giving mpg and other important info. Again, all easy to read.

The steering wheel also is heated and is a flat-bottom number allowing for easier in and out as there’s more knee room below the wheel than with a standard wheel. Bravo too that Nissan includes extenders on the sun visors, often needed but rarely found in newer cars.

In back is enough room for two adults provided the front seat folks are not NBA recruits and a third adult could fit for a short pizza run. If a child is about to head off to college the Kicks also offers generous cargo room for stuff and things, measuring 25.3 cubic feet with the rear seat in place of a massive 53.1 cu.ft. when the split rear seat is folded.

Practical, cute, perky and loaded with safety equipment, that’s Kicks. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives Kicks a good rating in all six of its safety tests. Kicks is a must consider first car, college car, or second city car.

FAST STATS: 2023 Nissan Kicks SR

Hits: Cute low-cost two-tone mini crossover, quick handling, adequate acceleration and good gas mileage. Better than average cargo room and seats four comfortably, heated seats, heated D-shaped steering wheel, push-button start, visor extenders, good info screen and Bose sound system. Great safety features standard, plus a 360-degree camera and standard Android Auto/Apple CarPlay.

Misses: No AWD available, ride can be a bit jiggly, but not severe, and there’s a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds.

A fine screen and easy controls in Kicks.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 122 hp/114 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 2,685 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Cargo: 25.3-53.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 31/36

MPG: 31.7 (tested)

Base Price: $23,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Premium package (Bose audio w/8 speakers & amp, Prima-Tex seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, security system, cargo cover, Nissan Connect services w/WiFi hotspot), $1,390

Exterior pkg. (crossbars, exhaust finisher), $435

Electronics pkg. (door pocket light, frameless mirror w/universal remote, 20-color ambient lighting), $575

2-tone paint (gray/black) w/rear spoiler, $650

17-inch black alloy wheels, $495

Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $225

Test vehicle: $27,915

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Nissan

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2020 Mazda3 AWD Premium

Stylish Mazda3 AWD, a car for drivers who love to drive …

Some people still enjoy driving a car, its feel, its handling, its sharp engagement of power, yet their bank accounts don’t allow for a BMW.

What to do?

Mazda has an answer, its Mazda3 in either sedan or hatchback mode. Both are driving dandies. This week’s drive was aboard a dark metallic gray ($300 extra) Mazda3 Premium sedan, its top of the line trim. Making it even better, this one added all-wheel-drive, something only Subaru’s Impreza offers in this price range and market segment. This car was made for Wisconsin.

First, the Mazda3 is a sharp looking compact sedan with a handsomely styled nose and a fabulous looking, and quiet, interior that speaks of luxury, not economy. And, if you want sporty handling to pair up with sporty looks, this is one of the few primo choices that regular folks can afford.

Mazda starts by making its formerly optional 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4 engine standard across the Mazda3 lineup (sedan and hatch). It is both fuel efficient and peppy, generating 186 horsepower with a torque rating to match. Not only that, it drinks regular unleaded and expels minimal emissions. The engine is no rocket, but when you engage the electronic Sport drive mode via the console toggle, it leaps to action, zipping the Mazda3 to highway speeds with vigor.

In Normal mode the sedan hesitates a bit upon acceleration, but still has good power, just seems less energetic. Gas mileage doesn’t suffer. I managed 28.0 mile per gallon in about a 50/50 mix of city and highway while the EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, again on regular gas.

Much of that you can attribute to Mazda using a fine 6-speed automatic transmission to engage the power. No CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) here. Sometimes those can be a bit lackadaisical as they aim to save fuel instead of instilling excitement. Note though that the automatic is all that’s available in the sedan and just one Mazda3 model, the Premium trim hatchback, offers a manual.

So while the Mazda3 will scoot pretty well, it’s more sports car peppy than muscle car macho. What it does well is create a joyful, fun feel for the road due to its fine handling. The Mazda3 turns into sharp corners with authority and purpose. There’s good feedback to the wheel that is appropriately firm, but not heavy. That translates to an entertaining, athletic drive.

Ride continues to improve from generation to generation in the Mazda3 and this longer 107.3-inch wheelbase helps create a well-controlled ride. However, Mazda returned to a torsion bar rear suspension (think previous-gen Mustang), away from a multi-link. I’ve enjoyed driving many a car with torsion-bar suspension, but this feels just a bit choppy on our distressed Midwest roads. Ride is never uncomfortable, but you’ll definitely know when you square up on a pothole.

Remember too this model added all-wheel-drive, so traction is improved in wet, sloppy weather, a norm much of the year for Wisconsin drivers.

Cream and black leather interior makes this a stylish entry-level sport sedan that many folks can afford.

As much fun as the Mazda3 is to drive, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped into at least an entry-level luxury sports sedan inside the Premium edition.

This sparkly gray tester featured a cream and black leather interior. The dash, doors and seats are all coated in leather, the seats being perforated (yes, and heated). The appearance is stylish and eye-catching. Trim is thin chrome on the dash and doors with satin chrome trim on the black leather wheel’s hub. The console’s face is black gloss with more black leather trim along its sides.

There’s a fine Bose sound system here and its chrome speaker covers on the doors add a bit of a jeweled looked to the interior. Fit, finish and quality inside look much improved from earlier models and the cockpit is much quieter too.

I like Mazda’s dash layout as it’s clean and easy to understand, and the infotainment screen is a sizeable 8.8 inches, plus is nicely tucked into the dash top’s center. That’s a styling improvement from earlier models.

Sadly (and I know I’ve said this before), Mazda doesn’t use a touchscreen, instead sticking with a big knob on the console to control the infotainment system. This is similar to the likes of BMW and Audi, not a good thing. This system isn’t intuitive. Just changing the channel is tough, and forget about setting or deleting favorites. Radios need to be simple enough to tune with a button punch while driving.

