When Nissan introduced their Kicks model back in 2018, my thoughts were that this is something that people might want. Officially it replaced the Nissan Juke, a highly polarizing design, but it also pretty much replaced the Nissan Versa hatchback in Nissan’s lineup. Most thought the Kicks to be a way to garner more profit over the Versa but didn’t account for the fact that it was much more affordable than the Juke, partly due to using the Versa’s running gear and not offering AWD, a bit of a gamble in the segment.
Three years later, the Kicks has had a mid-cycle refresh and offers even more content than before along with some tweaks to keep it relevant in the market. While the Kicks itself starts at $19,550 plus an $1,150 destination charge for the basic S trim, stepping up to the SV or the SR adds surprisingly little to the tab, it’s a tight spread across the range. Nissan offered to lend us a top of the line SR with a whole slew of optional extras last week and as their smallest SUV it made quite the counterpoint to the Armada, their largest SUV, that we had the week before.
The Kicks is heavily based on the Versa sedan which was also significantly revised a few years back, in fact I had the opportunity to try one and found it quite likable. At the time I basically concluded that it’s hardly the penalty box that it seemed in prior generations subsequent to the first hatchback Versa that was generally appreciated mostly for its space utilization. It also seemed a promising indicator for the new direction that Nissan was perhaps starting to head in.
Of course the Kicks looks like a small SUV, after all, like it or not, that’s what people are buying, and buyers in the end control what will be offered for sale. It’s about five inches taller than the Versa sedan and has a tad more ground clearance. For 2021 the front end has been restyled with an updated “Double V-Motion” grille, as Nissan dubs it, and anew front fascia. The rear end now has a reflector bar that runs across the hatch, connecting the taillights, along with a different bumper design. Lighting on the SR is all-LED now. It’s sort of odd is that while all of that was revamped, the logo is still Nissan’s older one. Maybe next year for that, I suppose.
The door is unlocked via a small button on the handle (touch once for that door, twice for all doors) and opens to reveal an attractively styled cabin that in this case is further upgraded with seats that instead of a sporty cloth design are covered in a material named Prima-Tex, an imitation leather that feels relatively good and features contrasting stitching. The seats are heated as is the steering wheel, also not something always seen in this class.
While the seats are manually adjusted, it’s easy to find a comfortable position and the bolstering on the seatback is simply superb, at least it was for me. It snugged itself around me without impinging on any of my liberties or anything else. There are plenty of seats that are less comfortable and cossetting while costing multiples more. Sometimes all the power accessories in the world can’t improve on a basically excellent design. It didn’t even have adjustable lumbar support but didn’t need it either.
The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel was in fact covered with genuine leather as was the gear selector, here a relatively hard but well-grained variety varying in thickness around the primary grip areas of the wheel and having a flat bottom which I must say is a bit of an affectation. While the SR trim is the “sporty” one, there’s not really much (anything?) mechanically making it different from the others. But hey, if Nissan can bring a little GT-R bling into the cabin of the Kicks, good on them. The stitching of the leather was well done and with a thick enough thread that it added to the positively tactile nature of the steering wheel.
Instruments consist of a speedometer on the right and then the entire left and center portion is given over to a 7″ display that could be user defined to show either a rendering of a tachometer, a trip meter and fuel economy table, some other operating parameter displays, or the radio/song selection. All of this is activated by buttons on the steering wheel that also control the radio, adaptive cruise control, and phone functions. The display also contains a rendering of the car with lit segments around it to warn of a nearby vehicle.
In the center of the generally hard dashboard (which itself features colored stitching and a soft panel ahead of the passenger and around the screen) is an 8″ screen that primarily is used for the audio system, in this case upgraded using BOSE technology. There are various hard buttons and knobs around the perimeter for quick access to other functions and of course it’s also touch-enabled for moving around within the current selection. A button for the camera allows for different views, this car actually has four cameras, so there is a full birds-eye views available that is handy when maneuvering in tight spaces or when backing or parking near a curb. Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto also ride along.
