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2021 Nissan Kicks Review


Introduced as a replacement for the funky Nissan Juke for the 2018 model year, the Nissan Kicks has been upgraded for the 2021 model year. The Kicks never quite thrilled 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 122 horsepower under the hood, the Kicks isn’t the best vehicle for long road trips over 4-lane freeways. Despite its fuel-sipping powertrain and just adequate 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. Rear-seat legroom is excellent and the big doors make the Kicks easy to enter and exit.

Ultimately, the Kicks is about value. The 2021 Nissan Kicks S has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $19,500, plus a destination fee of $1,150. The Kicks SV starts at $21,300, while the loaded Kicks SR begins at $21,940, which is where some 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 are standard too. And given the Kicks’ available two-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 2021?

The Kicks gets a somewhat significant styling update for 2021 with more aggressive and upscale sheet metal up front including a deeper “V” shaped grill surrounded by new headlamps—LEDs on some models. And the refresh looks good. In the rear, Nissan spent time honing and modifying the original design with a newly sculpted bumper and a clean-looking black “lighting bridge” that crosses the midline of the tailgate. One easy way to tell distinguish the old from new? There’s a new shark fin antenna on the 2021 Kicks. The new look makes the Kicks appear more expensive than it is. And Nissan has added some fun new colors like Electric Blue to the palette as well as fresh 17-inch wheels on upper trims.

On the inside, the top two trim levels have a new 8-inch infotainment display and all models have standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Plus, the company’s NissanConnect concierge service is now available as is a Wi-Fi hotspot. And the 2021 Kicks has up to four USB ports (three are standard on S grade) for charging devices. Nissan’s team has also upgraded seating materials and colors for the ’21 Kicks. But for those looking for a bit more comfort in their Kicks, SR and SV models comes with a new center console with a softly padded top. The Kicks color studio makes personalizing the car an easy move at the local dealership with 12 different accessories.

This is one little car that packs a lot of safety. It has 10 airbags standard. And Nissan builds its suite of safety tech (SafetyShield 360) into every Kicks. That’s a great deal.

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

How Much?

The 2021 Nissan Kicks starts at $19,500 for the S grade, plus a destination charge of $1,150. A top-of-the-line Kicks SR begins at $21,940.

Fuel Economy

Every Kicks comes with the same powertrain configuration. Under the hood is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder putting out a modest 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. The engine is paired with FWD and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) 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 highway/33 mpg combined. While that’s respectable, the Kicks is pretty slow, taking 9.7 seconds to reach 60 mph.

Standard Features & Options

The 2021 Nissan Kicks is available in three trim levels: S, SV, and SR.

The base Kicks S comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED tail lamps and a 7-inch touchscreen display. This model also includes Nissan’s suite of safety called SafetyShield 360. This grouping of tech is comprised 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. The S models also have 3 USB ports, 16-inch 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, and both stability and traction control.

The SV model really gains some important features like intelligent cruise control, an electronic parking brake with an auto-hold feature, a center console with armrest, Nissan’s concierge service called NissanConnect Services, an extra USB port, and an 8-inch touch screen. SVs do include some performance improvements as well like rear disc brakes and 17-inch alloy wheels. This is likely going to be the best value of the Kicks line.

The top-range SR receives all the goodies from the S and SV as well as LED headlamps and fog lamps, black roof rails, spoiler, and Nissan’s excellent Intelligent Around View Monitor. Opt for the SR’s Premium Package and you’ll gain upgraded heated front seats with Prima-Tex fabrics, a heated steering wheel, a Wi-Fi hotspot, 8-speaker Bose audio system, and a new security system.

Safety

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 ten airbags (front, front-side, side-curtain, knee), anti-lock brakes (four-wheel discs on SV and SR models), stability control, and traction control.

In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, previous Kicks models earned a coveted Top Safety Pick award for its performance in all categories.

Behind the Wheel

With 122 hp, the Nissan Kicks isn’t going to fulfill your sports SUV dreams. It’s not overly powerful but it is fun.  The throttle response is eager, and its CVT (a type of automatic transmission) admirably maximizes the little engine’s potential while mimicking the stepped gear ratios of a traditional automatic transmission, 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 during spirited driving and remained poised through quick, 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 slow steering. The steering’s weighting is also inconsistent— going 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 seven 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 AWD.

Interior quality is also above average for this segment, and interior controls are easy to access and use. And we’re happy that there’s now a proper center armrest with a storage compartment on SV and SR grades.

“A willing and spunky disposition are the main benefits of the Kicks over other small crossover SUVs,” says Executive Editor Brian Moody. Adds Moody: “Power feels adequate for around-town driving and merging onto the highway. Also, the interior is a cut above the competition as it gets an update for 2021. Inside there are interesting textures and color choices with lots of options for personalizing so you won’t see other Kicks on the road that look exactly like yours.  Apple CarPlay, a 7-inch touchscreen, and three USB ports are nice at the sub $25,000 price point too. Ultimately, the 2021 Nissan Kicks is a fun little SUV – think of it as the perfect first new car for someone who wants to stand out from the crowd.”

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 Hyundai Kona — The Kona can’t match the Kicks’ interior space, but from a driving perspective, it’s more engaging and considerably quicker, and it’s one of our favorites in the segment.

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 of them would give you big-time fuel economy, a pleasant driving experience and plenty of interior room.

Autotrader’s Advice

The 2021 Kicks’ updated styling and equipment make the tiny subcompact crossover SUV even more appealing. But the Kicks’ main selling points are safety, 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. The Kicks SV comes with rear disc brakes, an 8-inch touch screen, a comfortable center console and armrest, and intelligent cruise control.  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 Kicks for sale

Ben Stewart
Ben Stewart is an author specializing in automotive testing and technology. He has a unique perspective—as a lifelong 4WD enthusiast Ben has driven just about every production 4X4 on road and off for the last 20 years. But his expertise and experience goes deeper. Ben has had the opportunity to drive and report on a wide variety of vehicles ranging from pre-production fuel cell cars to... Read More about Ben Stewart

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