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Nissan's smallest SUV - and its most affordable at that - has been given a bit of a refresh for 2021. That's right, the small-but-mighty 2021 Nissan Kicks is even better than before. All new for 2021 is a revised exterior design, some mild enhancements made to the materials used inside of the cabin, and the standardization of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across the line-up. That is not to mention that the mid-tier SV and line-topping SR get equipped with rear disc brakes and have the option of adding adaptive cruise control to their list of features.
Bear in mind that this year's line-up is a refresh and not a full redesign. That means you will still see much of the 2020 Kicks' features. Unfortunately, the Kicks is still not a top contender in its segment due to a lack of standard features. The standardization of smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is the biggest tech change for 2021 and was a much-needed one for Nissan. The previous year's 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system was actually a rather good one and is still equipped on the base S trim level. However, the 8-inch infotainment system that now comes on the SV and SR lends extra space to the interface, making buttons more readable and graphics clearer overall. These trims also gain a new USB-C port up front and two USB charge-only ports in the back seat. These changes show how well Nissan is listening to consumer (and reviewer) complaints.
What we wish had been updated is the rear-view camera. It is very low-resolution and comes off as being outdated. Ideally, it should have been updated at the same time as the infotainment screen, so this would have been the perfect time to upgrade. Alas, that just did not happen.
But you do still get a lot of nifty features for the price. But you have to deal with the rather sluggish 1.6-L 4-cylinder engine. Its 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque aren't enough to get this subcompact SUV moving in a timely manner. Paired with a standard CVT, there is a degree of efficiency that comes from this powertrain, but power is sacrificed. Also, take note that front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard and, unlike other vehicles in this segment, the Kicks does not have an option for swapping in all-wheel drive (AWD). Handling is pleasant since the vehicle is well-mannered while rounding through turns.
Should you invest your hard-earned money in the freshly revised 2021 Nissan Kicks? Or should you look at other options? Which trim level might best suit your needs? We will go over the Kicks' three trim levels in detail and, in the end, let you know which trim we think offers buyers the best deal. It will be up to you, however, if that is a deal you want to take or pass on.
Compare the 2021 Nissan Kicks S vs SV - What is the Difference?
The Nissan Kicks starts you off with the S trim level, which is followed by the mid-tier SV. They share a lot of the same core features but obviously have some differences that serve to boost the SV's price tag (which really is not all that big of a jump over the S's starting MSRP).
As we already mentioned, each trim level is powered by the 1.6-L engine and CVT, and they only come with FWD. Vented front disc brakes and rear drum brakes come standard, as do brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, and a 4-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS). There is an independent strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension, electric power steering, and a front stabilizer bar.
The list of standard driver aids is pretty similar among these two trims. The S and SVR both come with cruise control, pedestrian detection on the automatic emergency braking feature, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, high beam assist, a rear sonar system, vehicle dynamic control with traction control, a rear-view monitor, and hill start assist. The one addition to the SV is intelligent driver alertness.
As far as wheels go, these trims are different. The S has standard 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers on them. The SV upgrades you to 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Each has their own set of all-season tires.
There are quite a few shared exterior features here too. The S and SV both come with halogen headlights, intelligent automatic headlights, a chrome grille, and power adjustable side mirrors. The SV does give you several more features, such as body-colored door handles, a heating function for the side mirrors, and roof rails.
So, what kinds of comfort and convenience features should you expect inside of each trim? The S and SV each come with one-touch auto-up/down on the power driver's window, and all windows are power-operated. You also get auto-locking on the power doors. There is a push button ignition, a tilting and telescoping steering column, windshield wipers that have a variable intermittent functionality, a 12-volt DC power outlet, overhead map lights, an armrest in the rear seat, seatback pockets on both front seats, four bottle holders, two cup holders, and four cargo tie-down hooks. While the S comes with standard air conditioning, the SV upgrades to an automatic climate control system. Also, the rear seat has HVAC vents in the SV. On the S, remote keyless entry comes with the integrated key, but the SV gives you Nissan Intelligent Key instead. It also has a remote engine start system, a rear door alert, and a cargo cover.