Totally wild is the fact that this BOSE system includes something I haven’t seen before, that being speakers in the headrest of the driver only. There are various cars (often convertibles) that offer speakers in both headrests but this is the first time I’ve seen it actually branded on the headrest and with the driver side being different than the passenger side (which does not contain speakers).
It does work, while it didn’t actually seem that Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler was breathing on my neck (likely a good thing), if I moved my head to the sides a bit I could discern sound coming from it. Is it a must-have? No, but it shows that Nissan is not just calling its entry level models good enough, and instead coming up with interesting options that probably appeal to someone, they seem to be gearing this toward the youth market although I liked the Kicks plenty and I’m not really a youth anymore.
Under the screen is a single zone automatic climate control system that did a good job of cooling down the interior in the 90+degree heat that was present all week. Knobs are covered with rubber in the touch areas and gave excellent tactile feedback as to what was happening when rotated. The display and buttons below were obvious as to their functionality. While the rear seats have underfloor vents though, I found the vents in the center of the dashboard on the marginal side, while the round vents at the edges seemed higher-flowing. Also on this control panel are the seat heater controls (two stage as opposed to the usual three).
It likely didn’t help things that the particular color combination of this car was Electric Blue (a very vibrant shade) but with a contrasting Black roof which just served to suck the heat in. Red, White, Orange and couple of Grays and Black are also available as the body color, some as solid colors and some forcing the Black roof option. I seem to recall that a white roof used to be an option but no longer (except with a white body).
At the bottom of the center stack were a couple of different sized USB ports along with a 12V one and a bin to hold a phone or whatever. No wireless charging mat here, but easy enough to plug the phone in. The gear selector is completely intuitive, the parking brake electric, and the two cupholders so deep that they come with a removable insert for lower profile items or cups (or cans which kind of disappear otherwise). And there is a covered storage bin with a padded top between the seats that opens but is quite shallow with not much room for anything needing much space.
The passenger faces a decently sized glovebox and the aforementioned soft pad with contrasting stitching. Door panels are also mostly hard with a soft pad in the middle and armrest (the light gray part area) but seemed designed well enough that elbows weren’t banging against the hard parts. If you don’t reach out and touch everything in sight, the materials are not bothersome in the least and in fact more than acceptable at this price point.
Headroom was excellent, aided by the taller nature of the design and the fact that there was no sunroof. My 6’1″ frame with 32″ inseam had zero issues in front and was consistently comfortable. Every outboard seating position gets a roof-mounted grab handle as well, even the driver.
The rear seat is similarly accommodating, while not having an overabundance of space, it was enough to not be cramped or squished and made the car fine for four normal-sized adults or possible five people if three of them were children or Ally McBeal triplets. There are two more USB ports in the back of the center console for rear seat use. (Vents are floor-mounted under the front seats).
The seat did not adjust fore or aft, nor did the seatback recline, but that’s being pointed out as a statement of fact, not as a criticism, it didn’t call for the need to do so.
The cargo area is quite spacious, not having to package AWD hardware or batteries or whatever underneath makes for a very low floor. And below that there was even room for a space-saver spare tire and the tools to attach it to the car if needed. The rear seat can be folded 60/40, and I had occasion to do so in order to carry an eight-foot long metal T-handle to turn on my sprinklers this week.
This fit by lowering a rear seatback cushion and opening the glovebox to place the sharp end inside it (so it would not scratch the dashboard) and carefully but successfully routing it over the armrest. The rear hatch is not powered beyond an electric release but does have a recessed grab handle/pocket to close it without touching the perhaps dirty exterior surface. An option package provides the solid cargo cover.
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What makes this vehicle a SUV? Isn’t a SUV usually a body on frame truck? It’s not a Crossover. Those have AWD and are a cross between a wagon snd a SUV. It’s just a nice little hatchback.
Your definition of an SUV is your own definition. There’s nothing in the words Sport Utility Vehicle that defines or even implies anything specific. The general public thinks of pretty much anything raised up a bit as an SUV as a generic name.
