2021 Nissan Kicks first drive review: More for your money


The Nissan Kicks is an inexpensive vehicle, but it’s not cheap. Updated for 2021, this likable subcompact crossover offers loads of high-end features and plenty of interior space, all at a bargain-basement price. 

This refreshed five-door benefits from more standard technology, some minor interior changes and, perhaps most significantly, enhanced exterior styling. New wheel designs are offered, plus SV and SR trims gain rear disc brakes. At both ends, the Kicks’ bumpers are reworked and there’s a new, much more rugged-looking grille that dispenses with the outgoing model’s cheeky cuteness. This vehicle’s new face is much hardier than before, more in line with the rest of Nissan’s utility-vehicle lineup. Top-shelf SR models also come with high-tech looking multireflector LED headlights.

Keeping things interesting, seven exterior paint colors are offered, including three new hues. The Kicks is also available with five two-tone combinations, including Electric Blue with a Super Black roof, which is what you see here. It’s a sharp-looking color scheme and I applaud Nissan for offering two-tone paintjobs on its vehicles.

This crossover’s interior is a no-nonsense affair, with a straightforward dashboard layout. The climate controls feel good and are simple to operate, plus both the front and rear seats are supportive and comfortably elevated so it doesn’t feel like you’re plopped on the floor. Yes, there’s a lot of hard plastic in the Kicks, but none of it is gross-looking or fragile. Its fuzzy headliner is about the only interior component that’s cheesy.

Gussying things up, the optional Premium Package includes attractive vinyl seating surfaces. Not only do they feel nice, they look good, too, accentuated with contrast-color stitching. Aside from that, this package also brings a heated steering wheel and heated front seats to the table, as well as an upscale Bose sound system with eight speakers, including some in the driver’s seat headrest. This is a solid offering and I love those headrest-mounted sound emitters. They really help provide an immersive listening experience.

Despite its affordability, the Kicks’ interior is sturdy, cheerful and spacious.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Up front, a little more storage space would be nice as the center console is quite small, but there is a surprising amount of cargo room with the rear backrests up. Fold them down and you get a hell of a lot more junk-hauling space even if the load floor is far from flat.

Despite its small dimensions and affordable price, this Nissan comes standard with all kinds of useful technology including rear automatic braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert and even automatic high beams are included at no extra cost as well. Handy satellite audio controls on the steering wheel and even Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are baked right into every single variant.

Beyond that standard equipment, my top-trim SR test model is fitted with some premium features, like express up and down front windows, keyless entry with push-button start, automatic brake hold and adaptive cruise control. (Unfortunately, Nissan’s excellent ProPilot Assist adaptive cruise with lane centering is not offered.) It even has a great 360-degree camera system that’s better than what you get in many much-more-expensive Toyotas these days, and it has one roof-mounted grab handle at each outboard seating position. This last item may not sound important, but it’s a nice touch, especially in a low-cost vehicle.

It’s not very potent, but at least this 1.6-liter engine is efficient.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

As for speeds and feeds, the Base S model comes with a 7-inch touchscreen display, but the SV and SR variants feature a slightly more expansive 8-incher. This panel is home to an infotainment system that’s merely adequate. Visually, it looks pretty outdated, but it gets the job done, plus, if you’re going to use CarPlay or Android Auto, it doesn’t really matter. Just plug your phone into one of the three standard USB type-A ports (a type-C outlet is offered in SV and SR models) and don’t look back. SV and SR models also come with a handy driver-information center in the instrument cluster. With a 7-inch screen, it’s easy to read and child’s play to reconfigure. The available Premium Package mentioned earlier also adds a few high-tech goodies, including over-the-air updates for the head unit and an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.

Nestled behind the Kicks’ more-aggressive grille is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. With such small displacement and no forced induction, it is, not surprisingly, rather anemic. Horsepower measures 122 while torque clocks in at just 114 pound-feet, probably about as much as you get in low gear on a Huffy bike. As before, a continuously variable transmission sends those goods exclusively to the front tires since all-wheel drive is not offered.

Relatively smooth and quiet, this engine is nonetheless overmatched. Yes, it gets the job done, that CVT maximizing its meager output, but never does it make the Kicks feel agile or responsive. Merging and passing maneuvers need to be planned well in advance — or avoided altogether — as there’s precious little performance in reserve. But hey, what this scrappy crossover lacks in outright giddy-up is more than made up for in efficiency. The Kicks should return 31 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on highway drives. Expect 33 mpg combined, a figure I had no trouble matching in real-world testing.

This Nissan’s ride quality is reasonably refined, though don’t expect it to absorb and digest bumps like a Rolls-Royce. Impact harshness is low and the suspension irons out much of the road’s grittiness, though the ride can be a little bit choppy at times, likely because of the short, 103.1-inch wheelbase. 

You could do a lot worse than the Nissan Kicks… like buying a Ford EcoSport, for instance. 

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Toss the Kicks into a corner and it responds with a bit more body roll than I’m used to these days. It’s not frightening, but it does occasionally feel tippy. Unfortunately, the steering is too light and totally synthesized.

But the refreshed Kicks is once again a great value. The base S model starts at $20,595, including $1,095 in delivery fees. That’s an increase of just 430 bucks compared to a similar 2020 version. Full pricing will be announced closer to its on-sale date, which is expected to be in February, though even a loaded-up SR variant should be extremely affordable, likely topping out in the mid-20s.

While far from a driver’s vehicle, the Nissan Kicks still impresses thanks to its generous standard equipment, available tech and generally pleasant interior. If you’re shopping for a subcompact crossover like the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR or Chevy Trax, check out the Kicks, it might just surprise you.


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