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Small SUVs have become the go-to vehicle for commuters and small families alike. They offer just enough extra space and capability to make them more appealing than sedans for many drivers. That said, some brands do a better job than others when it comes to packing value into a small SUV.
The 2021 Honda HR-V has a lot going for it, including versatility. This subcompact SUV has been around since 2016 and has not made many changes since its introduction. For 2021, the Sport trim gains tinted rear glass. No other significant improvements are happening. Despite the lack of changes, the HR-V has most of the important features that buyers are after, at least on its higher trim levels.
Nissan actually makes several changes to the Kicks in 2021. This SUV stands out from others with its unusual styling. New models show off a larger grille along with a new design for their 17-inch aluminum wheels. Availability of the contrasting black roof has been expanded to more paint colors as well. The 2021 Nissan Kicks also comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, something that has been noticeably missing in years past.
Both the 2021 Honda HR-V and the 2021 Nissan Kicks have many of the things people want from a subcompact SUV. They do not have all of the same strengths and weaknesses, however. Buyers will need to closely examine both of them to decide which is the better fit for their driving needs. The following breakdown can help.
The Honda HR-V has only one engine option in 2021. Its 1.8L four-cylinder engine makes 141-horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. Working with the engine is a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive. All trim levels of the HR-V are also eligible for all-wheel drive.
As for the Nissan Kicks, it has a 1.6L four-cylinder engine underneath the hood. It creates 122-horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. Like the HR-V, the Kicks has a continuously variable transmission and no available engine upgrade. Unlike the HR-V, the Kicks cannot be upgraded to an all-wheel-drive on any model.
Neither the HR-V nor the Kicks are very powerful, and both will struggle to get up to highway speeds. In fact, the Kicks has one of the lowest horsepower ratings in the class. Still, both of these subcompact SUVs do a decent job when it comes to moving around in town. They both can also handle highway driving, although they are a bit noisy.
Towing would not be considered a strength for either the HR-V or the Kicks. When properly equipped, the HR-V tops out at just 1,500 pounds. Nissan recommends that drivers do not use the Kicks to tow, period. Although towing is not something that subcompact SUVs are known for, there are several competitors that can handle at least 2,000 pounds.
The Honda HR-V offers excellent fuel economy. When it has front-wheel drive, buyers can expect 28mpg in the city and 34mpg on the highway. All-wheel-drive HR-V models can get up to 27mpg city and 31mpg highway. The 2021 Kicks does even better. It gives drivers 31mpg city and 36mpg highway, putting it near the top of its class.
JD Power evaluates vehicles based on their predicted reliability. The 2021 HR-V received a score of 78 out of 100, which is considered respectable. There is currently no score available for the 2021 Kicks, but the similar 2020 model was given 76 out of 100.
Buyers will find that the HR-V and Kicks have identical warranty coverages. The powertrain is covered for five years or 60,000 miles. As for the limited bumper-to-bumper warranty, it lasts three years or 36,000 miles. Ultimately, neither reliability nor warranty coverage is helpful when choosing between the HR-V and the Kicks.
Both the HR-V and Kicks provide decently comfortable rides. Unfortunately, neither protects occupants from feeling the bumps in the road, something that is common in subcompact SUV models. When it comes to handling, the HR-V is the clear winner. It provides excellent steering feedback. The lack of steering feedback is one of the biggest complaints about the Kicks. Due to their size, both of these subcompact options are easy to maneuver.
The amount of passenger space in the back row of the HR-V and Kicks is respectable. Due to its sloping roofline, the HR-V is lacking a bit in its rear headroom. This is not an issue for the Kicks. The Nissan SUV also does a better job of providing forward visibility thanks to how high off of the ground it rides.
When looking at the numbers, the Kicks is the larger of the two inside. It has 93.9 cubic feet of passenger volume, compared to the HR-V's 91 cubic feet. The HR-V does provide nearly an inch more rear legroom, however.
The cargo space for the Nissan Kicks is impressive. Behind its second row, drivers have access to 25.3 cubic feet. When folding down the second row, there are 53.1 cubic feet. This is good for the class. On the downside, the backseat does not fold flat, which takes away from the usability of the cargo area. The wheel wells also cut into the space, further reducing its practicality.