Both trim levels come with a 6-way manually adjustable driver's seat, 4-way manually adjustable front passenger's seat, and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. The upholstery is done in a standard cloth fabric. There are chrome accents on the painted shifter, and metallic accents are equipped throughout the cabin. The SV adds chrome on the parking brake button and inner door handles.
We have already gone over some infotainment features, but they are worth comparing in more depth. Let's take the S first. It is equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen display but does not have smartphone app integration. It does come with Siri Eyes Free, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system and audio streaming, and an AM/FM 6-speaker sound system. There are three USB ports, an auxiliary audio input jack, and steering wheel-mounted controls for audio and cruise control that are illuminated. The SV, though, gets the new 8-inch touchscreen system and smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. SiriusXM Satellite and a 7-inch Advanced Drive Assist display are also included.
Finally, we have safety and security features. Both trim levels offer Easy-Fill Tire Alert on the tire pressure monitoring system, not to mention the easy-to-use LATCH system for child car safety seats. There is also a Nissan Vehicle Immobilizer System equipped.
Compare the 2021 Nissan Kicks SV vs SR - What is the Difference?
What does the line-topping SR trim level add to justify its own modest price jump over the mid-tier SV? Let's take a look, starting with the driver aids that get tacked on. The SR comes outfitted with an intelligent around-view monitor that gives you a bird's-eye view around the vehicle. There is also an Integrated Dynamics-control Module that includes intelligent trace control, active ride control, and intelligent engine brake.
Like the SV, the SR rides atop the 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. On the front fascia, though, you get LED headlights accompanied by LED signature accents. There are also more exterior additions, such as fog lights, a dark chrome grille, side mirrors done in high-gloss black with integrated turn signals, front and rear bumpers with body-colored inserts, silver exterior trim on the doors, and a rear roof spoiler. All in all, this does enough to distinguish it from the two lower trim levels and gives it an elevated sense of class.
Of course, you will find more creature comforts packed inside of the SR's cabin. The sport seats are done in cloth and have orange stitching and accents to set them apart. You do have options that open up for Prima-Tex appointed seat trim with the same orange contrast stitching and accents and for heated front seats. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob come standard, as do black Prima-Tex accents that also have orange stitching on them.
As far as tech goes, the only change is that you get an option for adding a really cool 8-speaker Bose Personal Plus sound system that includes Bose's UltraNearField driver headrest speakers. The only option you have for vehicular security is the vehicle security system. These features, as well as the heated front seats and the Prima-Tex leather-appointed seat trim are part of the SR Premium Package, which only tacks $1,000 onto your total bill.
Stand-alone accessories include 17-inch black aluminum alloy wheels, splash guards, a rear bumper protector, side window deflectors, a stainless steel exhaust finisher, roof rail crossbars, multiple Yakima options, LED fog lights (exclusively for the SR), carpeted floor mats or all-season floor mats, door sill plates, an impact sensor, a Rockford Fosgate premium sound system, illuminated kick plates, an all-season cargo area protector (as well as several other cargo area solutions), an emergency roadside kit, a first aid kit, and an Interior Electronics package. In other words, you do have quite a few ways that you can customize the Kicks without going overboard on the cost.
2021 Nissan Kicks: Which Trim to Choose?
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Which trim level is going to work best for the average buyer? Well, given the affordable price tag, we'd probably go all-out and opt for the SR trim level with the SR Premium Package equipped. That combination should give you everything that you could possibly need as well as much of what you might want - and for a really reasonable price. We just wish that the rear-view camera was upgraded for 2021 and that there was a more powerful engine option available for the SR.
However, the well-mannered handling makes the Kicks a decent, practical vehicle to drive, so we definitely don't hate it. In fact, we would suggest giving the SR trim level a test drive. Many buyers will be enchanted by its gorgeous exterior styling and cool interior with that orange contrast stitching. The interior does have some hard plastics but still manages to look more expensive than it actually is. But, at the end of the day, it is all about comfort and sensibility. Nissan's seats do not disappoint, especially when you add the heating function to the front seats.
If the SR trim level is a little bit outside of your price range, the mid-level SV is still a good option. It has more features than the sparse S trim level, but you do not get as many options that open up. That's why we recommend going with the SR with the SR Premium Package. You spend a little more to get a lot.
• Compare the 2020 Nissan Kicks Trim Levels