2021 Nissan Kicks SR Review
Car makers competing in the entry-level market, meaning less than $25,000, are working harder and harder to get some notice as value doesn’t sell as well as big anything does.
We’re a nation that appreciates big, fast, and strong more than petite, nimble, and adequate, but inexpensive. So, what’s an automaker to do? Well, start with a name folks might just remember, like Kicks.
That’s Nissan’s ploy to get you to look when its mini-crossover catches your eye, and it will. While Nissan’s former Juke model caught your eye because it was peculiar looking, the Kicks is downright cute. My tester was a pearly white with gloss black roof, and the two-tone treatment delivers the absolutely right visual appeal.
Kicks looks cute, fun and crossover-y, so at least should be able to register a blip or two on value-oriented shoppers’ radar.
Good for Kicks because it’s a fine entry-level vehicle starting at $20,650 for the S model, including delivery. That’s a bargain, but the bargain pricing continues up to the SV ($22,450) and tested SR ($23,090) models too, so whichever you choose for your first car, or to get that teen to high school or college, is a winner.
All are similar, just the equipment level grows from S to SV to SR, and us oldsters who are spoiled by our current cars would want the SR for a few comfort features, but from a performance standpoint, any of the three trims will suit.
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That’s because they all feature the same 1.6-liter I4 that creates 122 horsepower coupled with an Xtronic CVT automatic. Power is adequate and shifts are smooth. There’s a teensy-weensy button on the console-mounted shift handle to engage a Sport mode, but it’s a bit awkward to get at, especially if it were winter and you were wearing gloves. Many other makes put such a button on the console so it’s easier to see and tap.
If you have need for speed early on you’d want to engage this at a stoplight or just before merging onto the freeway. It boosts power by changing shift points electronically to increase low-end torque. It’s noticeable, but not a major boost.
The fun factor here, beyond the looks, is handling, which is quick and makes this a breeze to toss into tight turns or maneuver in a parking lot. The handling also makes it simple to dodge giant potholes and rough pavement patches.
That’s a benefit because like all small cars and crossover (usually wheelbases less than 105 inches) ride can be a bit jiggly. It’s never severe here and actually seems pretty good on railroad tracks and bigger bumps. On choppy roads though is where you’ll feel the road a bit more than you may wish. Buyers with younger backs may not notice so much as a 60-something.
Likely most folks also will notice a little more road noise here than in a higher priced vehicle, or even value-oriented sedans. The Hyundai Elantra I drove a few weeks back was quieter.
If you’re hoping to add all-wheel drive to your Kicks, well, sorry. AWD is not an option on this crossover, but also isn’t on all mini-crossovers like the similar sized and powered Hyundai Venue. But Venue’s sister, the Kona crossover offers AWD and rides on a longer wheelbase (102.4 in.) than Venue (99.2 in.). So like Kicks, the Kona delivers a bit better ride.
Of course, what all of these offer is efficient performance at a modest cash outlay.
I got 31.5 mpg with this Kicks in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates it at 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. I got 29 mpg in the Venue, which is rated 30 mpg city and 34 highway. Kona, by comparison, is rated 27 city and 33 highway, and I managed 33.1 mpg in a front-drive model.
Inside, the Kicks is roomy for four with oodles of headroom and still plenty of space behind the split rear seat for cargo, or even more if you fold the rear seats down.
The SV and SR upgrade to an 8-inch infotainment screen, which is simple to see and use, and this SR added an optional Premium package for $1,200 that included Prima-Tex seats that are a leatherette type surface. This package also includes two-level heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a security system, plus cargo cover. It’s well worth the price.
I liked Kicks interior which was black over gray with orange stitching in the seats and door panels that add a little kick (sorry) of color. Dash and door tops are hard black textured plastic as you’d expect, but the gray inserts in the doors are soft and leatherette covered. Trim is matte chrome on the doors, steering wheel and shifter. Door releases are chrome.
Black gloss trims the info screen and the console top also features the same gloss treatment. I liked the cup holders here too, which is odd to comment on I know. But they allow you to flip the holder so it will hold a deep or shallow cup. Clever.
Buttons and dials are easy to use for the single climate control system, plus there’s an electric park brake and below the dash is an inside fuel filler release. Push-button start is standard too as is a D-shaped steering wheel, creating additional knee room and giving the car a bit of flair.
Seats are well-shaped, but hard front and rear. That was fine while on short drives, but likely could be tiring on long trips. Good news for the driver, that seat has a pump handle on the side to raise and lower it, a boon to both tall and short drivers.
Other pluses include a good Bose sound system here, part of that premium package, plus sun visors with extenders. Many pricier cars don’t include those anymore. No idea why.
Standard too is Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, a blind-spot monitor, automatic high beams, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The SR also comes with a 360-degree camera, LED head and taillights, leather-wrapped wheel, painted roof rails, dark chrome accents, a small spoiler and smart cruise control that also vibrates the wheel is you wander near the center line.
In short, Kicks ranges from basically $20,000 to $23,000, depending on trim, plus options. The $1,200 premium package on this one left the SR at $24,290. Wow!
For comparisons consider the Venue or Kona mentioned earlier, or Kia’s cousins to those, the Soul and Seltos. One of my favorites, in fact my 2020 Zoomie Car of the Year, is Mazda’s more luxurious feeling and sporty CX-30, and then there’s Toyota’s fine C-HR, also available in a two-tone paint scheme.
Best news of all, there are so many $20,000 to $25,000 crossover types available, plus a host of small high-value sedans that get equally good, if not better, gas mileage.
Overview: 2021 Nissan Kicks SR
Hits: Cute two-tone mini crossover, quick handling, adequate acceleration and good gas mileage. Roomy interior for four, plus good cargo room, heated seats, heated D-shaped wheel, push-button start, visors have extenders, good info screen and Bose sound system. Sound safety items like blind-spot warning, emergency braking and 360-degree camera plus cross-traffic alert.
Misses: No AWD available, ride is a bit jiggly, but not severe, and there’s a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds. Also seats are hard, but well-shaped.
Made In: Mexico
Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 122 hp
Transmission: Xtronic CVT automatic
Weight: 2,744 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.1 in.
Length: 169.1 in.
Cargo: 25-53 cu.ft.
MPG: 31/36, 31.5 (tested)
Base Price: $23,090 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Premium package (Bose audio w/ 8 speakers & amp, Prima-Tex seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, security system, cargo cover), $1,200
Test Vehicle: $24,290
Editor's Note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.