2021 Nissan Kicks first drive review: More for your money

The Nissan kicks it’s an inexpensive vehicle, but it’s not cheap. Updated for 2021, this cute subcompact crossover offers loads of high-end features and plenty of interior space, all for a basement price.

This revamped five-door benefits from more standard technology, some minor interior changes and, perhaps most significantly, improved exterior styling. New wheel designs are offered, plus SV and SR trims get rear disc brakes. At both ends, the Kicks’ bumpers have been reworked and there’s a new much more robust looking grille that does without the cheeky sympathy of the outgoing model. The new face of this vehicle is much tougher than before, more in line with the rest of Nissan’s commercial vehicle range. The high-end SR models are also equipped with high-tech looking multi-reflector LED headlights.

Keeping things interesting, seven exterior paint colors are offered, including three new shades. The Kicks is also available in five two-tone combinations, including Electric Blue with a Super Black roof, which is what you see here. It’s a crisp looking color scheme and I applaud Nissan for offering two-tone paint jobs on its vehicles.

The interior of this crossover is a no-nonsense affair, with a simple dashboard layout. The climate controls are good and simple to use, plus the front and rear seats are supportive and comfortably raised, so you don’t feel like you’ve fallen to the floor. Yes, there is a lot of hard plastic in Kicks, but none have a coarse or brittle appearance. Its fuzzy headliner is about the only internal component that’s shoddy.

The optional Premium package includes attractive vinyl seating surfaces. Not only are they beautiful, but also beautiful, accentuated by stitching in a contrasting color. Aside from that, this package also brings a heated steering wheel and heated front seats to the table, as well as a sophisticated Bose sound system with eight speakers, including some in the driver’s seat headrest. This is a solid offering and I love those headrest mounted sound emitters. They really help provide an immersive listening experience.

2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Despite its affordability, Kicks’s interior is sturdy, cheerful and roomy.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Up front, a little more storage space would be nice as the center console is quite small, but there’s a surprising amount of cargo space with the rear seatbacks up. Fold them down and you get much more space for transporting waste even if the cargo bed is anything but flat.

Despite its small size and affordable price, this Nissan comes standard with all sorts of useful technology, including automatic rear braking, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross traffic warning and even automatic high beam are included at no extra cost. Convenient satellite audio controls on the steering wheel and even Apple CarPlay is Android Auto they are cooked directly in every single variant.

In addition to this standard equipment, my top-trim SR test model comes with some premium features, such as fast up and down front windows, keyless entry with push button start, automatic brake lock and adaptive cruise control. (Unfortunately, Nissan’s excellent ProPilot Assist adaptive cruise with lane centering isn’t offered.) It also has a great 360-degree camera system that’s better than what you get in many much more expensive ones. Toyotas nowadays, and has a roof-mounted grab handle in every seating position of the outboard. The latter element may not seem important, but it’s a nice touch, especially in a low-cost vehicle.

2021 Nissan Kicks SR

It’s not very powerful, but at least this 1.6-liter engine is efficient.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

When it comes to speeds and feeds, the Base S model is equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen display, but the SV and SR variants feature a slightly wider 8-inch. This panel houses a simply adequate infotainment system. Visually, it looks pretty outdated, but it does the job, plus if you’re planning on using CarPlay or Android Auto, it doesn’t matter. Just plug your phone into one of the three standard USB Type A ports (a Type C socket is available on SV and SR models) and don’t look back. The SV and SR models also feature a practical driver information center in the instrument cluster. With a 7-inch screen, it’s easy to read and reconfigure a breeze. The available Premium package mentioned earlier also adds some high-tech goodies, including over-the-air upgrades for the head unit and an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.

Hidden behind the Kicks’ more aggressive grille is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. With such a small displacement and no forced induction, it is, not surprisingly, quite anemic. Power measures 122 while torque comes in at just 114 pound-feet – probably as much as you get in low gear on a Huffy bike. As before, a continuously variable transmission sends these goods exclusively to the front tires since all-wheel drive is not offered.

Relatively smooth and quiet, this engine is outdated anyway. Yes, it does its job, that CVT maximizes its poor output, but it never makes the Kicks feel agile or responsive. Merging and overtaking maneuvers must be planned well in advance – or avoided altogether – as there are few valuable back-up performances. But hey, what this bumpy crossover lacks it more than makes up for in efficiency. The kicks should return 31 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on freeway drives. Expect 33 mpg combined, a figure I have had no trouble matching in real-world testing.

The ride quality of this Nissan is reasonably refined, although don’t expect it to absorb and digest bumps like a Rolls Royce. Impact hardness is low and the suspension eliminates much of the road grit, although travel can be a bit choppy at times, likely due to the short 103.1-inch wheelbase.

2021 Nissan Kicks SR

You could do a lot worse than Nissan Kicks … like buying a Ford EcoSport, for example.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

He kicks into a corner and responds with a little more roll than I am used to these days. It’s not scary, but it feels a bit abrupt at times. Unfortunately the steering is too light and totally synthesized.

But the refreshed kicks are once again great value. The base model S starts at $ 20,595, including $ 1,095 in shipping. This is just a $ 430 increase over a similar 2020 version. The full price will be announced closer to its sale date, which is expected to be in February, although a loaded SR variant is also expected to be extremely affordable, likely reaching the mid 1920s.

Although it is away from the driver’s vehicle, the Nissan Kicks still impresses with its generous standard equipment, available technology and generally pleasant interior. If you are buying a subcompact crossover like the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR o Chevy Trax, check the kicks, it might surprise you.