These days, shoppers looking for an entry-level vehicle will likely be looking at some sort of a crossover, and they would certainly not be deprived of choices in the market. Every mainstream automaker is now offering a subcompact crossover, with some offering more than one model. The Nissan Kicks has been one of our favourites for its fun dynamics and impeccable value since its debut in 2019. For 2021, Nissan has given the model a thorough refresh and we have an early opportunity to evaluate a top-of-line version, the 2021 Nissan Kicks SR Premium.
The 2021 Kicks SR Premium looks fresh wearing a redesigned front grille, front and rear bumpers, and LED head and taillights. Nissan gave the Kicks the new ‘Double V-motion’ front fascia design to match new corporate design language and we enjoyed the Kicks’ modern exterior design more than many of its competition. The top-of-line SR Premium trim can be distinguished by the dedicated black 17-inch wheels and a rear roof mounted spoiler which adds an additional splash of sportiness.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine is carried over from last year. We are glad that it’s around, because it is a good powertrain for the little crossover, providing smooth acceleration to the Kicks without the coarseness typically found in the segment. Horsepower is rated at 122 at 5,800RPM and torque is rated at 114 lb-ft. at 4,000RPM, so it is not a fast car by any means but that is not a priority for most buyers either. The quietness of the Xtronic CVT is impressive, seamlessly and efficiently directing power to its front wheels.
The Kicks’ small dimensions allow it to be quite nimble to toss around town with. The steering is light and easy to row and the chassis is quite responsive for its class. Understeer is evident at the limit but most Kicks owners will be happy with its maneuverability in the city.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks has standard fuel economy ratings of 7.7L/100km in the city and 6.6L/100km on the highway for a combined rating of 7.2L/100km, and regular grade gasoline is accepted. We were able to achieve a similar result over our test week which is above average for the segment. The front-drive layout here helps significantly, along with the light weight of the vehicle.
The inside of the Kicks is largely the same as last year’s model and that is a good thing as it has always had a pleasant interior design. Layout is intuitive with physical shortcut keys well within reach. Hard plastics are kept to a minimum, aside from the large slab on the door panels. The Prima-Tex faux leather used to wrap the seats and interior panels look and feel more upscale than what we typically see in economy crossovers. The Kicks SR Premium is fairly well equipped with around-view monitor and heated seats and steering wheel; however, we are curious about the seven blank buttons on the left side of the cockpit given that this is a fully loaded model.
Interior space is generous for the segment class. There is good head and legroom for four adults in the Kicks and it is a quiet ride with little powertrain and tire noise in the cabin. Nissan has given the 2021 model additional sealing in the inner B-pillar which drastically improved the ride quality when compared to last year’s model and putting it amongst the best in its segment. Cargo capacity is rated at 716 litres with a wide opening.
The biggest update inside is the larger eight-inch touchscreen display, up from the seven-inch unit last year, as well as a new USB-C charging port in SV trims and above. The infotainment is relatively simple and easy to use, and we really enjoyed the SR Premium’s Bose premium sound system especially for the additional speakers in the driver’s headrest that provide a unique surround sound experience not found in other crossovers in this class. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is supported and we appreciate the dedicated cubby below the centre console for device storage.
New for 2021 is the Intelligent Cruise Control system that is standard on the 2021 Kicks SV, SR, and SR Premium trims; adding to an already solid list of driver’s assist features that include standard blind spot warning, Rear Traffic Alert, front and rear Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, and Lane Departure Warnings. The SR Premium trim receives an additional 360-degree camera system to round out its lengthy standard equipment list.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks starts at an affordable $19,898 for the base S model, sneaking in right below the crucial $20,000 emotional threshold. The tested SR Premium trim comes fully loaded at $24,998, with the only additional cost being the $485 Super Black and Grey two-tone paint job bringing us an as-tested total of $25,483.
In the wildly competitive subcompact crossover segment, the 2021 Nissan Kicks SR Premium finds itself up against no less than twenty different models. It is not expensive by any measure, but its $25K sticker brings competition from some very capable all-wheel drive options such as the Hyundai Kona Essential AWD, Kia Seltos LX, and its own bigger brother, the Nissan Qashqai S AWD. We think the Kicks SV hits the sweet spot with its $22,898 MSRP, where it manages to undercut the base prices of many subcompact crossovers and even compact sedans, and suddenly the fun-to-drive, fuel efficient, and well-equipped Kicks shines as a great value pick.