Introduced to the American market in 2018 as a replacement for the Versa Note and Juke, the Nissan Kicks is a subcompact entry-level crossover designed as an affordable option in the new car market. Consumers quickly realized that the Kicks packed a ton of value into an affordable package, fully embracing its pint-size charm. Though it was only available in the US for a few years, the Kicks appeared on the global market back in 2016, meaning it was time for a refresh.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks arrives as a facelifted model, keeping all of the details people loved about last year's model while making some noticeable changes. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 122 horsepower remains the same, but Nissan jazzed up the styling with some noticeable improvements on the exterior and some subtle changes in the cabin. Nissan hopes the updated Kicks will help it compete with subcompact rivals like the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Venue, and Jeep Renegade. CarBuzz received an early chance to test drive and review a Nissan Kicks SR for a few days to evaluate its new model year improvements.
Looking at the 2021 Nissan Kicks alongside its predecessor from one year earlier, it's clear that there are a lot of changes, the most obvious of which affect the styling. There's a large new "Double V-motion" grille in front, new wheel designs, new color options, available LED lights, and even some changes to the cabin. Inside, you'll find a new center console, new seven-inch driver information display, and an available eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display. The SV and SR trims also gain disc brakes at the rear for a much-needed improvement in stopping power.
See trim levels and configurations:
1.6L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.6L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.6L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
As far as its appeal as a subcompact car goes, the Nissan Kicks has developed a much sharper aesthetic, partly due to that large front grille that is framed on either side by angular headlights. Vertical side vents make the Kicks look taller than it is, but the available two-tone color schemes can counter that and make the Kicks seem sleeker. At the rear, a faux diffuser and roof spoiler can be seen along with LED taillights. Both the headlights and taillights can feature LEDs optionally, and we enjoy the new connected taillight bar. 16-inch steel wheels are standard while upper trims get stylish 17-inch alloys in different flavors.
The dimensions of the Nissan Kicks in the USA are typical for a crossover in this segment, with length measuring 169.1 inches and a wheelbase of 103.1 inches. Width measures 69.3 inches. The base S version of the Kicks has a height of 63.3 inches while the other two trims measure 63.4 inches in height. Approach, departure, and break-over angles measure 16.6, 28.7, and 18.4 degrees, respectively. Curb weights for the S, SV, and SR trims are rated at 2,682, 2,734, and 2,744 pounds, respectively. Ground clearance on all models measures seven inches on the dot.
The 2021 Kicks is offered with three new shades for the model year: Electric Blue Metallic, Boulder Gray Pearl, and the premium Scarlet Ember Tintcoat. Other available colors include Gun Metallic, Super Black, Fresh Powder, and the other premium offering of Aspen White TriCoat. Three new two-tone offerings are available too: Super Black/Scarlet Ember Tintcoat, Super Black/Electric Blue Metallic, and Super Black/Boulder Gray Pearl. These join existing offerings that mix Super Black with Aspen White TriCoat or Monarch Orange Metallic.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks is exclusively powered by a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder that is mated to a continuously variable transmission powering the front wheels. This power plant develops just 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, so it's not exactly the most spritely vehicle out there and isn't in the habit of pursuing 0 to 60 times. This is the same drivetrain configuration that the 2020 model utilized, but that's not all bad, since it has been proven to be a very economical system. The CVT is also quite smooth and the addition of disc brakes on all but the base trim should make the Kicks a better stopper. Of course, with such low power output, you won't be going very fast when the time comes to slow down. It's not great for overtaking on highways, and it can feel very lethargic at times, but for crawling the city streets or cruising at a constant speed on the freeway, it's decent enough.
The only engine and gearbox combination offered with the 2021 Nissan Kicks sees a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder mated to a CVT. A total of 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque drive the front wheels exclusively with no all-wheel-drive option. This powertrain combination doesn't inspire much excitement, but it motivates the Kicks without sounding like it's straining too much. The engine loves sipping fuel at low rpms, but sounds uneager to get going in a hurry. Passing power on the highway is a bit lacking, but with some planning, the Kicks proves adequate. A sport mode keeps the transmission in a lower ratio, facilitating easier passing maneuvers.
Whereas older Nissan CVT units tend to drone and keep the engine at one rpm position, the transmission in the Kicks pretends to change ratios like a traditional automatic. During normal driving, the Kicks can almost fool drivers into thinking there are cogs in the transmission rather than a pulley system. Under full throttle acceleration, keen drivers will spot the CVT feeling, but since this is a rare situation for Kicks owners, we'll give the transmission a pass for simulating the feel of a conventional automatic.
