Behind the Wheel

2021 Nissan Kicks Review: Better than most of its competition, priced right

The Nissan Kicks has been refreshed for the 2020 model year.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

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.

2021 Nissan Kicks The fresh exterior of the 2021 Nissan Kicks brings it in line with other SUVs in the Nissan family. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

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.

2021 Nissan Kicks The 2021 Nissan Kicks is available in a variety of two-tone paint jobs. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

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).

2021 Nissan Kicks The interior of the 2021 Nissan Kicks is made of higher quality materials than the 2020 version. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

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.

2021 Nissan Kicks The 2021 Nissan Kicks is relatively spacious for its size. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

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.

2021 Nissan Kicks Most adults could fit comfortably the rear seats of the 2021 Nissan Kicks. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

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.

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The 2022 Frontier gets a brand-new face and updated tech.

Nissan

After 16 years on sale in its current form, the Nissan Frontier is a familiar face on our roads. The truck, which is technically old enough to get a driver's license and drive itself, is being totally overhauled for 2022, and the new look is a big departure from the ute we've seen for so many years. Nissan announced that production has started, so we don't have much longer to wait to see it in action for ourselves.

The new truck's 3.8-liter V6 has already been in action powering the 2021 Frontier. It produces a class-leading 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque, and sends its power to either the rear or all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission.


2022 Nissan Frontier Production is underway in Mississippi.Nissan


This is the first new Frontier we've seen in over a decade, so the upgrade in technology is steep over the previous truck. The 2022 Frontier can be optioned with a surround-view camera system with off-road mode that automatically displays terrain around the truck when it's shifted into 4LO. The system displays guidelines and can help the driver navigate tough obstacles on the trail. A host of safety features will be available that includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warnings, high beam assist, and more.

Other than its age, there was nothing particularly wrong with the previous Frontier's interior, but the new truck looks to be considerably more upscale and modern. Various trims come with interesting contrasting color schemes and the truck gets Nissan's excellent Zero Gravity seats as standard. New hydraulic cab mounts should help quell vibrations inside, and traditional hydraulic power steering will provide excellent steering feel and feedback.

Nissan is building the new frontier in its Canton, MS facility, while the truck's engine is being built at the automaker's powertrain plant in Tennessee. We'll start seeing the new model on dealers' lots sometime in late summer 2021, and you can find a first drive review of the truck right here in a few weeks.


2022 Nissan Frontier The new trucks will arrive on dealers' lots later this summer.Nissan

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The Nissan Pathfinder is just at home on the trial as it is on the road.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". The message is about making choices and, how the road taken made all the difference. Often in life and on the road, we have to make one choice. Take one road. No turning back. I thought of this poem on my recent test drive in the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder in the hinterlands of Montana, when I could take two different roads—paved and dirt—and that made all the difference!

Nissan has redesigned and retooled its fifth-generation Pathfinder instilling greater latitude for buyers who want to travel both types of roads and expand their adventure footprint. After seven decades of off-road development, 35 years in the business of selling Pathfinders, and with more than 1.8 million sold in the U.S., this Japanese automaker has moved the needle with a ground-up revision of the previous-gen model.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a capable off-roader.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The full-sized sport utility is available in four trims (S, SV, SL and Platinum) and two- and four-wheel drive versions; Nissan expects that nearly 60 percent of buyers will choose four-wheel drive. The Pathfinder is in a segment that has grown larger each year as more families want a vehicle for around-town, school and playdate runs and for weekend getaways with traction technology that allows travel in the backcountry and good towing capability. Direct competitors are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Ford Explorer.

A day-long drive of approximately 150 miles on tarmac and over a variety of dirt roads and tracks provided the opportunity to assess the Pathfinder's updates. A late-spring snowstorm added slickness to all the road surfaces in the region and allowed the Pathfinder to show off its traction capabilities at both slow and higher speeds and with lane change and emergency-braking maneuvers, when towing. I concentrated my evaluation on the augmented hardware and software designed to enhance the crossover's capabilities for backcountry travel and towing.

What I found most notable over every road surface was the comfortable ride and responsive handling that come from a collection of upgrades—and, in particular, as a result of the following: the gearing on the new nine-speed transmission, with paddle shifters for personal and more precise shifting for sport driving and slowing over rough terrain; the new terrain mode system that's engineered for different driving conditions; the four-wheel drive system that moves torque more quickly to avoid wheel slip; the improved suspension system; and new tires with a larger contact patch and more aggressive tread pattern, among other changes.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Pathfinder provided sure-footed motoring and comfort over uneven surfaces. Its 7.1 inches of ground clearance easily maneuvered over the small obstacles on the trail and hill descent control took the reigns without hesitation for steeper and longer downhills on traction-compromised surfaces.

I was also impressed with the Pathfinder's towing competence and appreciated the standard trailer sway control onboard all trims. It offered notably strong, mannered acceleration from a standing start and excellent straight-line braking without porpoising for either exercise.

The new 2022 Pathfinder brings off-road and towing attributes that are important to families who are seeking to spend time in the backcountry for days trips and longer and for overlanding in terrain that doesn't require a true off-road vehicle with a low range. It's will appeal to buyers who want don't want to have to choose only one road.

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