Behind the Wheel
2021 Nissan Kicks Review: Better than most of its competition, priced right
For the majority of Americans, driving their vehicle isn't a raucous good time. It gets them from Point A to Point B in a fashion that is reasonably comfortable and fuel efficient while fulfilling their cargo and capability needs. That's where the 2021 Nissan Kicks comes in. For the average small SUV buyer, it checks many of their boxes.
For the 2021 model year, Nissan has refreshed the subcompact SUV giving it new looks and options. Perhaps most importantly, the company is giving buyers more without raising the price too much – it starts at just $19,500, just $400 over last year's MSRP.
The SUV's exterior is now more in line with the revised 2021 Nissan Armada, new 2021 Nissan Rogue, and forthcoming Nissan Ariya. It has a deep V-motion design with a "double V-motion" feature that pairs the sweeping chrome piece with piano black underneath. The Kicks continues to sport Nissan's old logo.
Its grille is flanked by new, slim LED headlights with the top-tier Kicks SR getting a multi-reflector versions of the light. The car also has automatic high beams with adjustable sensitivity and timing and a rear windscreen wiper as standard.
A new rear bumper design and taillight meet to give the Kicks a wide-looking booty. All is not well – the body finisher that covers the tailgate release and rearview camera looks like a glued-on afterthought. But truly, that's my only quibble with the exterior.
Nissan offers the Kicks with a host of two-tone paint jobs. It's nice to see the trend continue with this refreshed model. The Kicks SR tester's Aspen White Tricoat/Super Black body/roof combo was worn well, especially when paired with the available 17-inch black alloy wheels.
Nissan gives every Kicks a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated to get 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. This is the same engine that is in the Nissan Versa, delivering the same power figures but with slightly varied gear ratios. As in the Versa, in the front-wheel drive Kicks it is paired with Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive (AWD) is not available.
The Kicks came to visit during a week filled with icy and wet roads. It handled them with aplomb. Don't let the lack of AWD scare you away from the dealership lot.
It also wasn't terrible on gas. Nissan estimates that the Kicks gets 31 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined, making it one of the most fuel-efficient subcompact SUVs you can buy. It has 356 miles of range on a single tank of gas.
Though it's engine isn't large, nor its power figures, Nissan has gotten the formula right with the Kicks delivering a vehicle that can easily and relatively quickly get up to speed without much racket (it has a CVT, and they're naturally noisy under harsh acceleration but there are far more offensive ones out there).
Braking is improved in the Kicks over the previous model year with the addition of better braking equipment.
The interior design of the Kicks remains mostly the same as in previous years but it is filled with higher quality materials than before. The look and feel of the SUV makes it punch above the weight of its price tag in the same way the 2020 Nissan Sentra does.
The Kicks cabin mostly feels spacious for its size. Nissan has made the most of the space with good small item storage, easy-access USB ports up front, and more than one storage option for your smartphone while driving and charging.
Climate controls are easy to find with your fingers while driving. Nissan gave the SR tester a heated steering wheel and heated seats, both of which reacted quickly, a nice addition for buyers in states with a cold winter.
The Nissan continues to have a D-shaped steering wheel, six-way adjustable driver's seat, four-way adjustable front passenger seat, and 60/40 split-folding rear seat as standard. Nissan has given the SUV an electronic parking brake, freeing up valuable center console space.
Kicks has best-in-class front seat legroom though its hip room proportions and center console design make the front seats more compartmentalized than what is ideal for larger and taller drivers. Adults can easily fit in the back seats – not something that is a standard in the subcompact class.
The available tonneau cover provides a good amount of hidden storage, covering about two-thirds of the rear cargo area. The cover is easily lowered and maneuvered.
The base model Kicks S gets a host of standard tech features including a 7.0-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, three USB ports, keyless entry, push-button start, and Easy Fill Tire Alert. Moving up to the Kicks SV adds Nissan Intelligent Key, automatic climate control, a 7.0-inch driver information screen, satellite radio, remote engine start, and a USB-C port. That's a fairly comprehensive list for this class model.
The Kicks SR is the only model available with a package, which makes ordering easy. The Premium Package adds a fantastic Bose Audio system, Prima-Tex-appointed seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, a security system, NissanConnect Services, a Wi-Fi hot spot, the ability to have over-the-air updates, and tonneau cover.
The Nissan Kicks is a subcompact SUV that delivers a lot of bang for its buck, especially with this model year's more premium upgrades. Priced against the competition, it's easy to see why buyers would be looking at it instead of less engaging, less well-equipped counterparts from Honda and Toyota.