Since the 2021 Kicks is only a facelifted model, it drives nearly identically to the outgoing model. Owners of the pre-facelift Kicks may note the improved stopping power courtesy of the new rear disc brakes on SV and SR models and some other minor adjustments, though. The Kicks still rides on Nissan's V-Platform, which is also shared with the Versa sedan. This means it misses out on the excellent independent rear suspension found on the larger Sentra with its CMF-C/D platform. The simpler twist beam setup results in bumpier ride comfort and less agile handling, but at the price point, the Kicks is adequate. We never felt like the suspension jarred us on rough roads, which is impressive for an inexpensive vehicle.
With no all-wheel-drive option, the Kicks likely won't shine in snow driving but its light curb weight should keep it from struggling on snow-packed roads. That light curb weight keeps the Kicks feeling spry, though it's tough to enjoy the car's surprisingly nimble handling with the overly assisted steering. The wheel turns with minimal effort, making parking maneuvers straightforward while stripping away the driving enjoyment. Nissan hides a sport mode with an unmarked button on the shifter, but all it does is drop the transmission ratios to provide better engine responsiveness. At its price point, the Kicks delivers a comfortable and satisfying driving experience without any surprises.
According to Nissan, the new Nissan Kicks will return figures of 31/36/33 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. We averaged 31.2 mpg in a few days of driving, mostly around town. Thanks to a 10.8-gallon gas tank, you can expect an average mixed driving range of around 340-350 miles per tank. The Honda HR-V offers similar economy figures, with the EPA quoting figures of 28/34/30 mpg on the same cycles.
At this price point, you can't expect to find a cabin resembling that of an Infiniti. However, it still looks sporty and isn't too cheap in terms of quality either. As standard, the Kicks includes air-conditioning, a six-speaker sound system, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and, on higher trims, a seven-inch driver info display. You have to step up to the SV or SR trims to see some new upholstery designs, but you also gain a larger, eight-inch infotainment display here. Unfortunately, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are optional and only available on the top SR trim.
As with its subcompact competitors, the Kicks features room for five passengers, though the middle occupant in the rear seat may feel cramped. We'd recommend the Kicks as a generous four-seater, with room for an occasional fifth on a shorter journey. Those rear occupants receive 33.4 inches of legroom, which is on-par with rivals. Front seat riders have a much more generous 43.7 inches of space for their legs, plus 40.4 inches of headroom. Rear seat occupants have plenty of headroom as well, with 38.5 inches.
Nissan thankfully eliminated the single seat-mounted armrest design from last year's Kicks, replacing it with a conventional center console unit. We found the old design to feel uncomfortable, making this change a welcome addition.
For an inexpensive car, the Kicks has some seriously cool interior options. While the base S grade is nothing special inside, the SV and SR trims each receive new seat and door trims with more saturated colors for 2021. All three trims feature cloth upholstery while the SR is available with full Prima-Tex seats. Our SR tester included the special Prima-Tex interior with three-tone design and stitching. The seat surrounds come in a light grey color with black inserts and contrast orange stitching. This combination feels premium, and distracts from the few cheap spots in the cabin.
The Kicks offers an impressive 25.3 cubic feet of volume behind the rear seats - enough space for each occupant to bring weekend luggage along for a road trip. Should you need to carry larger items, the rear seats can be folded in a 60/40 split to create a space of 53.1 cubic feet. As with many cars of this size, folding down the rear seats can be a struggle depending on the front seat position. We had to slide the front seats forward from our comfortable driving position to make the seats fold to their nearly-flat position.
In the cabin, each row gets a pair of cupholders, along with drinks recesses in the door pockets. There's also a small glovebox, but you have to upgrade from the base model to get center armrest storage.
As standard, the 2021 Kicks is fitted with keyless entry with push-button start, automatic headlights, heated wing mirrors, cruise control, and rear parking sensors. There's a lot of safety equipment too, with all models boasting forward collision detection with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, rear automatic braking, hill start assist, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. The SV trim adds a seven-inch driver info display, automatic single-zone climate control to this, remote start, a drowsy driver warning, and adaptive cruise control. The top SR model adds a surround-view camera and the availability of options like a heated steering wheel and heated front seats.
The base S grades get a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system while the SV and SR trims both up the screen size to eight inches. It's no graphic powerhouse, but the eight-inch system is easy to navigate and features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to make up for a lack of available built-in navigation. The screen also displays images from the rearview camera fairly crisply. Bluetooth also comes standard along with USB and USB-C inputs up front with up to two USB charging ports in the rear.
Nissan ties the infotainment to a six-speaker audio system on the S and SV grades, while the top SR grade gains access to an optional eight-speaker Bose audio system including a pair of UltraNearfield neodymium speakers in the driver's headrest. This is, by far, the best sound system available in a car at this price point.
Thus far, the 2021 Kicks has been free of recalls since it has only just been launched. However, the mechanically similar 2020 model has proved that there's nothing to worry about, as it too is free of recalls.
Should anything go wrong, Nissan provides a limited warranty for the first three years or 36,000 miles. You also get a powertrain warranty for five years or 36,000 miles, but no complimentary scheduled maintenance is offered.
