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SUV Comparison: 2019 Toyota C-HR vs. Nissan Kicks

Welcome to Dude Said, Punk Said — a special series devoted to skewering the automotive ramblings of young punk Nick Tragianis with the infinite wisdom of old dude Brian Harper. This week, the duo determine if the Nissan Kicks, with its impressive bang-for-your-buck, has the goods to take on the wildly styled Toyota C-HR.

NT: The proliferation of crossovers has meant many things for consumers, not the least of which the creation of some head-scratchers. It’s extremely evident on the high end – so-called “coupes” like the BMW X6 and the swoopy-roofed Mercedes GLE are prime examples of this — but mainstream automakers aren’t completely off the hook.

Look, I don’t have (much of) a problem with most crossovers. I can see why they’re popular with consumers, but it’s tough to make a case for ones that don’t seem to serve up any extra capability over a conventional hatchback. Case in point, the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Kicks. Both are powered by four-cylinder engines, both have continuously variable transmissions and both have relatively small footprints. But they barely offer the raised driving position consumers seem to love in CUVs and, most egregiously, they’re both front-wheel-drive only. Seriously, what’s the point?

BH: Hey, who’s the old dude here? What’s next; you going start yelling at the kids to get the hell off your lawn? The Versa-based Kicks and Prius-platform C-HR are marketed at your demographic, my cranky young friend, not mine. You mean to tell me you’re not buying into the marketing bumphf that these rather inexpensive, stylish(?) rigs are hip and cool? I thought you Millennials were all about outdoor adventure and social interaction and connectivity and all that crap. Yes, Canada is a full-on, four-season country, and the lack of all-wheel drive will relegate these faux crossovers to niche players in the crowded compact SUV segment. But I can see some redeeming qualities in these two. Even if we treat them as higher riding, slightly larger hatchbacks, they are well contented, reasonably fuel efficient and won’t break the bank. They’re not exactly brimming with an abundance of power, though, are they?

NT: No, I wouldn’t exactly call the Kicks and C-HR powerful. Toyota bestows a normally aspirated 2.0L four-cylinder upon the C-HR, good for 144 horsepower and 139 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s hooked up to a continuously variable transmission with a manual mode, and it mimics gear shifts under harder acceleration to limit drone.

It’s a decent powertrain — in the city. The throttle is responsive, taking off from a stoplight with relative ease. Steering is effortless if somewhat numb, and the C-HR is also commendably smooth, soaking up bumps, potholes and rough pavement very well. But on the highway, the lack of power makes itself known, though wind and road noise isn’t much of a problem. Fuel economy is commendable, too: The C-HR defaults to “Eco” mode based on throttle position, and by the end of the week, returned a respectable 8.9 L/100 kilometres — in winter, mind you.

The Kicks doesn’t tell much of a better story, at least on paper. It makes do with a 1.6L four-cylinder, putting out 125 hp and 115 lb.-ft. of torque. And like the C-HR, that’s hooked up to a CVT. But there’s something peculiar about how the Kicks uses its power: It’s legitimately peppier and more fun than the Toyota.

BH: It’s all about the weight, kid. The Kicks is 280 kilograms lighter than the C-HR, which more than compensates for its lesser horsepower. Not that either vehicle is a rocket, but the Nissan is about 0.7 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than the Toyota. And it too moves smartly in city situations, and with far greater visibility out the windows than the fastback-styled C-HR. Now, it’s not like the Toyota is a porker; much of its greater weight goes into a very solid chassis that feels more substantial than the Kicks’. This, as you noted, allows it to soak up the bumps somewhat more effectively, with less beating up of occupants.

Since I am well outside the intended audience for either vehicle and never yearned for one when I was the age of your average Millennial — indeed, compact crossovers didn’t exist then — I take a more pragmatic approach to the two. I’m going to let you sound off on whether you think the C-HR’s polarizing (to me) styling works. But, from a price and features standpoint, the Kicks is looking mighty good. We’re testing the top trim levels, the Kicks SR ($23,248 as tested, before taxes and PDI) versus $29,315 for the C-HR with the Limited package. That’s a significant savings. More to the point, the Kicks, as we’ve discovered, has better acceleration from a smaller engine, better fuel economy, more passenger room and substantially better cargo capacity (25.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats versus 19.0 for the CH-R). Am I missing something important, like connectivity or safety, or have I pretty much revealed my vote?

NT: To be fair, despite the C-HR’s price tag, you do get more in certain areas. For instance, the interior — despite the borderline ridiculous amount of fingerprint and dust-prone gloss black trim — feels more solid and ergonomically correct. The C-HR does also offer 18-inch wheels and four-wheel disc brakes, compared to the Kicks’ rear-drum setup. It’s still pretty much a wash, even in terms of active safety features: The C-HR offers adaptive cruise control, but the Kicks gives you a 360-degree camera. At least in terms of connectivity, the two are fairly well-matched. The C-HR only offers Apple CarPlay, but mercifully, the Kicks has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Pointless as a front-wheel-drive-only “crossover” may be, especially in Canada, it’s easy to see the merit in both the Kicks and C-HR, but the Nissan takes this one. Based on price and features alone, the Kicks is compelling. The fact that it makes more with less — read: Better performance despite the smaller engine — is the icing on the cake.

BH: I see you declined to comment on the C-HR’s spacey looks. Wimp! Like it or loathe it, you can’t ignore it. And its interior layout is nicer if not roomier. But, yes, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, the Kicks is a better buy, especially for the younger buyer and/or the budget conscious. Still, for my money, the Qashqai and its all-wheel drivetrain would be a better choice for our four seasons.


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