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Sibling Rivalry: 2021 Nissan Kicks versus 2021 Nissan Qashqai

Which of these Nissan siblings is the best choice if you are shopping for a sub-compact SUV?

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Like many of its rivals, Nissan keeps adding more utilitarian models to its lineup. To the point where buyers can now choose between a pair of SUVs smaller than the Japanese automaker's best-selling Rogue compact SUV: the Kicks and the Qashqai siblings.

The 2021 Nissan Kicks is the automaker’s smallest SUV, and it gets both a styling refresh and new equipment this year. The Kicks sub-compact size makes it ideal for confined urban dwellers who like the idea of riding up high but don’t need or want a large SUV. The Kicks offers a roomy and versatile interior and is perfect for buyers looking for something stylish, feature-filled, safe, and fuel-efficient. 

Think of the 2021 Nissan Qashqai as a replacement for the departed Nissan Juke: a more fun-to-drive and easier-to-manoeuvre version of the larger Rogue. It offers a slightly longer wheelbase than the Kicks but is still considered a sub-compact. Last year, the Qashqai received a new exterior design that Nissan says provides a sportier feel to help provide a greater separation from its Rogue stablemate.

So, which one to choose? Read on to find out which of these Nissan sub-compact SUV siblings is just right for you.

 

Price

With a starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $19,898 in Canadian dollars, the base 2021 Nissan Kicks S trim is Nissan’s least expensive SUV. 

All Kicks are front-wheel-drive (FWD). Standard equipment includes a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and stereo controls on the steering wheel.  Also standard on every Kicks is Nissan’s Safety Shield 360, a suite of driver assists that is one of the most comprehensive in its class. For 2021, a new customizable 8-inch touchscreen display is an option on higher trims. The top-line SR Premium trim starts at $24,998 and comes with niceties like a 360-degree parking monitor, a sound system with headrest speakers, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

As its higher price suggests, the 2021 Nissan Qashqai’s base $21,998 S FWD M/T trim comes better-equipped.

On top of the base Kicks, standard gear includes heated front seats, FWD, and the availability of a 6-speed manual transmission. A CVT is a $2,500 option. Unlike the Kicks, you can get traction at all four wheels with your Qashqai, starting with the $25,998 S AWD CVT trim. At the top of the Qashqai’s six trim levels is the $31,998 SL AWD CVT. It comes with standard features not available on the Kicks, like leather upholstery, Intelligent Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, and a 6-way power driver’s seat with 2-way power lumbar.

Winner: 2021 Nissan Kicks

 

Interior 

Inside, the 5-passenger Kicks has a relatively comfortable and roomy interior for an SUV of its size. As with other vehicles in Nissan’s lineup, the Kicks is fitted with NASA-inspired “zero-gravity” seats that are pretty comfortable. The Kicks also has a built-in armrest on the right-hand side of the driver’s seat—a rarity in vehicles at this affordable price point. All models come with a central 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system, with logically arranged controls for the climate control right below. Because of its taller shape, the Kicks offers slightly more front headroom and legroom than its Qashqai sibling.

A no-nonsense cabin with an uncomplicated infotainment system should please buyers considering the 5-passenger Qashqai. Rear passengers will be much happier during long drives in the Qashqai, with more room for adult legs and shoulders than in the shorter Kicks. While there isn’t much storage space up front for smaller items like phones or purses in the Kicks, there’s plenty of room in the back for sports gear or a small stroller. In fact, with 716.4 litres of rear cargo space, the Kicks offers more than the 648.5 litres found in the Qashqai.

Winner: Tie

 

Performance & Fuel Economy

Don’t expect to set any speed records in the Kicks. Nissan’s little SUV offers a mere 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque from its 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine. While the 2021 Kicks isn’t all that heavy on paper, add in a few passengers and some cargo, and you’ll find yourself struggling to overtake slower traffic even at normal highway speeds.

With its larger, 2.0-litre 4-cylinder that produces a more substantial 141 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque, the Qashqai feels more grownup than its less powerful sibling. Although it's only available in FWD form, the Qashqai's 6-speed manual gearbox is a feature the Kicks can't offer. 

As expected, the only downside to the Qashqai’s extra power is slightly less impressive fuel economy. The Kicks scores a combined city and highway fuel economy estimate of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres (L/100-km). The most fuel-efficient Qashqai, in FWD CVT trim, is rated at 8.1.

Winner: 2021 Nissan Qashqai

 

Ride and Handling

Driving enthusiasts take note: neither of these small SUV siblings can match the fun-to-drive character of Nissan’s older Juke sub-compact SUV.

That said, the front-drive-only Kicks does just fine around town and in everyday driving, and its nimble attitude, tight turning circle, and taut suspension make quick work of twisting turns. One minor complaint centers around the Kicks’ short 2,620-millimetre wheelbase that, along with the stiff suspension, translates to a somewhat jittery ride that could get bothersome on long trips.

In everyday duties, the Qashqai is “just fine” as well. But it doesn’t have much to offer beyond those parameters. The handling is safe and predictable. Overall, its ride is more comfortable on pot-holed Canadian streets than the Kicks due to its longer 2,647-mm wheelbase. Plus there’s less road noise. Keep in mind, the Qashqai’s availability of AWD is something the Kicks can’t deliver.

Winner: 2021 Nissan Qashqai

 

Overall Winner: 2021 Nissan Qashqai

Offering choices in the burgeoning small SUV segment seems like a no-brainer for automakers these days. And with its 2021 Kicks and Qashqai siblings, Nissan has variety on its side.

With its sub-compact Versa and compact Sentra only available in a sedan body style, the Kicks makes for a great pick if you want the utility of a small hatchback with the added advantage of a lower entry price and better fuel economy than larger SUVs. 

However, with its roomier back seat, more powerful engine, the option of manual or automatic transmissions, the choice of FWD or AWD, and more comfortable ride, we feel the 2021 Nissan Qashqai offers more overall value despite its higher starting price.

 

Specs

2021 Nissan Kicks

2021 Nissan Qashqai

Engine(s)

1.6-litre I4

2.0-litre I4

Horsepower

122 @ 6,300 rpm

141 @ 6.000 rpm

Torque

114 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

147 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission(s)

Continuously variable automatic

Continuously variable automatic

Fuel Economy

FWD CVT: 7.2 L/100 km (7.7 city, 6.6 hwy)

FWD 6M: 9.0 L/100 km (9.9 city, 8.0 hwy)

FWD CVT: 8.1 L/100 km (8.8 city, 7.3 hwy)

AWD CVT: 9.0 L/100 km (9.0 city, 8.0 hwy)

Warranty

3 years/60,000 km

3 years/60,000 km

Max Seating Capacity

5

5

Curb Weight

1,200-1,244 kg

1,519 kg

Wheelbase

2,620 mm

2,647 mm

Overall Length

4,309 mm

4,394 mm

Width

1,760 mm

1,836 mm

Height

1,609 mm

1,588 mm

Headroom, Front

1,027 mm

1,006 mm

Headroom, Rear

977 mm

980 mm

Legroom, Front

1,111 mm

1,087 mm

Legroom, Rear

824 mm

1,438 mm

Shoulder Room, Front

1,347 mm

1,415 mm

Shoulder Room, Rear

1,351 mm

1,415 mm

Cargo Volume, Behind Rear Seats

716.4 L

648.5 L

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