The 2021 Nissan Kicks is a crossover that I like very much. No, not because it’s particularly quick off the line nor all that attractive, but because it’s affordable, easy to live with on a daily basis and loaded with content. It’s also powered by a bomb-proof of an engine, although I’m not sure that CVT will follow along. Anyway, a car like the Kicks proves that some carmakers still believe in cheap, fun small cars. And that feels amazing.
What’s Up With The Bikes?
What am I doing with a pair of Walmart-grade CCM bikes strapped onto the roof of this 2021 Nissan Kicks? Nissan Canada thought it would be fun to offer journalists outdoor activities with the Kicks press unit. We were all given several choices: mountain bikes, a paddle board, some tennis rackets and rollerblades. I chose mountain bikes because I actually mountain bike myself, and I figured getting two free units loaned from Nissan Canada would allow my spouse and I to hit some trails.Except, when I got the car, I was heavily disappointed by the quality of those bikes, let alone their size. I just couldn’t fit on them, and they were so damn flimsy. So I quickly ditched them and left the rack unused.Whatever, you guys aren’t here to read about the bikes, but about the Kicks. It’s a subcompact crossover that I enjoy quite a lot, one that I’m actually driving for the second time since it’s been on sale in 2018. The reason I like this thing is that, contrary to a Toyota C-HR or a Hyundai Venue, the Kicks actually makes a compelling case for front-wheel driven subcompact utility vehicles. It’s both cheap and practical but also cool, fun and decent looking.For 2021, Nissan’s cheapest SUV has was submitted to a mid-cycle refresh. It mostly affects its styling, interior design and amenities, as well as the amount of standard equipment each trim level now offers. The entire front fascia is new, with a redesigned grille and now standard LED headlights. There are brighter colors, new wheels and more variety in the two-tone roof configurations.Power still comes from the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder as before. It’s not strong, with only 125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque on tap (that’s about the same as my MINI Cooper by the way), but it’s reliable as hell and cheap to maintain. What isn’t cheap to maintain is the god-forsaken CVT Nissan bolted onto it. Even after replacing a gazillion of them in Rogues, Muranos, Sentras and Pathfinders, Nissan still insists on cramming a continuously variable transmission in its vehicles.Pricing for a 2021 Nissan Kicks is frankly reasonable, ranging from $22,043 to $27,143 for the top-spec SR Premium model you see here. It adds black wheels, a black roof and “sportier” body accents here and there as well even more standard gear.
When I say the Kicks is fun, I mean that it just works at being an urban daily driver. The handling is actually alright, the brakes are superb considering it was never designed to do hot laps at the Nürburgring, and while that little engine never allows the damn thing to go very fast, it loves to be thrashed, and will eagerly kiss the rev limiter of you let it thanks to “simulated gears”.What I don’t like is the way that CVT chokes all the power, or at least, gives off that impression. Because in reality, a CVT allows a car to be quicker off the line due to a lack of gears. It’s the annoying delay and drony sound of it all that gets you. There’s absolutely no way a CVT can make a car fun to drive. Correction: there’s absolutely no way a CVT that’s not made by Honda can make a car fun to drive.At least, when driven normally – which is what 99.9% of Nissan Kicks buyers will do anyway – the CVT operates fine and it’s not too much in the way of things. What I adore about the Kicks in general is how simple and straight forward everything is though. It’s just one of those easy to live with vehicles that you just get into and drive, and don’t think about having to fix things for a while. It’s even decent on gas, returning steady 7L/100 km averages.There are some cool interior details as well. The facelift brought considerable enhancements to the interior’s overall build quality and fit and finish. It looks and feels much more upscale in there, especially with to the two-tone color scheme and red stitching of my tester. It feels like a baby Nissan Rogue in there. The center console is also all new, with more storage and better ergonomics. It’s now flat, and not set an angle towards the dashboard. This frees up space for storage, but also allows for a conventional armrest to be installed over the center console. The old Kicks only had an armrest on the seat itself.There’s standard Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, as well as Nissan’s Safety Shield driver assist package. I mean, you’re getting stuff like automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic monitoring and blind spot monitoring as standard equipment in a $22,000 Kicks, imagine that.I’m a personal fan of the optional Bose sound system with speakers integrated directly in the headrest. The idea was to mimic a headphone system and give the driver even more of an immersive experience while driving. And it actually works! Normally, you need to pay a car almost twice this price to get fancy audio technology. Yet, here’s Nissan, throwing in one of the smartest audible solutions in a sub-$30,000 vehicle. Rad.Finally, there’s the amount of room you’ll get in such a small package. Sitting out the rear is rather easy, even if you’re tall. Accessing the cabin from the rear doors never feels tight or wrong like in, say, a C-HR. Leg and head clearance is also above average, and total cargo space when the rear seatback is folded flat, is rated at 906 liters, which is…ok, only ok. Fine, so the Kicks isn’t all that practical. A Toyota C-HR will actually do better, but the way the hatch opening is designed, as well as the low loading floor, makes it easy to stuff some junk out the rear.The 2021 Nissan Kicks is one of those no nonsense, cheap to buy and cheap to own utility vehicles that’s actually fun to look at, enjoyable to drive and loaded with neat creature comforts. It answers the following: can we still buy affordable vehicles that don’t feel like a penalty box to drive? Yes we can, and one of them is called Nissan Kicks.
Review of the 2021 Nissan Kicks SR Premium by William Clavey
- Peppy and fun to drive
- Spacious and practical
- Loaded with content
- Could use a bit more power
- CVT kills all the fun
- Cargo space lags behind the competition
7 / 10
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Special thanks: Nissan Canada
Contact the author: [email protected]