Like the Serena E-Power, the Kicks has a drivetrain that’s totally unlike its competitors. The E-Power hybrid system sees the engine act as a generator, which charges the battery, which powers the electric motor that actually moves the car. Again, for the explanation on the pluses and minuses of this approach, see our Serena review.
Tickle the power button and nothing happens besides the display lighting up to show the car is ready to go. Snick the stubby little shifter into D and the Kicks silently sweeps forward, at least if there’s enough juice in the battery. Like all hybrids, it does low speed work on electrons, as far as possible.
There’s an EV button near the shifter, which tells the car to use as much of the small 1.57kWh battery as it can, but other than that you can’t control how the system juggles its power unlike a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) like the BMW X3 xDrive30e. Like the Serena, the three-cylinder engine kicks in whenever the charge drops too low – or the load your right foot demands is too high.
There are three driving modes: Eco, S, and normal. Normal lets you drive normally, using the brakes and gas like any other car, but Eco and S use the EV-style one-pedal way, with heavier regenerative braking so you only pop a foot on the brake pedal when actually stopped.
With 129hp and 260Nm from the motor, which you can deploy almost instantly, the Kicks delivers an interesting shock to those inured to the slow, steady progress of gasoline engines with CVTs. Put it in ‘S’ mode and stomp the gas pedal, and it leaps forward just like an EV, allowing you to get the drop on gasoline powered cars. More evidence is in the fact that its 0-100km/h time of just under 10 seconds is on par with the more powerful Kia Seltos.
It also displays neat, sprightly handling that pairs well with its electrified pace, zipping around corners with ease, though like the Serena E-Power it’s not particularly adroit at high speed – but if you’re driving this car at 130+km/h you should probably question your life choices and then your car choices.
The Kicks isn’t a particularly refined car, either. The 17-inch wheels look good but also translate into a busy ride – the now familiar ‘SUV jiggle’ we call it – where you feel most of the small bumps in the road, but big ones are thankfully well-absorbed. While it’s decently quiet – especially in EV mode – when the triple-cylinder engine kicks (which can be at any time and usually for short periods less than a minute) in it is obvious, and sometimes when in a hurry to build up a charge it can get quite thrummy.
But interestingly, it does feel a little quieter than the Serena, with its big body panels and more tendency to in-cabin vibrations.