2021 Nissan Kicks Review – Staying the Course, For Better or Worse


2021 Nissan Kicks SR

1.6-liter four-cylinder (122 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm; 114 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

Continuously-variable automatic, front-wheel drive

31 city / 36 highway / 33 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

7.7 city, 6.6 highway, 7.2 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $21,990 (U.S) / $24,998 (Canada)

As Tested: $25,160 (U.S.) / $25,648 (Canada)

Prices include $1,150 destination charge in the United States and $2,060 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

On paper, the 2021 Nissan Kicks doesn’t seem all that different.

And really, it isn’t – most changes involve the addition of new features, though the exterior is also refreshed, getting a new grille and available LED headlights.

The only real mechanical change is the addition of rear disc brakes for the SV and SR trims.

Yet when Nissan loaned me a Kicks some months back (the snow in some of these pics is a giveaway), I immediately noticed a difference, in terms of ride and handling, between the 2021 model and previous versions I’ve piloted.

The difference was slight but nonetheless noticeable.

Some things stay the same, of course – the Kicks remains powered solely by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. It remains front-wheel drive, with a continuously-variable automatic transmission.

This means the Kicks continues to avoid being a stoplight to stoplight menace, with acceleration that is best described as adequate for commuting. That said, the car does handle with a bit more aplomb than before, and the ride, while a tad firm, is acceptable for most urban and suburban driving.

What’s weird is when I asked Nissan about the difference, the company said no major changes were made. So either tweaks were made that were so minor they’re not worth mentioning publicly, or the tuning of my derriere has changed, making me perceive the Kicks a tad differently. Or the car is simply better than I remember. It’s a mystery.

Either way, the Kicks did feel less out to lunch than before.

It’s still no hot hatch. It’s still not quite as engaging as the Hyundai Venue, which is its closest competitor. I’d still recommend a Kia Soul for someone seeking a boxy compact that offered truly sporting driving along with the utility and practicality that draws buyers to this segment.

But it’s improved enough that some harsh words I’d previously written about the Kicks no longer apply. Or at least should be softened.

The rest of the Kicks’ experience remains mostly the same. The boxy shape lends itself to maximizing headroom upfront, though the raked roofline cuts somewhat into rear headroom. The interior materials, some of which are new, remain a bit downmarket, though not out of place for the price.

What is changed, as mentioned above, is the addition of new standard or available features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, as is a 7-inch touchscreen for infotainment, which adds an inch in the SV and SR trims.

Three USB ports are now available, including a Type-C USB for SV and SR. The wheel designs are new, and so is the center console. Some trim bits and the seats use new materials, and there is a new 7-inch driver-info screen in the gauge cluster to go along with a slew of new colors. Two-tone paint jobs are available.

I drove an SR trim, and SR is the top trim over SV and base S. Standard features included LED headlights, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, LED fog lamps, black roof rails, leather steering wheel, body-color bumper inserts, roof-mounted spoiler, SR-specific trim accents and seat fabric, chrome grille, and a 360-degree camera.

A Premium Package ($1,200) added Bose audio, nicer seating materials, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, alarm, and a tonneau cover, as well as Wi-Fi and over-the-air updates.

With floor mats and cargo-area protector, plus D and D ($1,150), the total as-tested price was $25,160.

That strikes me as a bit pricey, and perhaps it is – I built a similarly-equipped Hyundai Venue Denim online and it cost a few grand less, though the Kicks has better EPA fuel economy ratings at 31/36/33. The Venue has similar power numbers to the Kicks and is listed at 30/33/31.

That sticker price makes the Kicks a mixed bag. The minor changes improve the car without drastically altering it, and the fuel economy numbers will speak to those who want to minimize pain at the pump. But the similarly-equipped Venue, which I’ve found to be a bit better in terms of on-road dynamics, has a lower sticker price and only gives up a few MPGs.

Maybe Nissan needs to give the Kicks a few more changes, particularly ones that will be noticed from behind the wheel. Staying the course probably can’t hurt, but perhaps the Kicks needs a, well, kick to really shine.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC, Nissan]

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