Go to the Nissan dealer and ask them to see their SUVs, they’ll show you a Kicks, Rogue Sport, Rogue, Murano, Pathfinder, and an Armada. Not until you ask them to only show you Body On Frame SUVs will they limit that to the Armada. Same at Chevy, Ford, Toyota, and every other manufacturer.
What you are calling an SUV you might want to phrase as a BOF SUV to further pigeonhole it. But at the end of the day that’s your definition, not that of the EPA or the market or industry as a whole.
You tried to have this same exact discussion yesterday, please drop it. I’m calling this an SUV, exactly what Car&Driver, Consumer Reports, Motor Trend, and Nissan themselves call it among many others. It’s a catchall descriptor that can then be further refined but has no actual definition.
In the end who cares, but thanks for agreeing it’s a nice little vehicle, it is!
There’s a legal gray area just as wide as the marketing one, but manufacturers DO have to choose whether to certify something like this as a “car” or a “light truck”.
The tendency is to choose the latter classification since it affects how many bigger ones they can sell without a CAFE penalty and allows dark-tint windows as factory equipment, but it also requires a tip warning on the sunvisor. Is there one on the Kicks?
There are many CUV models that, while they may offer AWD, don’t always leave the factory with it. Think of this as the next step beyond that–it just removes an option that a lot of buyers weren’t necessarily interested in anyway, to provide more room and less weight.
This one seems to be a bit of an outlier in its modest ability to accelerate, even at your elevation. Do you think the CVT is a factor? It has been my understanding that the CVT’s strength is in fuel economy and not in performance, but I do not have much experience with these.
I like the direction Nissan has been going lately. There was a long time when I would never have considered one, but that is starting to change.
It shouldn’t be, technically a CVT should accelerate faster than other transmissions since the whole idea (in a pure design without artificial shift points etc) is that the transmission brings the engine to it’s power peak and then holds it at that peak by varying the infinite ratio in order to accelerate as quickly as possible.
It was consistent performance-wise with the Nissan Versa with which it shares a lot of its engineering. An extra 20-25hp would go a long way in both of those cars, BUT aren’t REALLY needed for the vast majority of buyers. I don’t really have the actual need to accelerate much faster if I am honest with myself.
With a 1.6L NA engine and 122hp in a tallish car weighing 2700lbs, it essentially has the same power to weight ratio as my gen1 xb (103 hp; 2400lbs). And the 0-60 time you quoted (10 sec) is the same as the xB.
So yes, it’s like the good old days, when every on ramp or passing maneuver can be enjoyed with full throttle fun. Or has to be, in some cases.
Given the altitude and a passenger along (did you have the a/c on?), I’m not surprised at your experience.
Full blast! It was hot out.
I can really feel the difference when my xB’s a/c is on and I need max acceleration.
It’s like driving a 1960 s Alfa Romeo! The vintage experience in a modern car. Except in the Kicks the CVT doesn’t exactly recreate that aural experience.
I see fuel economy is about the same as my xb too.
Base price for the xB in 2005 seems to have been $14,245 (manual I presume). Which is just under $20k today. Add the automatic that everyone wants and vastly more safety equipment and it’s more or less all in line.
I’ve only driven, but never owned, a vehicle with a CVT. From what I’ve gathered from those few drives, CVT’s tend to give you a feeling that they’re hampering performance when it’s actually the other way around. It’s really hard to get used to stepping on it, then watching the tachometer climb into the power band and stay in about the same place while your speedometer is showing a steadily increasing speed. Even the ones that try to mimic the shift points of a regular automatic favor keeping the engine in the optimum rpm range for operating conditions over giving the driver convincing feedback. I do think I could get used to one, though. Looking these up, it appears that they are available with a 6 speed manual as well. I wonder if that’s an option in the US and Canada?
I definitely dig the color, and the published performance specs look pretty decent considering the modest horsepower and only 114lb-ft torque. Fuel economy is a plus, too. If I were in the market for something like this, I’d probably shoot for a slightly less pumped up Kicks to save a few bucks on purchase price.