That somewhat spoils this otherwise fine interior for me.

Otherwise, the Premium model is a winner, coming with a full list of safety features, such as blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and assist, smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, adaptive front lighting and driver attention monitor. The latter is touchy, occasionally setting off a series of beeps and flashing a steering wheel image on the center instrument panel screen.

Nicely designed doors and release lever, plus the radio’s speaker cover looks sharp.

I also found the lane control to be overly strong, really turning the wheel hard away from a centerline to the point of being insistent. Sometimes, it must be noted, there is something that you’re avoiding on the road and you need to quickly adjust the wheel yourself to avoid that pothole, hubcap, mystery item, etc.

Overhead there also is a panoramic sunroof, and the car includes heated seats, a power driver’s seat with two memory settings, visors with extenders, paddle shifters behind the wheel, push-button start and a head-up display. Dual climate control also comes on the Premium model.

Seating is comfortable in front with mild contouring, and note that the heated seats get really warm, so the lowest setting is most used after a couple minutes of bun warming.

Legroom is particularly cramped in back, especially when a taller passenger or driver is up front, necessitating the front seat be pushed well back. Think of this as a back seat for kids primarily.

The rear seats split and fold flat to boost cargo room, which is a reasonable 13.2 cubic feet before seats are lowered. Releases in the trunk allow a driver to put the seats down without opening a rear door too.

Also, it should be noted the sedan is about eight inches longer than the hatchback to create expanded rear seat and cargo room.

There are a couple other concerns though. First, the Mazda3 automatically applies the park brake every time the car is turned off, or put into Park. That might make sense if this had a manual transmission, but it does not. This means the driver must press a brake release button every time the car is started, just to get it rolling. Can’t say how many times I put the car in Reverse only to have it strain against the parking brake as I tried to back from a parking space. It’s a small thing, but annoying daily.

Second, the A-pillars are rather large, somewhat blocking front side views at intersections, and while I was happy to have a wireless charging station ($275 extra), this one is in the storage box/armrest between the front seats. So to access it you must raise the armrest, which is awkward it you need to access the phone while driving. It’s also easy to forget the phone in the box.

Enough whining, the happy news beyond how this drives, is pricing. This upscale Premium version with AWD started at $28,820, including delivery. AWD is about $1,400 extra on a Mazda3 sedan. With just a few minor options the test car ended up at $30,645, a bargain at today’s prices.

Yet a base model with 16-inch wheels and tires, cloth interior, etc. starts at $22,420 for the sedan and $24,520 for the hatchback, considered a premium model of sorts. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard on all Mazda3s.

Good looking taillights give the car a more upscale look.

Select and Preferred trim levels come with 18-inch wheels and tires and leatherette interiors plus dual-zone climate controls. Preferred adds the power driver’s seat and memory features, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, heated seats and XM radio.

Premium gives you the bigger alloy wheels, adaptive lighting, fancy leather interior materials, the head-up display, sunroof and paddle shifters.

Even at the top-end of its trims the Mazda3 is a delight to drive, offering better styling inside and out than many of its competitors.

FAST STATS: 2020 Mazda3 AWD Premium

Hits: Sharp looker and sporty handling, peppy acceleration in Sport mode, controlled ride, plus AWD and good gas mileage. Quiet, luxury interior at value pricing, heated seats, large screen, panoramic sunroof, wireless charger and full complement of safety equipment.

Misses: Park brake sets automatically every time the ignition is turned off and is annoying to disengage each time you start the car, awkward rotary knob to adjust infotainment screen, large A-pillar restricts view, wireless charger location not convenient.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, 186 horsepower

Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/manual mode

Weight: 3,248 lbs.

Length: 183.5 in.

Wheelbase: 107.3 in.

Cargo: 13.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/33

MPG: 28.0 (tested)

Base Price: $28,820 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $27,624

Major Options:

Cargo mat, $100

Illuminated door sill trim, $425

Machine gray paint, $300

Frameless auto-dim mirror, $275

Navigation SD card, $450

Wireless charging pad, $275

Test vehicle: $30,645

Sources: Mazda, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

 

 

2019 Nissan LEAF SL Plus

LEAF Plus: Better range, and exceeding expectations …

No matter how much good I have to say about Nissan’s new LEAF (and I have plenty to say), I’m not sure you’ll believe me.

That’s because the original LEAF, as revolutionary as it was as the first fully electric car to be marketed to the masses, was underwhelming, if for no other reason than its range was only about 80 miles. Certainly that would be fine for a city commuter, but not real practical for much more than that. Continue reading 2019 Nissan LEAF SL Plus

2019 Mazda3 Platinum AWD Hatch

Mazda3 hatch with AWD is sleek, fast and fun …

I’ve owned a couple Mazdas through the years. I’ve liked them for their sporty handling and edgy styling that set them apart from many competitors.

The new 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback does nothing to spoil those differentiators, in fact it improves on the looks and upgrades the interior to make it even more attractive. But there’s more, Mazda also adds AWD as an option, putting it in direct competition with the sporty AWD Subaru Impreza, but with a touch more zip. Continue reading 2019 Mazda3 Platinum AWD Hatch

2018 Mazda6 Signature

2018 Mazda6 SignatureMazda6 Signature adds turbo power to the mix …

Mazda has long had one of the better looking midsize sedans, its Mazda6. But if there was anything to slow its sales it may have been its somewhat modest horsepower.

Mazda’s efficient 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G I4 isn’t a weakling, it pumps out 184 horsepower, but there are competitors in this super competitive market segment with engines delivering 200+ horsepower. Continue reading 2018 Mazda6 Signature