Even with a successful restyle this year, it's hard to get too excited about the 2021 Nissan Kicks. It's a humble tall hatchback marketed as a crossover with 122-horsepower, a CVT and obligatory front-wheel drive. If it hits 60 mph in less than 10 seconds, you were definitely going downhill.
But dang it if the little Kicks isn't a terrific value. At most it just crosses $25,000, but there's very little spread between that ceiling and the $20,650 base model floor. In fact, the SV and SR provide so much extra stuff for so little money, you'd be a little nuts to go with the base car. But even if you did, you'd still find great value in the shockingly spacious cargo area, adult-friendly back seat, abundant standard safety content, excellent visibility and class-besting fuel economy. The latter would be the upside to that glacial acceleration, and honestly, Nissan's engineers have done a good job to ensure the Kicks doesn't feel that slow around town. So although there's not necessarily a lot to get excited about, you can definitely be happy in knowing you've made a smart purchase.
What's new for 2021?
The Kicks gets many worthwhile updates and additions. Its significant styling refresh includes an enlarged grille surrounded by prominent black trim (it no longer looks like it just ate something sour) and the taillights have been connected with a matching reflective piece across the liftgate. The interior sees a new center console with improved storage and a proper armrest, while the SR gets the option of a new three-tone color scheme you can see below. The standard infotainment system is now 7 inches and runs both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the upgrade system for the SV and SR is an 8-inch screen. Those same trims also now get adaptive cruise control. There are also mechanical upgrades: the steering ratio has thankfully been quickened from the rather truck-like original, while the SV and SR now get rear disc brakes and an auto brake hold – drums remain on the base S.
What are the Kicks interior and in-car technology like?
The Kicks provides a surprisingly premium environment for its price point. Although there's no shortage of hard plastic about, on the door sills in particular, the areas you prominently see and touch are of a relatively higher quality. Even the base trims come with nifty quilted cloth upholstery and a nicely contoured flat-bottomed steering wheel. That gets wrapped in leather in the SR trim level (pictured above), which also gets orange-accented cloth upholstery or the snazzy "Prima-Tex" simulated leather upholstery in gray and black with orange stitching. We very much appreciate the redesigned center console for 2021 on the SV and SR, which not only adds an armrest but nifty dual-level cupholders.
The buttons and knobs throughout move and click in a pleasing way, while the SV and SR trims get a large, configurable display in the instrument panel. The standard 7-inch touchscreen is perfectly straightforward to use, but the SV and SR's new 8-inch unit is certainly an upgrade. It's simple yet colorful and modern in appearance. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the SV and SR along with satellite radio. The SR trim can also be equipped with an optional Bose sound system that adds speakers inside the driver's headrest (no soup for you, Mr. Passenger).
Pictures of the SV interior are below.
How big is the Kicks?
On the outside, the Kicks measures up to being one of the longer subcompact SUVs — it's pretty close to the Honda HR-V. Notable competitors like the Kia Soul and Hyundai Kona don't take up as much space, and despite the two resembling each other, the Kicks is considerably larger than the Hyundai Venue. That said, we're talking a difference of inches here. The Kicks is still far smaller than Nissan's Rogue and other compact SUVs.
Despite this, the Kicks manages to better some of those compact SUVs in terms of cargo capacity, and no other subcompact model, aside from maybe the HR-V, comes close to its stuff-carrying potential. Its cargo area is deep, wide and boxy, allowing us to stuff a surprising amount of luggage into the back. Passenger space is also generous for this segment thanks to tall-mounted seats that provide ample, chair-like leg support (basically, your legs aren't squished despite the seats being fairly close together). The bubble-like greenhouse also affords excellent headroom and visibility.
What are the Kicks' fuel economy and performance specs?
This is going to be simple. Every 2021 Kicks comes with the exact same powertrain: a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated inline-four that sends 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels only through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is not available. Expect a 0-60-mph time just under 10 seconds, which is about as slow as it gets for cars sold in the United States. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 31 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined – that's at least 3 mpg combined better than most competitors.
