As the smallest and most affordable SUV in Nissan's lineup, the pint-sized 2021 Nissan Kicks trades primarily on its low price point. Even in the subcompact SUV class, where space constraints and tight development budgets have always required compromises, the Kicks feels like a lightweight competitor. On the whole, Nissan's newest products have impressed us with their improved interiors, technology and materials. The 2021 Kicks, however, is a refresh, not a new design.
2021 Nissan Kicks
Like the current model, the refreshed Kicks is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque) matched to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It drives the front wheels only. Unlike some other subcompact SUVs, the Kicks does not offer all-wheel drive.
The seats aren't particularly comfortable, and the driving position will feel unnatural if you're taller than about 5-foot-10. The relatively low dashboard is nice for forward visibility, especially in tight spaces, but you wind up with the gauges and steering wheel feeling quite low relative to the high seat.
The Kicks remains, above all else, affordable. That means you shouldn't expect too much from the interior, which is, in all but the SR trim, drab and plasticky. In the SR, it gets a bit of a punch-up with faux leather.
Perhaps the most meaningful change to the 2021 Kicks has to do with its technology offerings. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is now standard, and the SV and SR trims add a new 8-inch touchscreen. We liked the previous 7-inch system (which is still included on the base S model), but the extra inch in virtual real estate helps the interface feel less cramped. SV and SR trims also gain a new USB-C port and get two USB charge ports for the rear seats.
The Kicks offers a usable trunk with the seats up — certainly more than a match for a routine shopping trip or a weekend getaway. The low load floor and relatively tall trunk opening are both welcome. But once you start folding the seats down, the Kicks can't touch the undisputed subcompact cargo king, the Honda HR-V.
With an EPA-estimated 33 mpg combined, the Kicks offers excellent fuel economy for the subcompact SUV class. Our real-world testing of the pre-refresh model saw an average of 33.4 mpg over the duration of the test, and our best fill was 37.4 mpg. That means not only is the Kicks more economical than competitors on paper, but it can back those numbers up in the real world.
With a more attractive exterior and improved tech options, along with excellent fuel economy, the 2021 Kicks makes a case for itself as a value-oriented subcompact SUV. Unfortunately, it's also achingly slow and not particularly comfortable to sit in for very long.