The NHTSA has tested the 2021 Nissan Kicks and determined that it is worthy of a four-star overall rating out of a possible five, following four-star results in rollover and frontal crash tests. The IIHS has not yet tested the 2021 model, but its evaluation of the 2020 model saw it achieve the best possible score of Good in all areas besides headlights, where the lighting system was deemed Poor on the models equipped with halogens and Acceptable when LEDs are used.
All versions of the 2021 Kicks come with a comprehensive suite of safety features that includes things like forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. You also get rear automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, hill start assist, rear parking sensors, and the obligatory rearview camera. A driver condition monitor, rear door alert, and adaptive cruise control are added on upper trims, while the top-tier model also features a surround-view camera. All models get a slew of 10 airbags that includes rear-seat side airbags and front knee airbags for both occupants.
When shopping in the entry-level subcompact crossover segment, most buyers are used to forgoing creature comforts and luxuries found on depreciated used models and more expensive luxury cars. But the 2021 Nissan Kicks teaches those shoppers that they can have an affordable car with all of the goodies found on more expensive models. Will the Kicks inspire on a backroad? Not really. But it will go from point A to point B while carrying the best stereo we've ever heard at this price point.
There are larger and more powerful options in the subcompact space, such as the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, and Kia Seltos, but none of them comes close to the Kicks' sub-$20,000 starting price. The Hyundai Venue is cheaper, but it's less well-optioned than the Kicks. Buyers looking for style, features, and impressive fuel economy should find a lot to enjoy about the Kicks and the 2021 updates have only made it easier to love.
Nissan's three-strong Kicks lineup kicks off with the base S trim at a starting MSRP a shade under $20k, or $19,500 to be precise. The SV breaches the psychological barrier at a price of $23,100 and the Kick SR starts at $21,940. Prices exclude destination and handling fees of $1,095.
For 2021, three Nissan Kicks models are available: S, SV, and SR. All are powered by a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder developing 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. Only the front wheels are powered and only a CVT automatic is offered.
The base S trim rides on 16-inch steel wheels and features halogen headlights. The fabric upholstery inside covers a six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat with the person sitting shotgun getting a four-way seat. There's a seven-inch display acting as a touch interface for the infotainment system, which plays out to four speakers via an aux cord, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto. Three USB ports are also provided, along with Siri Eyes Free technology. Keyless entry with push-button start is also standard.
Moving up to the SV version grants you 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color door handles and mirrors, automatic climate control, SiriusXM satellite radio, remote start, disc rear brakes, adaptive cruise control, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and a seven-inch driver display. This model also gains silver roof rails and an additional USB-C port.
The top SR trim is the most impressive, boasting LED headlights and fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-lever, dark chrome grille accents, a small roof spoiler, mirror-mounted turn signals, and a surround-view camera. This model also has access to a few options, including an upgraded eight-speaker Bose sound system.
Only the top SR trim has access to any options, and they're all included in the Premium Package. This adds an eight-speaker sound system upgrade, with one of those speakers residing in the driver's headrest, but other additions include a Wi-Fi hotspot, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Prima-Tex seating, and a tonneau cover for a fee of $1,200.
Without full pricing available during this writing, it's tough to precisely pinpoint which Kicks trim level to recommend. Seeing as this is a highly-affordable car with a $19,500 base price, we assume most buyers will want to limit themselves on options as much as possible. Even last year's SR model started just over $21,000, keeping it well in the reasonable spectrum. Nissan has combined the premium and technology packages for this year, and we recommend going for the SR with these options just to get the excellent Bose audio system. All-in, a Kicks SR will struggle to exceed $24,000.
One of the Kicks' competitors comes from within its own family in the form of the Nissan Rogue. It's a pricier alternative with its base price of over $25,000, but that extra money goes towards many things, not least of which is a bigger vehicle that can store as much as 74.1 cubic feet worth of your stuff. You also get a more upmarket interior with the availability of heated seats in both rows, dual- or tri-zone automatic climate control, and a panoramic sunroof. Furthermore, the driver gets an expansive and configurable 12.3-inch driver info display. You can even have a 10-speaker Bose sound system, and with its 2.5-liter four-banger generating 181 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque, it's a little more enjoyable to drive too. If you can afford the additional outlay, we recommend the Rogue.
Korean cars are getting better and better, and in 2021, the Juke has Hyundai's smallest SUV to contend with. It starts at an even lower price point than the Kicks, asking for just $18,750 for the base version. Like the Kicks, only a CVT is available these days, but at least you get alloy wheels on all variants. The 1.6-liter four-pot in the Venue is also more powerful, offering 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque, although these figures are still meager. However, the Venue is smaller, offering just 18.7 cubic feet behind the second row. It also doesn't get blind-spot monitoring or push-button ignition unless you upgrade to higher models. USB ports are also reserved for those who choose the top two trims. On balance, the Venue is a good car, but the Kicks seems more practical and only mildly less powerful.
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