Test drive: The 2021 Nissan Kicks is more frugal and functional than fun

The little Nissan Kicks has been a big success.

It was Nissan’s second best-selling utility vehicle in 2020 and the only one that saw an increase in deliveries, which were up 1.1 percent from the previous year. Hey, a win’s a win.

To keep the ball rolling as it enters its fourth year in the market, the subcompact has been updated in style and substance and given a $485 bump to bring its starting price to $20,650, but you get a lot for it.

The front has been redesigned to better match the all-new Nissan Rogue and combines a larger grille with slimmer headlights for a sharper look, while the rear end received a less dramatic nip and tuck.

Under the hood the Kicks remains largely the same and is still only available with front-wheel-drive, a 122 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission across its S, SR and SV trims, but you’ll find more meaningful changes in the cabin.

Looking back at my review of the 2018 Kicks, two complaints that stood out were that it didn’t have a center console or armrest for the passenger. Now it has both, with a small bin covered by a padded lid between the manually adjusted seats.

The Kicks has a new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 7-inch touchscreen that grows to 8-inches in the SV and SR. The SR adds a Bose audio system with 8-speakers, including two in the driver’s seat headrest.

Front and rear automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist are standard, while adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree parking camera are available on the higher-end trims, and uncommon in the Kicks segment. It also has Nissan’s Easy Fill Tire Alert, which beeps the horn when they reach the correct pressure and reminder to check for anything or anyone you left in the rear seats as you get out.


Considering its size, the Kicks provides a reasonable amount of legroom back there and a healthy 25.3 cubic-foot cargo area that’s wide and deep. But you might not want to fill it to the brim with people and heavy things.

The Kicks doesn’t provide much of what its name suggests. It’s one of the slowest cars you can buy and those 122 horses take a while to get up and go through the lazy CVT transmission as it gently accelerates and picks up steam like a boat with an outboard motor.


It rides well enough and sounds fine, though, and the prize for your patience best-in-class fuel economy ratings of 36 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined, which is great for a car any size that’s not a hybrid.

Considering how the economy was in 2020, I guess it’s no surprise the Kicks was a hot ticket, but with its blend of efficiency, functionality and tech, it’s a fine economy car for any year.


2021 Nissan Kicks

Base price: $20,650

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door, front-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder

Transmission: CVT automatic

MPG: 31 city/36 hwy