CVTs feel different in different cars as they are tuned differently, they do not all feel or act the same across the board. Yes, most people get used to it especially once they actually use the vehicle as they normally would. On a test drive you might floor it once or twice or more to see “what’ll it do” but in reality that behavior is a significant minority of most people’s overall mileage.
The Kicks is CVT only in the US and I’m pretty certain in Canada as well, the one reviewed here is a US spec model.
Flooring a CVT from a dead stop triggers vague memories of a Buick Dynaflows. A ’62 Electra was about 10 seconds to 60 mph. Slow now, but considered pretty good back in its day.
While I am not crazy about the styling, the biggest factor in making me ever considering this car is… of course, that CVT.
BTW, other markets now get the 2nd generation Juke, a much less polarizing design than the 1st generation is/was.
Not enough here to differentiate this in an already crowded field. There is no price advantage over say a Mazda CX3, Honda HR-V, or any of the Korean offerings. Nah, sorry, but it would be a hard pass for me.
Nice, looks like decent value and I like that they’re gone away from the polarizing styling which I didn’t much like.
But like the other comments above, when I think Nissan the first two words are quality, and CVT. What’s the data like these days on Nissan long term quality and CVT reliability?
Can’t speak for everybody but I had similar doubts about CVT reliability. We are now on our second cube (1.8 liter). The first was a 6mt but our knees started going south so against my better judgement we bought the second one with the CVT. Just today we passed 220kmiles on the original drive train. I am impressed. It benefits from being driven on a lot of 2 lane country highways by an old man who understands being worn out. But still I’m impressed.
Doubt I will buy a new car again but thought I would scan this review expecting one that was very critical of Nissan. I was very impressed as it answered my questions and this will be considered when/if I do buy. Our cube gets 30mpg with the car full and the ac blasting. More is normally better. Thanks Jim.
Back in November ’19, an electrical fire burned my garage/bicycle shop to the ground. While I got Maggie’s Dart GT out of there before it was completely immolated, it took some melted plastic damage from the heat and was in the body shop for repair for a couple of weeks. In the interim, we got a ’19 Versa Note as a loaner car, and I was very surprised how much I liked it.
Maggie got the SUV bug in the interim, and suddenly driving a pseudo-Euro sport sedan wasn’t acceptable anymore. Since the Dart was her go to work car, four wheel drive, big hulking SUV, pickup truck alternative was a ludicrous choice. She needs four wheel drive like a hole in the head, as just the reports of a snowflake supposedly hitting the ground is enough for her to insist that I chauffeur her for work.
Happily the Kicks looks like an SUV, and a “looks like an SUV” was enough to placate her redneck girl background and attitude. We ended up buying a ’20 SR, and have been very happy with it. A lot of what you’ve found on the ’21 applies to the first generation as well: Handling, gas mileage, acceleration – or rather lack thereof (driving it when cutting thru traffic makes me appreciate my Bolt all the more). It’s actually been off-road – once – the weekend we camped at Virginia International Raceway for the MotoAmerica Superbike races.
Definitely a winner for Nissan, and I’m finding that applies to a lot of their lineup despite the autoblogs usually preferring to hammer them for second-rate product (the Leaf, unfortunately, is one where the complaints are justified, it’s definitely fallen behind the EV competition).
And happily it looks like an SUV, for those who (for some reason) refuse to be seen in anything else.
Price range overlaps somewhat with the upcoming Ford Maverick hybrid truck (up to the XLT model) Maverick hybrid XLT would seem to be a better deal if parking space isn’t super tight.
The Maverick is about 17″ longer (as you inferred). I believe this Nissan reviewed here has far more standard safety equipment if that matters to people. I have however not been inside a Maverick myself so can’t compare otherwise. The Bronco or Escape might be more comparable in form factor but neither seem to have a bare bones version like the Maverick seems to have to get that low price – which is curious since they are platform mates on the same assembly line so it should in theory be doable as a FWD Hybrid Escape S or FWD Bronco Sport Hybrid XL or whatever it would be. I’m not seeing where the $5,000 comes from out of the Escape FWD to get to the Maverick Hybrid FWD and keep it profitable when the Fusion apparently didn’t make enough money and sold 200k a year at much higher price points. I have not really analyzed it though either in great detail beyond a cursory glance.
