The Nissan Kicks is the new kid on the block and it undercuts the Honda HR-V, but can it take the CUV crown?
When the Honda HR-V arrived in 2016, Honda successfully started a whole new segment of very small SUV-shaped cars that could carry more stuff than the average econobox and do it from a higher, more authoritative driving position. Five years and numerous competitors later, it finds itself up against perhaps its most similar sibling, the Nissan Kicks. During the first two years of HR-V production, Nissan was working hard to make the Kicks as competitive as it possibly could be. The question we have is if that extra two years of development has paid off. Can the 2021 Nissan Kicks take down the 2021 Honda HR-V in the segment it started?
Both of these small vehicles are available with a single 4-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). In the 2021 Honda HR-V, buyers will get a 1.8-liter engine that makes 141 horsepower, while the 2021 Nissan Kicks makes just 122 horsepower with its 1.6-liter powerplant. While that sounds like a small difference, it shows up in the mpg numbers. The HR-V gets up to 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The Nissan fights back with 31 mpg city and matches that 34 mpg on the highway number.
Pricing for the HR-V starts just over $22,000 while the Nissan Kicks manages to go for just a bit under $20,000. The big kicker is that available AWD system on the HR-V commands a $1,500 price tag. It is available throughout the range and certainly offers a vital feature for some drivers, but it drives the difference in price even further apart. Still, each vehicle seats up to five people, both received outstanding scores from the IHHS in terms of safety, and they’ll both fit anywhere you could store a box of cards. Let’s find out which one shines as we dig a little deeper.
Let’s just start off by saying that neither of these compact SUVs are very focused on getting under the driver’s skin and into their veins. Frankly, if you’ve had a memorable drive in either car it’s probably been a bad experience rather than a good one. That’s ok though considering what these are; people movers. For that purpose, they’re great. Steering is sharp enough, there’s minimal body roll, solid brakes, and good visibility. Each car has one thing we noticed though that really stood out.
The Honda HR-V is considerably better to look out of. The Nissan Kicks has a strange C-pillar that really obstructs your view when you’re trying to do things like make a precise move in reverse. What about the backup camera you ask? We’ll get to that below. Another note on the Nissan side of the tracks, the brakes are fine, but they’re noticeable slower to bring the car to a stop over the HR-V. We won’t totally blame the drums in the rear, but they’re certainly not helping. One surprising point in favor of the Nissan Kicks is that it’s quieter despite using a smaller engine that has to work harder to keep up.
These days it’s hard to see either of these companies as a real leader when it comes to interior quality, but in a vacuum where it’s just these two to pick from, the 2021 Honda HR-V is the easy winner. Its entire cabin is comfortable and allows most passengers to stretch out a bit. In addition, we really love that the quality of the materials inside doesn’t instantly shout at you about how cheap it really is. The “Magic Seat” is really cool too. Basically, instead of just being able to flip the backrest of the seat down, you can flip the bottom of the seat up to create a taller space for things that need to be transported upright like a plant or a dorm room fridge.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks struggles to keep up, but that’s not shocking considering the price disparity we mentioned at the outset. The dash, the seats, and the touchpoints all feel plasticky compared to the HR-V. In fact, perhaps the biggest initial complaint from the inside of the kicks is that as a person who weighs over 200lbs, it was uncomfortable to sit in after just a 30-minute drive. Perhaps my height had a part to play in that, but headroom didn’t feel constrained as much as overall comfort did.
The 2021 Nissan Kicks is available in 3 different models – the S, SV, and SR. The SV and SR are nearly identical and they’re priced that way less than $1,000 apart from one another. For example, both get Intelligent Cruise Control, Automatic Brake Hold, and heated mirrors. The SR is for those that want a more sporty appearance as it gets touches like black roof rails, a rear roof spoiler, a dark chrome grille, and LED fog lights. One of the best parts of the Kicks is that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard throughout the lineup, a feature we think will be a big hit for buyers in the segment. The only sore spot throughout the lineup is the really dated backup camera. It’s just not up to 2021 technology standards and it gives buyers a reason to aim for the SR that has an above car view called “Intelligent Around View Monitor”.
The 2021 Honda HR-V can be had in 4 different trims starting out with LX and progressing through Sport, EX, and EX-L. The downside of the HR-V really is the base model. With a very spartan interior and only a 5-inch touchscreen, the LX is the one to avoid. The Sport gets better, but we’d still push hard to afford the EX or EX-L. That’s because even in Sport guise, the HR-V won’t come with the most advanced safety features or more than 4 speakers. Of course, once you’re into the EX you’ll get heated front seats, the full suite of safety features, automatic climate control, smart entry, and more.
Honestly, we could see a world where these two vehicles could be sold by the same manufacturer since they seem so different depending on the dollar amount that one might spend on each. The 2021 Nissan Kicks is the outright winner when it comes to the bottom dollar. We imagine many of these will be “first cars” for young folks and the Kicks will fulfill that job duty easily. Still, if you’re a buyer with $24,000 or more to spend, the 2021 Honda HR-V is a dramatically better vehicle so long as you get the EX or EX-L. It’s more comfortable, has equal if not better technology, more safety equipment, and better visibility without sacrificing anything in the way of driving dynamics or reliability.