Honda's HR-V does better when it comes to bringing along gear. It does not have quite as much room behind the second row, measuring at 24.3 cubic feet. That said, there are up to 58.8 cubic feet when drivers do not need the second row. It is worth noting that all-wheel-drive models have a little less room, with 23.2 cubic feet behind the second row and as little as 55.9 cubic feet behind the first.
The HR-V has one of the most well-loved cabins in the SUV world. It is full of upscale materials, and even the plastics used are clearly high-quality. The Nissan Kicks is also applauded for its interior design, which feels modern and clean. While top models of the HR-V come standard with leather-trimmed upholstery and heated front seats, these are merely options on even the highest Kicks model.
One of the areas that the HR-V falls behind competitors is its standard tech. It comes with only a 5-inch display screen, Bluetooth, and a single USB port. The Sport trim, which is just one step up from the base model, adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a 7-inch touchscreen. Other available tech upgrades include HD radio, a second USB port, and navigation.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 7-inch touchscreen. Another perk of going with this option is the three standard USB ports. While the entry-level HR-V has only four speakers for the stereo, the Kicks comes with at least six. Available upgrades for the Kicks include an 8-inch touchscreen, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a premium sound system from Bose.
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Safety testing on new vehicles is conducted every year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 2021 HR-V received an overall score of five stars. It received five stars for side crash testing and four stars for frontal collisions and rollovers. Interestingly, the 2021 Kicks got those same scores but an overall score of only four out of five.
Another resource for buyers when it comes to evaluating safety is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They evaluate new vehicles in six main categories, including roof strength and head restraints. Both the Kicks and HR-V got "Good" across the board.
Despite having a better score from the NHTSA, the HR-V has far fewer standard driver aids. In fact, the base model comes with only a rearview camera. The EX and EX-L models add the Honda Sensing bundle, which includes things like a road departure mitigation system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a collision mitigation braking system. Select models also have front and rear parking sensors, along with automatic high beams.
On the other hand, the 2021 Kicks comes with several driver assistance technologies. All models have blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams, rear parking sensors, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. Both forward and reverse automatic emergency braking are included as well. Select models add adaptive cruise control, a rear door alert, driver attention monitoring, and a surround-view camera system.
Which Has the Best Value?
Buyers who go for the entry-level 2021 Honda HR-V will be looking at approximately $21,020 as the starting price. The top EX-L trim costs $25,800. These are average prices for the subcompact SUV class.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks is incredibly affordable. It can be had for as little as $19,500. At the top of the trim ladder is the SR model, which starts at $21,940. The Kicks is one of the most budget-friendly SUVs out there today.
The initial cost is only part of the story when it comes to value. Which of these two SUVs will be more expensive as time goes on? Kelley Blue Book provides estimates of the five-year cost-to-own to help buyers decide and budget.
For the 2021 Honda HR-V entry-level model, the out-of-pocket cost estimate is $18,752. This includes $7,124 in fuel and just over $3,000 in maintenance. Depreciation is defined as the difference between the initial cost and the current value of the vehicle. Over five years, the depreciation for the HR-V is estimated to be $12,285. In total, this SUV will cost $31,037 over five years.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks has an out-of-pocket estimate of $16,946. Fuel costs are estimated to be $6,552, while maintenance will cost just under $2,000. The depreciation of the Kicks will be around $12,313. The total cost for the 2021 Kicks over the course of five years is $29,295.
Another way to look at it would be the cost-to-drive per mile. For the HR-V, this number is $0.41. The Kicks is more affordable, estimated to cost just $0.39 per mile. Both of these vehicles lose value at approximately the same rate, but the Kicks is cheaper to keep running.
The Kicks is the better value. Not only does it have a cheaper initial cost, but it will also cost less over time. Plus, it comes with far more technology than the HR-V, including infotainment and driver assistance features.
Which is Better?
The 2021 Honda HR-V is an affordable vehicle that offers engaging driving dynamics and a comfortable cabin. That said, it cannot match the Nissan Kicks. It offers more value, more passenger space, and more technology. While the powertrain is far from exciting, the HR-V does not give drivers much more in this department. If an affordable compact SUV is a goal, the 2021 Nissan Kicks is the way to go. The only exception would be if all-wheel drive is a dealbreaker, in which case the HR-V is the only acceptable choice between these two.