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The bolder front end gives the Kicks a more aggressive look.MikeDitz/Courtesy of manufacturer

The 2021 versions of Nissan’s biggest SUV and smallest CUV are getting updated styling, plusher interiors and improved tech in mid-cycle refreshes for the two product stalwarts.

The updates of “the little guy and big guy” are in response to customer feedback, and also point the vehicles in the design direction of the 10 new models that Nissan plans to introduce in the next 20 months, said Scott Pak, senior manager of product planning for Nissan Canada. “We are in the middle of a product avalanche,” he said.

Most notable on the exterior of both vehicles is a shift to a much bigger and bolder V-shaped front grille and slimmer LED headlamps, very much in the spirit of this year’s Sentra. The interiors of both vehicles, however, is where the real action is, with features that add luxury, enhance safety and provide fully modern, user-friendly infotainment systems. Powertrain configurations are unchanged, although Nissan says power and fuel economy ratings might change slightly.

2021 Kicks aimed at younger crowd

The drum brakes in the rear are replaced by better-performing disc brakes on the SV and SR models.MikeDitz/Courtesy of manufacturer

This subcompact crossover, which comes in two-wheel drive only, has sold strongly since it arrived in 2018 as a replacement for the Juke. With a low base price (listed at just under $20,000), smart looks and its ability to tap into younger buyers, “it’s been a massive hit for Nissan in Canada,” said Pak.

The bolder front end accentuates the bumper, shifts the fog lights slightly and gives the Kicks a more aggressive look. Nissan has added optional 17-inch alloy wheels, and put a little attitude into the rear deck, with a more pronounced bumper and redesigned LED lamps. Broadened colour choices now include Electric Blue, Scarlet Ember and Boulder Gray Pearl, with two-tone options.

Inside, the centre display has grown from 18 cm to 20 cm in all but the base S model, and some of the hard plastic surfaces in current models give way to silver trim and – finally – a padded centre armrest. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, as are four USB ports, and an optional Bose Personal Plus system which ups the audio offerings.

Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 suite of features is now standard and the number of air bags have been increased to 10. Other e-goodies available include intelligent cruise control and an electronic parking brake with a “hold” function that prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards on hills.

Just one powertrain is offered – the rather sluggish 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine pumps out a meagre 122 horsepower into a constant velocity transmission (CVT). Buyers should not expect much of a gain in the go. Pak says there no plans to offer a manual gearbox, as Nissan did with the Sentra, because Kick owners have shown little interest.

Happily, the ancient drum brakes in the rear are replaced by better-performing disc brakes on the SV and SR models.

2021 Armada made more for families

2021 Nissan ArmadaCourtesy of manufacturer

The roots of this full-sized SUV go way back to 2005. The modern Armada, however, dates from the 2018 model, when its platform was shifted from the Titan pickup to the venerable Patrol SUV, which is sold around the world outside of North America.

The Armada comes in two trim levels: SL and Premium. Outside updates include a reworked front and rear fascia. The SL is equipped with 20-inch painted aluminum-alloy wheels, while Platinum sizes up to machine-faced 22-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. In addition to the new deep-V front grille, the Armada’s headlights are getting the split-design treatment seen on other modern Nissan offerings.

Because it shares platforms with the full-sized Infiniti SUV, the Armada has been described as “peasant-spec QX80.” But to be clear, in no way does it look like an econo-car. The reworked exterior and upgraded interior offer a near-luxury look and feel, along with a refined infotainment system better suited to a vehicle whose price can easily run into the high five digits.

Pak describes the Armada as Nissan’s “top of the food chain” vehicle, catering to families who are looking for a SUV that is both comfortable and capable of heading off-road. Most of the owners are families with two or three kids, and they tend to be mid-career adults with average family incomes of around $150,000. Although the Patrol that the Armada is based on is capable of “jumping off sand dunes,” that’s not the Armada’s jam, said Pak. Rather it’s the comfortable eight-passenger vehicle (or seven, with optional captain’s chairs) that can tow your boat to cottage.

“They’re looking for capability, with a sense of adventure,” he said.

As with the Kicks, the Armada has larger infotainment display screen – 31 cm – and resolution has also been improved. The gauge display, too, has grown from 10 cm to 18 cm. Apple CarPlay is wireless, but Android Auto is wired-only, and there is a wireless phone charging pad.

The entire centre console area and HVAC controls have been simplified and cleaned up, delivering a more elegant look. The reworked front centre console can be opened from either the front or the back. The SL offers standard leather-appointed seating, while the Platinum level adds some quilting.

The Armada's 31 cm infotainment display screen.Courtesy of manufacturer

Its 5.6L V8 delivers 390 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque, enough to tow 3,855 kilograms of weight, and an integrated trailer brake controller and trailer sway control have been added.

Safety Shield 360 is also standard on the Armada, and includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist and rear automatic braking.

Because Armada is a low-volume, high-profit margin vehicle, just 340 were sold to the end of the third quarter of 2020 – a year marked with sales disruptions related to the COVD-19 pandemic. Armada’s best year in Canada was 2018, in which 1,435 units were sold.

Nissan reports that 13,451 of the entry-level Kicks were sold by the end of the third quarter. Despite COVID, its best sales month since introduction was September 2020, when 2,067 were delivered.

The Armada is to arrive at dealers in January 2021, and the Kicks should appear in February. Prices will be announced closer to release date.

Courtesy of manufacturer

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