2021-nissan-kicks-gets-fancier,-still-lacks-all-wheel-drive

Despite the fast-paced growth at the subcompact end of the SUV marketplace, many of the players in this segment are really small hatchbacks masquerading as crossovers. They may speak the language of SUVs but less than fluently. Given their lack of available all-wheel drive, we’re tempted to classify these models as subcompact cars even though they feature slightly higher driving positions and more rugged designs. Among this group of wannabe SUVs is the Nissan Kicks, which gains a bit more style and sensibility for the 2021 model year, thanks to a modest mid-cycle refresh.The latest Kicks is distinguished by a larger grille and pinched headlamps, both of which lend it a little more attitude on the road. The rear bumper and liftgate also have been massaged, and a new light strip between the taillights helps hide the wee Nissan’s relatively narrow proportions. New wheel designs and revised paint colors round out the visual updates.

Inside, the center console has been reworked to include reconfigurable cupholders with removable inserts, an armrest between the front seats, and an optional electronic parking brake. While these enhancements provide a more premium vibe to the cabin, the new center armrest sits lower than we’d like, and the faux-leather upholstery in our test vehicle had a rubbery feel commensurate with the 2021 model’s $20,595 starting price. The most important improvements for the Kicks come by way of added technology, including standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot across the lineup. A larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display replaces the standard 7.0-inch unit in mid-range SV and top-spec SR trims, both of which also have a new USB-C port. Our test vehicle, an SR model with both the Technology and Premium packages, also came with an upgraded Bose stereo with speakers in the front-seat headrests.
Under the hood, the front-wheel-drive 2021 Kicks continues unchanged with a 122-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This arrangement is borrowed from the Versa subcompact sedan and feels adequately responsive for most city driving. We wish a power bump was among the latest revisions, however, as the Kicks is still rather pokey in getting up to highway speeds. During our testing of a 2018 model, we recorded a lazy 9.6-second run to 60 mph and a 17.4-second quarter-mile pass at 80 mph. That said, it’s not the slowest of its kind. The last Toyota C-HR we tested required a glacial 11.0 seconds to reach 60 mph. Fuel economy is clearly more important here. The outgoing 2020 Kicks earned respectable EPA estimates of 31 mpg city and 36 highway, which Nissan expects to carry over for 2021. (Nissan has yet to release full pricing and fuel-economy ratings for the updated model.) While we wouldn’t describe the Kicks as entertaining to drive, its stable handling and comfortable ride should satisfy buyers who are attracted to its efficient packaging, updated technology, and fuel-sipping powertrain—qualities that are easy to appreciate in any class of affordably priced vehicle.

Specifications

Specifications
2021 Nissan Kicks
VEHICLE TYPE
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
BASE PRICE
$20,595
ENGINE TYPE
DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injectionDisplacement
98 in3, 1598 cm3Power
122 hp @ 6300 rpmTorque
114 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
continuously variable automatic
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 103.1 in
Length: 169.1 in
Width: 69.3 in
Height: 63.3–63.4 in
Passenger volume: 94 ft3
Cargo volume: 25 ft3
Curb weight (C/D est): 2700–2750 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 9.6 sec
100 mph: 36.5 sec
1/4 mile: 17.4 sec
Top speed: 110 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/city/highway: 33/31/36 mpg

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