What's the Kicks like to drive?
If you need to merge onto a fast-moving highway, you're going to need quite the gap, as the Kicks' 122 horses run out of steam quickly. Full-throttle acceleration from a stop? Yep, it's going to feel gutless. However, Nissan's engineers adeptly tuned the throttle and CVT to mask this power deficit when driving sedately around town — you know, exactly how the vast majority of dawdling drivers will. It honestly and quite surprisingly doesn't feel that slow, nor does the CVT constantly make you wish for a manual to better wring out the thimbleful of oomph that's there. On the contrary, the CVT does a bang-up job. It simulates gears to provide a more natural driving feel and avoid the interminable CVT mooing, but as it's still a CVT, it can still lock onto an ideal rpm to maximize power and fuel economy. This was demonstrated on a gradual grade where a traditional transmission would be forced into either a too-high or too-low gear, resulting in either a bogging or screaming engine. The Kicks, by contrast, just smartly chugged along.
From a powertrain perspective, then, the Kicks is better than you'd imagine. A stout structure and capable suspension tuning also yield sufficient poise when thrown into corners. There's a fair bit of body roll, but that's to be expected for a tall, narrow hatchback with a couple extra inches of ground clearance. We're also pleased to report that Nissan improved the steering. A quicker ratio (14.7:1 versus the old, noticeably slow 16.8) and fewer turns lock-to-lock (2.64 versus 3.08) make a big difference. The Kicks no longer feels like someone was trying to tune it to be overly SUV-like, and although we can't say the steering is now a stand-out positive element, it's no longer a head-scratching detriment.
When it comes to driving comfort, its short wheelbase is ever present on highway expansion joints and frost heaves, yet it’s never jarringly harsh. The suspension tuning seems best fitted to rough city streets where the Kicks is surprisingly compliant and comfy. Poor pavement is shrugged off well for such a small car, and that’s as it should be considering most Kicks will never have their road holding and handling abilities exercised on the regular.
What other Nissan Kicks reviews can I read?
This details all the changes made for 2021 and how they improved the Kicks. This also represents our most comprehensive impressions of how the updated car drives.
We discover that the Kicks has a shockingly large cargo area. It has tons of space for weekend getaways despite the small exterior and low price.
Comparing the engine specs and dimensions of the Kicks versus other subcompact crossovers. The Kicks has been updated since this was published, but the specs presented remain unchanged.
How much is the 2021 Nissan Kicks price and what features are available?
The base Kicks S starts at $20,650, including the $1,150 destination charge, and comes standard with drum brakes, 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, a 7-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, USB ports and a full supply of driver assistance tech features (see Safety section below).
Considering all the worthwhile content you get for not that much more, we wouldn't bother with the base car, and instead would choose between the $22,450 SV or $23,090 SR. Key upgrades on both include 17-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, auto brake hold, heated mirrors, upgraded exterior trim, roof rack mounting points, the new-for-'21 center console, adaptive cruise control, a driver inattention warning system, proximity entry and push-button start, remote ignition, automatic climate control, a 7-inch color gauge display (replaces the tach), an 8-inch touchscreen and satellite radio. That's A LOT of stuff for $1,800.
The SR differs with LED headlights and fog lights, different exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a surround-view parking camera, and the option of the Premium package, which adds Prima-Tex simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, a cargo cover, a security system and an eight-speaker Bose Audio system (with driver headrest speaker). Again, that's pretty good value for an extra $640.
You can find more about Kicks features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog.
What are the Kicks' safety ratings and driver assistance features?
Every 2021 Nissan Kicks includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, forward and reverse automatic braking (the latter is a rare feature), lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning. Adaptive cruise control is included on the SV and SR. You also get rear disc brakes with those trim levels versus drums.
In government crash testing, the Kicks received four out of five stars for overall and frontal crash protection. It got five stars for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best-possible scores in every crash test.
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