Manila to Albay on One Tank of Gas with Plenty Left to Spare: Driving the 2023 Nissan Kicks
When Nissan’s Philippines representatives send out an invitation to go on a drive, you don’t quite know what to expect. First, they turned Siquijor into a playground; then they organized a trip up north to Ilocos Norte to show off the all-new Navara; and then they had this idea of going on an inter-island drive from Manila to Boracay via Batangas and Mindoro Island that took over half a day.
The drives are always long, scenic, and exciting, but the messaging is clear: Nissan is extremely confident about its lineup of vehicles you can take them pretty much anywhere.
It was no different with this latest trip: a 500-plus-kilometer adventure on one full tank of gas on the all-new Nissan Kicks e-Power. Instead of a regular car launch, the Japanese automotive giant let real people get behind the wheel of its latest model to find out just how it performs not just on regular road conditions, but in a grueling 15-hour drive.
Introducing the 2023 Nissan Kicks
But first: what exactly is the Nissan Kicks? We already wrote about it when the brand announced pricing last week, but the Kicks is essentially a technologically advanced subcompact crossover: it uses its proprietary e-Power technology that combines a 1.2L DOHC 12-valve, three-cylinder engine with a fully electric motor that can churn out 136ps of power and 280 Nm of torque. The gas engine is there only to charge the battery that powers the electric motor, so, one can say that the Kicks is essentially an electric vehicle (EV) that charges itself and does not need a plug-in.
While some would call the Kicks a hybrid—and it is, in the sense that it uses both a gas engine and an electric motor—Nissan itself does not use the term and prefers its own “e-Power” designation.
Regardless of semantics, the Kicks is revolutionary in that it’s the first of its kind from the brand introduced in the Philippine market. Nissan, of course, had already introduced the fully electric Leaf here in the country in 2021. But with a far more consumer-friendly technology that addresses the number one consideration for potential buyers of EVs—range anxiety—the Nissan Kicks looks to be much more popular than the Leaf and gives Nissan’s campaign towards electrification a massive push.
Driving to Bicol
Kick-off for the Kicks drive was at a gas station along SLEX at 3:30 a.m. Participants were told to make sure their gas tanks were full before heading out. It was going to be a straight-up drive with stops just for breakfast and lunch (and perhaps the occasional bathroom breaks) all the way to a resort in the province of Albay in the Bicol region.
The interiors couldn’t have been better for someone on an extremely long drive. The seats were comfortable and the steering wheel and much of the interior surfaces were encased in black leather trims in soft touch material. There was an eight-inch infotainment system that supported Apple Carplay and Android Auto (wired though) and a digital monitor on the driver’s side with various assist features.
One highlight about the Kicks is its one-pedal drive feature. Also present in the Leaf, e-Pedal Step allows one to drive with just the accelerator pedal as the car gently decelerates when you lift your foot off it. The car also charges the battery each time you decelerate—this is called regenerative braking. Of course, there’s still a brake pedal there for when you need to go on a complete stop fast.
After a quick stop at a restaurant somewhere in Quezon province, I slid into the passenger seat for a power nap. As a vehicle that doesn’t have a traditional internal combustion engine, the Kicks is much quieter compared to others in its class. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure it was already on if all I had to gauge it on is the noise from the engine, which was practically nonexistent. (We still had our kick-ass drive playlist softly blaring though).
Heading into the steep hills and wide-open stretches as we approached the Bicol region, the Kicks really made an impression on me. We were part of a convoy and, as such, had to do our best to follow the cars in front of us and not get left behind. Flooring the accelerator produced power and speed that was enough to overtake quickly and safely, as well as easily conquer the lonely zigzag mountain pathways.
Guided by our lead car, we were instructed to shift to “B” from the standard “D” on downhill roads as this would help recharge the battery even more quickly.
Nissan Philippines President Juan Manuel Hoyos with the 2023 Nissan Kicks e-Power
A gateway to EVs
I had never before driven to the Bicol region before, but for years I had been hearing of numerous vehicular accidents along these roads, which led to me getting these irrational fears that it was going to be scary and difficult. It certainly isn’t an easy drive, but perhaps having the Kicks helped make it bearable, and, dare I say it, even fun. (It helped that my carmate Mika was a lot of fun herself and never ran out of stories to tell).
The last stretch to get to our destination was 20 kilometers of winding roads that cut through a mountain. It was already dark and we were exhausted, but it was a relatively easy drive and, by that time, I felt like I had been driving the Kicks all my life. Responsive, agile, and extremely fuel-efficient—we still had a range of about 180 kilometers in the tank as we pulled into Misibis Bay Resort—my verdict on the Kicks is this: if you’re considering the big shift to EVs, this is the gateway car to get. There’s no better advertisement for a car than driving it yourself and realizing that it performs exactly as advertised.
I cornered Nissan Philippines President Juan Manuel Hoyos at dinner the next evening to ask how important the Kicks is to the brand’s lineup of vehicles in the country.
“This is very important because this is the first car that we have with one of our key technologies worldwide, that is e-Power,” he told me. “Today, the technology is already proven in Japan. It has sold over half a million units already. About 36 percent of our sales in Japan already has e-Power.
“It’s also important because our commitment in all the key markets for 2023 is that 40 percent of our sales will come from our electrified products,” he added. “We know that electrification is…not all the countries will be at the same stage. We understand that there is still range anxiety and concern about charging stations, but we know that will happen in the Philippines. For us, e-Power is a very good proposal for the Philippines.”
I had to ask about sales targets for the country, but just like his predecessor Atsushi Najima, Hoyos says it’s not just about how many units they sell.
“We don't measure in terms of sales; what we do measure is how people are accepting the technology,” he said.
Of course, this is just half of the story as all the participants had to make the journey back to Manila a day later. But I’m back safe and sound at home writing this piece so you can just imagine how that drive went.
The 2023 Nissan Kicks starts at P1.209 million for the EL e-Power AT; P1.309 million for the VE e-Power AT; and P1.509 million for the VL e-Power AT. For more information, visit their site.