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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