The Ford Ecosport is even shorter than the Kicks though and similarly priced. I haven’t driven one of those either.
The Maverick’s base price is very aggressive. There’s a couple of likely explanations:
Ford wants to make sure it’s a success. Unibody pickups have not had a good sales track record in the US.Ford has a lot riding on this, and wants to give it the best shot of becoming a high-visibility, high-volume line.
The Escape and Bronco Sport can garner higher prices because they’re in the middle of a hot category. No need to cut margins for volume there.
The Maverick’s development costs were relatively modest, as under the skin it’s essentially a Bronco Sport with a bed on the back. Increasing the overall volume of this platforms brings down costs for all of them, so the higher priced Escape/BS can afford to subsidize the Maverick to some extent.
I think the Maverick has a very good shot at success. I’m personally quite intrigued. A 40 mpg cheap little box with a bed on the back; what’s not to like? No 4WD with the hybrid? Who needs 4WD anyway? 🙂
I always thought if you need 4WD you don’t know how to drive.
I am surprised to see (or rather not see) an engine decor cover or “plastic crap” as Scotty Kilmer says. I think those were added to at least make the engine look better and/or for NVH. Hard to say.
I think for around $20K or so this isn’t a bad deal. But near $27K there are a lot of other options that are larger though may not have as much kit.
Supposedly Nissan/Jatco have improved their CVTs (again not per Scotty) and this engine doesn’t overtax a CVT like a larger V6 would. Will this vehicle get to $100K? Probably. Will it get to $250K? Hard to say. But if the driver averages less than 10K miles/year that will put them in 2031 and likely time to move on anyway. If I were a high mileage driver I would place my bets elsewhere. For The Villages set, this is a cheap runabout (and actually cheaper than may golf carts).
I have to admit I would be somewhat concerned about the CVT as well. My ex and I purchased a 2010 Cube as a new vehicle and it is now on its third CVT at about a hundred and ten thousand miles. Fortunately that car came with a factory 120k mile warranty on that transmission, otherwise she would have been out about $9,000 at this point.
On the other hand my 2014 Murano (purchased new) with a CVT had no issues for the 100k miles I owned it.
As an Xb1 owner this car interests me. However that C pillar worries me a bit – how is the rear visibility?
I haven’t been in an xB in a couple of years but the Kicks wasn’t bad in that regard, certainly better than some others. If I found it especially poor I’d have mentioned it. When driving over the shoulder glances seemed fine and the blind spot system worked well too; when backing I look but always take full advantage of the back up camera, 360 camera, and am happy to have the rear sonar and automatic rear braking tech in the event that something unexpected pops up too.
I’m a CC loyalist, but I will confess that back when CC first started running reviews of new cars, I was skeptical about the need. Reviews like Jim’s have proven me wrong, though, as they thoughtfully touch on key points that other outlets ignore.
Case in point: The fact that a white roof was available on the Kicks (it looked great, and kept the car cooler) in previous years but is no longer available for 2022.
The Kicks is the first jacked-up hatchback that caught my jaundiced interest, because of the reportedly excellent Bose stereo and the 360-degree camera. (I’m not aware of any other vehicle at this price where you can get one.) I located a leftover 2021 SR at a local dealer in white over blue and was thinking about test-driving it — but I waited too long. I was chagrined to find out from Nissan’s build and price site that the white roof was no more.
Like the first-gen xB before it, the Kicks seems to be an ideal car for an economical old person (that would be me). I hope Nissan doesn’t realize that and discontinue it ..
Thank you! You can get a white roof if you can live with white on the rest of the car too. (not what you meant, I know, but still…). On the SR there are even two shades of white – White Powder (I think they mean the snow, not the other kind) and Aspen White Tricoat which costs extra and is likely a pearlescent.
In that picture of the backseat, it appears your liberties were a bit impinged.
