Nissan’s subcompact crossover packs a lot of value into its tiny frame. Check it out here, in our 2020 Nissan Kicks Review.
The subcompact crossover segment as ballooned in recent years as Americans finally begin to appreciate the downsides of their SUV obsession. Dealing with the lackluster fuel economy, the wonky road dynamics, and the sheer expense have us all coming back down to earth. Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone is heading back to sedans (perish the thought!). Instead it’s meant the proliferation of mini-SUVs like the new 2020 Nissan Kicks.
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Given their newfound popularity, the subcompact crossover segment is fairly competitive, with the likes of the Kia Soul and the Mazda CX-3 making strong showings. Nissan’s Kicks carves out a niche for itself as the budget option. Starting below the national average sticker price for used cars (which was, for the record, $20,800 in 2019), the base Nissan Kicks rolls out at $18,870. And yes, there are some sacrifices that come with that price, a lack of adaptive cruise control and less than stellar interior trimmings, as examples. But, at under $19,000 grand for a new car that feature lots of modern amenities, the Kicks is a good place to be.
Let’s dive into the details on the 2020 Nissan Kicks below and explore how it stacks up in the hot subcompact segment.
As a subcompact, the Kicks won’t wow you with its raw horsepower, just 122hp from its 1.6-liter inline-4. To compensate for a leisurely 0-60 time of 9.8 seconds, the Kicks offers good mpg ratings of 31 city and 36 on the highway or 33 mpg combined. That’s better than either the Kia Soul or the Hyundai Kona.
The footprint of the Kicks is right in line with its fellow subcompacts at 169” in length, by 69” in width, and 63” in height. And yet, interior space is an area where the Kicks shines. Passenger space, both head, elbow and leg room, is notably generous. The cargo also deserves praise as it too exceeds the segment average with 25.3 cu. ft. in the rear and 32.3 cu ft. with the rear seats folded down.
The biggest let down comes from the drivetrain and that fact that the Kicks is only available in front-wheel drive, disappointing but, again, this decision keeps the cost down. There’s also just a CVT (continuously variable transmission) on tap, which is doing the lion’s share of the work getting the Kicks to that 33 combined mpg. As with most CVTs, the Kicks’ transmission is unobtrusive and mostly sticks to the background, taking care of shifts without much fuss. In this segment, you’ll have to go for base versions of the Kia Soul or Subaru Crosstrek for row-your-own options.
As we noted above, the Kicks is not going to be winning any drag races. The modest 122hp is no more than adequate in highway passing situations. But the CVT does a good job snapping into “gear” and finding the correct powerband for the given situation.
The well-tuned suspension errs on the side of comfort over sportiness, keeping the ride smooth both in town and on the highway, while still leaving a little to be desired around corners with more body lean than we would have liked for a subcompact.
Overall, the handling is good to average with accurate point-and-go steering. You may, however, notice a lack of feedback from the wheels, as that sensory connection to the road is rather muted. This combination of qualities put the Kicks squarely in the middle of the pack within its segment. The Kicks feels more responsive and connected than say the Honda HR-V or Toyota C-HR, but less than sportier options like the Mazda CX-3 or Kia Soul.
One of the biggest cases for the Kicks among subcompacts is its interior space. Head and elbow room are ample, and, as we noted above, the Kicks boast one of the most generous cargo holds in the segment. Since that extra room is often why buyers are gravitating toward the crossover segment in the first place, a roomier than average interior for the Kicks is a big plus.
Less than impressive is the interior finish. Not too surprising given the Kicks is aimed at the budget-conscious buyer. While Nissan does us a solid with soft touch plastic on the dash, you’ll have to jump all the way to the top SV trim to get the leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The large hard plastic door panels were our least favorite feature.
One odd bit of corner cutting is the driver’s right-side armrest which takes the place of a proper central console. Not only do you miss out on storage space, the armrest is located rather high and can be uncomfortable for shorter drivers. Note too, that these front seat armrests aren’t even available on the base trim level.
The Kicks interior proves decently comfortable, well laid out, and yet suffers a bit from a lack of refinement. As far as interiors go, the Kicks ends up livable, if a bit underwhelming.
Again, there are trade-offs in a budget subcompact. While the Kicks’ interior might now wow you with its sophistication, Nissan shifted those production dollars toward extra features. In fact, the base Kicks is one of the best equipped entry level trims in the segment.
The base S trim comes standard with Nissan’s Standard Safety tech suite that includes rear traffic alerts, rear automatic breaking, automatic emergency breaking, review monitoring, and, significantly, blind-spot monitoring. It’s still rare for manufacturers to feature blind-spot monitoring as a standard feature, so its nice to see it here on Nissan’s entry level crossover.
The SV and SR trims add a lot off additional goodies to the Kicks, and unless you’re really wanting to keep your costs to a bare minimum, we recommend springing for a higher trim. Sadly, there’s no sunroof or adaptive cruise control available, but Nissan had to cut somewhere to keep the price down.
Features and Options: Push button start, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, 7” touchscreen display, three USB ports, and 6-seaker AM/FM stereo.
Features and Options: Heated outside mirrors, roof rails, 7” digital dash display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, keyless entry, remote start, and interior chrome accenting.
Features and Options: Premium Package includes 8-speaker Bose stereo, plus, faux leather and heated front seats. Also available are upgraded LED headlights, a 360° parking camera, dark chrome grille, and rear roof spoiler.
For the money, the Kicks is a good choice for a subcompact crossover. The fuel economy, standard safety features, and roomy interior are probably, aside from that sticker price, the biggest attractions here. The Kicks won’t knock your socks off, but it’s a respectable choice for an entry-level crossover.
While you’ll find more refinement in the Kia Soul or the Mazda CX-3, the Kicks provides a lot of new vehicle must-haves for a lot less money. Plus, the comfortable highway ride and excellent fuel economy make the Kicks a perfect candidate for making that fabled run from Chicago to Los Angeles along, you guessed it, Route 66.