Cutesy crossover Nissan Kicks has personality, but no power

In my Driver’s Side column, I try to keep things light-hearted. I really like pop culture and try to mingle that into whatever vehicle I might be driving this week. This week, one pop culture reference repeated in my head over and over. I am the world’s biggest Seinfeld fan. It’s the best show ever.

One of the (many) brilliant episodes involved Elaine dancing. Her twitchy, terrible dancing was referred to as “the little kicks.”

So of course, this week, I’m driving the 2021 Nissan Kicks, which is a subcompact crossover; ergo a Little Kicks. It was too easy to make this reference, but I digress.

As much as I love Seinfeld, I generally dislike most subcompact crossovers on the market. They’re too cutesy, too gimmicky and they’ve replaced cars on the market. Personally, I’ll take a small car over a cramped, bubbly-looking crossover. But again, I digress.

So, does the Nissan Kicks make me change my opinion on subcompact crossovers? No. In fact, it sort of epitomizes the entire segment. It has a cutesy, silly name. With quirky looks. However, it’s important to note that as my gray hairs increase, I may not be the right person the Kicks is aimed at. It has plenty of merit for young drivers, college students and even young professionals. I am none of those things, but I can still be unbiased toward this vehicle.

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On looks, the Kicks, especially in white, has a Stormtrooper like exterior. It’s kind of cool in that regard. The “invisible” roofline, which is just a design gimmick near the C-pillar brings plenty of personality to this compact crossover. Today’s cars are generally dull and lack personality, so maybe that’s why vehicles like the Kicks have gained in popularity.

The Kicks has loads of personality in how it looks and certainly it’s easy to spot on the roads with plenty of distinctive styling. The rear spoiler and the bumped out back end make it eye-catching.

When it comes to power and performance, the Kicks loses any redeemable qualities. It’s nothing more than a means of transportation with a basic, bare-boned powerplant. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine doesn’t even have a turbo. As such, it feels grossly outmatched on the highway with only 122 horsepower. As an urban or suburban dweller, in the lower gears and at lower speeds, the front-wheel drive (FWD) Kicks finds it sweet spot. The continuously variable transmission doesn’t help the overall performance whatsoever, but if you’re keeping the RPMs down and use it basically, then the Kicks is well mannered and adequate.

Inside, the Kicks shows its merit. You spend all of your time inside a vehicle, so cabin quality and interior space is always of the utmost importance when I look at a vehicle. In this regard, the Kicks performs well. The quality materials and overall cabin space helps redeem the rest of the Kicks’ shortcomings.

For a subcompact crossover, the cargo room is impressive with 25.2 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 53.1 cubic feet with the second row folded flat.

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Likewise, Nissan’s infotainment system is simple to use and features all the technology you need along with smart phone integration. In a world where each infotainment system has its quirks and lacks intuition, Nissan’s is high quality in that it doesn’t try to do too much. The smart phone can do most of what we need, and we only need a system that integrates flawlessly and the Kicks accomplishes that.

Nissan keeps the trims simple by offering only three: S, SV and SR. My tester was the top trim SR, which has a starting price of $21,940. The S trim starts below $20,000 making the Kicks quite appealing in that regard. My tester had several additional packages including the Premium Package, Exterior Package and special black alloy wheels. As such, the final MSRP of my tester was $27,075.

The perk to the puny engine is that it is fuel efficient. The same applies to the CVT. As such, the Kicks has an EPA rating of 31 mpg/city and 36 mpg/highway. I averaged nearly 34 mpg during my week with it.

Is the Nissan Kicks as legendary as Elaine’s little kicks dancing on Seinfeld? Of course not. But like Elaine’s dancing, it certainly leaves an impression.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2021 Nissan Kicks

  • Price/As tested price................................................ $21,940/$27,075
  • Mileage.......................................... 31 mpg/city; 36 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 1.6-liter four-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 122 hp/114 lbs./ft.
  • Transmission................................. CVT
  • Drive wheels................ Front-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Aguas, Mexico

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