Hey now! This is a family site. 🙂
I want to grumble and spit at it for being a crossover rather than a hatchback (it’s the cause du jour, you know), but there’s nothing here to support that ire.
It frankly sounds like it does everything we should want an efficient and affordable FWD hatchback to do. The extra height doesn’t seem to hurt the handling, the passenger space is surprising, and the little four cylinder provides the acceleration and fuel economy I’d expect. I respected the prior Versa hatchbacks for their space efficiency and affordability, and this seems to have kept all of the virtues in the subtle transition to “crossover”.
Does it have a manual +/- ratio selector for the CVT? Our 2012 Altima had that, and I found it really mitigated some of the grating fixed-rpm engine drone on extended grades.
Nope, no manual selector on the Kicks. It’s not a racecar like your Altima was, it’s an SUV! 🙂
Many a 911 owner feared seeing that Nissan refrigerator closing in from behind on a back road…in no small part to that manual ratio selector. The Kicks could have enjoyed similar glory if only they’d included it.
The Kicks has the smallest brakes I have seen in a modern car.
I am bit of a good brakes fanatic. If I don’t see meaty rotors and pads, it’s a deal-braker for me.
They might look that way because they’re behind large (for the size car) 17″ wheels. They’re normal and appropriate size for this vehicle, which is quite light.
Your Golf Sportwagen’s discs are about one inch larger in diameter than those of the Kicks. Your Kia Rio before the Golf had slightly smaller front discs than the Kicks does. I wouldn’t call either of those cars as possessing “Meaty” pads or rotors compared to what is available on numerous other cars including others on the same platform as yours. On top of that the compound of the pad makes a far greater difference than the physical size of it. (Your Golf has the base brakes of the lineup, the 2018 GTI has brakes 1.2″ larger than yours. The 2018 Golf R is another 1.2″ on top of that. I’d wager both have a much softer pad compound than what’s on your car)
These three vehicles (Golf SW, Kia, Kicks) all stop in about the same distance. Size of brakes doesn’t have a lot to do with the first panic stop you make anyway, if you can engage the ABS then the car is capable of locking the brakes solid, thus putting your stopping distance at the mercy of the tires grip level.
What larger brakes and pads do on an otherwise equivalently heavy vehicle is increase the resistance to fade, which isn’t noticed until you make several heavy stops in quick sequence. Other than that they just add weight and cost and affect the ride negatively, being unsprung weight unless that’s addressed on the materials side of things (and usually isn’t really in anything under $50k). On the flipside. all other things being equal, larger brakes will take longer to warm up and thus increase stopping distances around town or in that first heavy stop.
Rear drums, too.
Second picture in this post shows clearly that the rears are discs. I’m not sure of your agenda here but it’s not welcome. Thank you.
That’s an upgrade from the 2020’s rear drums. Not that we’ve found them lacking, mind you.
Interesting to see headrest speakers again. Pontiac had them on their first and maybe second year Fieros, with top trim and stereo packages. There were two in both the driver and passenger headrests, facing forward, emulating placement of stereo headphones.
A few years later when ordering my own, was surprised that they weren’t offered any longer. But then thought, hey, probably dodging a bullet on a future impossible repair.
Thanks for another great review – I could see this for one of our daughters as a perfectly acceptable and desired vehicle.
On a separate note, you’ve really come into your own on writing these reviews. I appreciate how you strive to inform without having an obvious agenda, regardless of the vehicle. Most enjoyable, so thanks!
You’re guessing right regarding the daughter’s car. Nice, comfortable, economical, and trendy. Reasonably comfortable on 300 mile trips, too. Although ours is the year before the update, Maggie’s overjoyed with it.
This is every modern car cliche rolled into one rolling dumpster fire: third world rollerskate with a wheezy engine and CVT dolled up with gloss black wheels and trim… I hate it lol
In super basic trim I find them vastly less offensive. We were driving back from the Outer Banks a few days ago in our Suburban and saw a family of five crammed into a basic Kicks “S.” It was kind of cool to see, reminded me of traveling with my family in our 1990 Civic back in the day.
Would a wide body version be a Pumped Up Kicks?