Behind the Wheel

2020 Nissan Kicks Review: As competition stiffens, the subcompact SUV puts up a good effort

The Nissan Kicks is the smallest SUV the company sells in the U.S.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Kicks is only in its second model year in the U.S. but the subcompact SUV is already making a sizable impact in the market. It was right on-trend when it finally make it to America after years of use in global markets that are friendlier to small vehicles.

On paper, the model isn't changed from the 2019 model year. It's still a zippy-looking crossover with appointments that mostly don't challenge the norm for the segment. Its design isn't as fun or funky as the Nissan Juke, but it tries to stay youthful.

2020 Nissan Kicks The appearance of the Kicks is playful. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2020 Kicks has a 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve 4- cylinder engine rated at 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque powering it. It's paired with a continuously variable transmission. This is the same powertrain that is in the 2020 Nissan Versa. There, it's competent and confident at moderate speed, but not quick. It performs similarly in the Kicks in that respect. The two models are about the same weight and often used in the same urban environment.

Nissan only sells the Kicks with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is not available.

Some competition has more, while others have less horsepower and torque. Some are better off the line (Hyundai Kona) while others come standard with all-wheel drive (Subaru Crosstrek).

With the competition in its segment strengthening, and the upgrades present in the recently redesigned Nissan Sentra, its hard to drive the Kicks without being a bit disappointed by its appointments, which is unusual for a Nissan. For its starting price, the model is reasonably well appointed, but getting into the top tier trim, which presses $22,000 in both models, the Kicks falls short.

2020 Nissan Kicks The interior of the Kicks features numerous hard elements that make the car feel interior to the competition.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Kicks comes standard features with a 7.0-inch infotainment touch screen that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.It also has Nissan's suite of safety and driver assistance technology called Nissan Safety Shield 360, and an above average amount of cargo capacity.

However, there are plenty of hard surfaces and places where Nissan looks like they took shortcuts with the design. This is a similar problem to what the Leaf interior has going on.

Not only is it not as aesthetically well-appointed as the competition, its cabin allows a fair amount of road and CVT noise to reach passengers and seats are uncomfortable for anything other than a short trip. The Hyundai Venue has seats that are comfortable for all-day driving and an infotainment system that proves more responsive.

The Kona, Venue, and Crosstrek prove worthy competition for the model. The Sentra features the next stage of Nissan design, delivering even more bang for the buck than before. The Kick's biggest asset is that trend of buying a sedan is waning. Still, the Kicks is primed for an upgrade.

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The Bronze Edition model builds on the XLE trim.

Toyota

The Toyota Highlander entered its fourth generation for the 2020 model year, which brought sleek style, updated tech, and a premium-look interior. A new XSE trim joined the lineup for 2021, and for 2022, Toyota is adding a new hybrid-only Bronze Edition trim.

2022 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition The Bronze Edition adds useful features, such as a hands-free power liftgate.toyota

The new Bronze Edition Highlander builds on the XLE trim with:

  • Rain-sensing wipers
  • Digital rearview mirror
  • Ambient interior lighting
  • Memory driver's seat with 10-way power adjustments
  • Hands-free power liftgate

Toyota notes that the Bronze Edition previews features that will show up with the greater 2022 Highlander release. Among them are the new Wind Chill Pearl color, which replaces Blizzard Pearl from the previous model, and height/tilt passenger seat adjustments.

2022 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition The Highlander is a supremely comfortable SUV with room for the family.Toyota

The Highlander carries on into 2022 with a standard 3.5-liter V6 that makes 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. A Highlander Hybrid is available, which mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. Combined system output is 243 horsepower. With the V6 on board, the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

2022 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition The Bronze Edition is available for Highlander Hybrid models.Toyota

All 2022 Highlander models get Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, road sign assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure alerts, lane tracing assist, a sway warning system, and automatic high beams. Those features and the Highlander's excellent crash testing scores were good enough for the SUV to earn a Top Safety Pick + designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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Buying guide

How to buy a modified car: Three tips

This is a clean modified truck, but they don't all end up this way.

Bring a Trailer

Modified cars are a mixed bag. Sometimes, they're incredibly well built and better than the original, but too many times they're only partially finished or end up being rushed as their owners get late-project anxiety. Whatever the case, buying a modified car can be a stressful process if you haven't done your homework ahead of time. The good news is that you can get a good deal on a reasonably well sorted project or modified car, but you'll need to be careful. Looking at used Lexus LXs earlier today, it became clear that there are as many modified vehicles for sale as there are clean examples.

This LX got me thinking about the breakdown between buying a rig and building one. The modifications made by this Lexus' seller are almost exactly what I would do if I were building a light overlanding rig. What could go wrong? I'm still on the fence about the Lexus, but the three topics below will help you make the right decision on buying a modified car.

2004 Lexus LX 470 Even if the mods are well done, you'll want to have the vehicle inspected before you buy.Bring a Trailer

Understand your personal taste

I mentioned the LX470 and how the owner's updates were pretty close to what I'd do with the truck. That's an exception to the rule, because 90 percent of the time I walking away from a sales listing because of modifications, rather than the other way around. If you're hoping to find a tastefully modified car that matches your exact tastes, you could be waiting a while. If you're hoping to sell a modified car, the same is true in reverse. Finding a buyer for your extremely personalized project car may not be the easiest thing you've ever done.

2004 Lexus LX 470 It's a good idea to seek out vehicles in solid shape, regardless of mods.Bring a Trailer

Be aware of condition and quality

This Lexus looks to be well maintained and in good shape. It also doesn't hurt that the LX is one of the most reliable vehicles built by one of the world's most quality-conscious automakers. Even so, it's hard to know what you're getting with this, or any other, modified vehicle. There's a little rust in this image, but the lift kit, wheels, and bumper mods all look good. However, even if the truck looked brand-new, you'd want to get a pre-purchase inspection. An independent mechanic can tell you if there are potential issues that are unrelated to mods, and you'll want to be sure that any modifications are installed properly.

2004 Lexus LX 470 Some mods are more useful than others.Bring a Trailer

Keep an eye on the price

Most people are reasonable when it comes to selling their modified cars, but there are hundreds of "I know what I got" memes on the internet for a reason. Some sellers want to recover every penny of the money they spent customizing their cars. They're convinced that the mods drastically increased the car's value and can't understand why the customized car isn't as attractive to you as it is to them. Tread lightly and be careful not to insult the owner, but it's your job to work toward a reasonable, fair price.

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