Introduced as a replacement for the funky Nissan Juke, the 2020 Nissan Kicks doesn’t quite thrill in the way its predecessor did. Unlike the Juke, the Kicks doesn’t have a turbocharged engine nor does it offer the option of all-wheel drive, but it is a fun commuter SUV that should appeal to people living in tight urban environments. With only 125 horsepower under the hood, the Kicks isn’t the best vehicle for long road trips over 4-lane freeways. Despite its underwhelming powertrain and paltry acceleration, though, the Kicks is actually somewhat pleasant to drive, and it achieves a best-in-segment 33 miles per gallon in combined driving. Then there’s its interior space, which not only dwarfs that of the Juke but nearly everything else in the subcompact crossover segment.
Ultimately, the Kicks is about value. Even a fully loaded SR model barely crosses the $24,000 mark, which is about where most competitors start. Equipment is generous, too, with active safety tech like automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and automatic high beams standard on every Kicks. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto join on the midgrade SV trim. And given the Kicks’ available 2-tone paint schemes and handsome interior, most buyers should find it aesthetically pleasing, too. Altogether, the Kicks might never overwhelm, but it’s a lot of car for a very reasonable price, making it a worthy contender in the red-hot compact SUV segment.
What’s New for 2020?
Other than the addition of Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 suite of active safety features as standard, the 2020 Kicks sees no major changes. See the 2020 Nissan Kicks models for sale
What We Like
- Huge cargo area for a car its size
- Lots of equipment for a low price
- High seating position with good visibility
- Excellent fuel economy
What We Don’t
- Slow and unusual steering
- Highway on-ramps are not its forte
- Front-wheel-drive-only, no AWD option
Every Kicks comes with the same powertrain configuration. Under the hood is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder putting out a modest 125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque. The engine is paired with FWD and a continuously variable transmission that mimics the stepped gear ratios of a traditional automatic transmission while providing superior fuel economy. Fuel economy comes in at 31 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/33 mpg combined. While that’s respectable, the Kicks is pretty slow, taking 9.7 seconds to go from 0-to-60 mph.
Standard Features & Options
The 2020 Nissan Kicks is available in three trim levels: S, SV and SR. The price jump between trims is negligible, and there’s only one option package, making your selection rather easy. All prices shown include Nissan’s mandatory destination and handling fee, which is a hefty $1,095.
The base Kicks S trim ($19,535) comes standard with 16-in steel wheels, roof rails, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding back seat, Bluetooth connectivity, a 7-in touchscreen, three USB ports and a 6-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and a media player interface. For 2020, even the base S trim comes with Nissan’s suite of active safety tech, which the company refers to as Safety Shield 360. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane-departure warning, radar-based blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high beams.
The SV trim ($21,595) adds 17-in alloy wheels, heated body-colored mirrors, proximity entry and push-button start, rear door alert, automatic climate control, a color digital instrument display, a cargo cover, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite radio.
The range-topping SR trim ($22,215) gains a special exterior trim, a rear spoiler, LED headlights, fog lights, surround-view parking cameras, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and simulated leather dash trim. Optional only on the SR is the $1,000 SR Premium package, which includes heated front seats, Prima-Tex simulated leather upholstery, a security system and an 8-speaker Bose sound system.
Every Kicks comes standard with Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 suite of active safety features, which consists of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane-departure warning, radar-based blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high beams. Other safety features include seven airbags (front, front-side, side-curtain, driver’s-knee), anti-lock brakes (front disc, rear drum), stability control and traction control.
In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Kicks earned a coveted Top Safety Pick award for its performance in all categories.
Behind the Wheel
With only 125 hp, the 2020 Nissan Kicks has one of the lowest engine outputs of any car on sale, let alone subcompact crossovers. As a result, you’ll need to forcefully lay into the accelerator when merging onto a highway, and even then you’d better make sure there’s a pretty large gap between you and the closest vehicle coming up from behind.
That said, the Kicks does an impressive job disguising its power deficit around town. The throttle response is eager, and its CVT admirably maximizes the little engine’s potential while mimicking the stepped gear ratios of a traditional automatic, avoiding the irritating drone CVTs are notorious for. We were also impressed with the CVT’s performance on a mild grade, where it perfectly held the engine at a just-right rpm for the situation. A traditional automatic probably would’ve inconveniently upshifted for fuel economy or been forced to downshift into too low a gear.
The Kicks’ chassis and suspension are also ably tuned. On our mountain road test, the Kicks maintained its composure through mid-corner bumps and remained poised through successive corners. Unfortunately, the steering is curiously slow. While this is a detriment for overall driver engagement, it’s especially notable when puttering around town or parking — scenarios in which a quicker steering ratio is beneficial. It feels as though Nissan wanted the Kicks to feel more SUV-like, so Nissan gave it a truck’s steering ratio (16.8 versus most competitors in the 13s). The steering’s weighting also inconsistently goes from heavy assistance to barely any when maneuvering at low speeds. Strangely, you never quite know what you’re going to get.
The Kicks’ cabin is more agreeable. The cargo area is legitimately huge, besting all subcompact crossovers behind the back seat. Only the Honda HR-V is bigger with the rear seats folded away, but just barely. The back seat also affords a generous amount of legroom for the segment, but that’s largely because of the high-mounted seat — the gap to the front seats isn’t large enough for rear-facing child seats to fit easily. The front seats are also mounted quite high, which, in conjunction with the elevated ride height — a decent 7 inches of ground clearance — and tall greenhouse, makes for a vaguely SUV-like feel behind the wheel, despite the fact that the Kicks isn’t available with FWD.
Interior quality is also above average for this segment, and interior controls are easy to access and use. We do wish that there was a proper center armrest with a storage compartment, though. Not only could the Kicks use a bit more interior storage, the van-like driver’s armrest leaves the passenger’s arm literally hanging. Door armrests are also positioned too far forward.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Honda HR-V — If you like the Kicks’ combination of maximum interior space in a minimal exterior package, the HR-V is your best alternative. Its available AWD system gives it wider appeal.
2020 Mazda CX-30 — Heavily based on the Mazda3, the all-new CX-30 is one of the more upscale subcompact SUVs on sale today. Attractive styling, a potent engine and a great interior are among the CX-30’s main selling points.
Used Kia Niro — Though you could consider a new Niro, the hybrid crossover would be pricier than the Kicks. Still, there are plenty of Niros available on the used market. Any one would give you big-time fuel economy, a pleasant driving experience and plenty of interior room.
The Kicks’ main selling points are value and usable cargo space. Given the affordability of all three trim levels, this is one vehicle where we’d recommend opting for one of the two upper trim levels. For just $2,000 over the cost of the base model, the Kicks SV comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a cargo cover, automatic climate control, push-button start and more, while the top-spec SR adds LED lighting, a surround-view camera and additional styling elements for just another $1,000. No matter how you option it, the Kicks comes in well below the cost of most comparably equipped competitors in the subcompact SUV segment, so it’s really hard to go wrong from a value perspective. Find a Nissan Altima for sale