2021 Nissan Kicks First Drive: An Impressive Compact SUV

2021 Nissan Kicks Review First Drive
What you need to know about the new 2021 Nissan Kicks. Josh Smith

The 2021 Nissan Kicks stands out as an affordable compact SUV with a fun new look, an excellent list of features and more than enough interior space in the segment.

With an all-new exterior, the 2021 Kicks boasts a more substantial look but still retains a bit of that funky style that drew me to the first-generation Nissan Kicks. The new grille matches the updated Kicks with the rest of the SUV lineup. With slick new wheel options, plenty of colors, and a standout two-tone paint job that I loved the look on the 2021 Kicks SR loaner.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the Kicks. The Bose sound upgrade includes headrest-mounted speakers that are a cool touch. There are also great driver convenience updates, including Intelligent Cruise Control on the SV and SR trim and an overhead view that makes navigating tight parking places easy.

The 2021 Nissan Kicks starts at $19,500 plus $1,095 destination. Nissan hasn't announced pricing for the SR trim level we tested, but we are hopeful that it will be similar to the 2020 model that tops out around $25,000 when you check all the boxes.

How Does the 2021 Nissan Kicks Drive?

2021 Nissan Kicks Review First Drive driving
How does the 2021 Nissan Kicks Drive? Josh Smith

The 2021 Nissan Kicks doesn't see a significant upgrade under the hood, but it didn't need one. The engine delivers 122 horsepower and 114 lb.-ft. of torque. Nissan uses this well on the small SUV, and it feels like there is a fair amount of power on tap given the car's size.

It's not a fast car, but it feels peppy, and the ride quality is good. The Kicks delivers comfortable ride quality, though it doesn't soak up every road imperfection. There's a little fun throwing the Kicks into a corner, even with body roll, but this isn't designed to race around a curvy country road. The Continuously Variable Transmission is tuned well, and while it does require a heavy foot to pass on the highway, it's still very doable.

Fuel economy is a major factor in buying the 2021 Kicks. It's rated at 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, with 33 mpg combined. The combined is best in class, and it's nice that you aren't sacrificing to get there.

Interior Upgrades

2021 Nissan Kicks Review Interior
The 2021 Kicks interior is spacious for the size and the SR trim is nicely appointed. Josh Smith

The 2021 Nissan Kicks interior is spacious for a compact SUV. While there are many hard plastics in the cabin, the SR trim level that I tested features soft touch on the dash, accent stitching throughout the cabin and a well laid out center console with controls that are easy to reach and use.

There is a full armrest in the middle of the SV and SR trim levels, which is a change from previous models, and it adds to the comfort. The backseat is comfortable, and as a six-foot-tall adult, I was able to sit behind the driver seat easily.

The cargo area offers a lot of room for groceries, luggage for a two-person road trip, and a removable cover is in the back if you need more room. With the hatch opening and the ability to fold the back row down, there is room to carry more gear or cargo.

Tech and Safety

2021 Nissan Kicks Review First Drive infotainment
The 2021 Nissan Kicks supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Josh Smith

The 2021 Nissan Kicks includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard on a 7-inch touch screen. There is an upgraded 8-inch screen that was on our SR trim level. Both of these options allow you to plug your phone in and get the best access to maps, music, messaging, calls and other smart features. The screen is responsive and easy to use. I appreciate the larger 8-inch display.

Nissan also includes a Wi-Fi hot spot, Nisson Connect Services, that allows you to lock and unlock the car using your phone. There are four USB ports in the car, including one USB C port up front, so everyone can stay connected.

The sound system is great for the price range, and as someone who does a lot of driving solo, the Bose Personal Plus audio upgrade is nice. In addition to the speakers throughout the cabin, speakers are embedded in the headrest. It is possible to adjust how much sound is pumped through these headrest speakers, which get you into the music more. It's a fantastic upgrade if you love to sing along with your music while you cruise. When you have passengers, you can adjust the sound settings so everyone can hear, just like in a standard car audio setup.

I am a huge fan of the driver convenience features on the 2021 Kicks. Safety Shield 360 means that you get front and rear automatic emergency braking, which is a big deal at the price. I tested the SR trim level, including blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, which is excellent for highway driving and backing out of parking spots. Adaptive cruise control kept me in traffic flow and allowed me to set the distance between my car and the one in front of me. The Intelligent Around View Monitor feature offers an overhead view, which is perfect for backing into a tight parking spot.

In Focus

2021 Nissan Kicks Review profile

The new Kicks strikes a sleek profile.
Launch Slideshow 7 PHOTOS

Nissan provided Newsweek with the vehicle, insurance and a full tank of gas for the purpose of this review. Opinions are our own.