First drive: 2021 Nissan Rogue splits the difference

October 5, 2020

The 2021 Nissan Rogue headlines a major overhaul underway at Nissan. The compact crossover SUV is the first and arguably most important of six new or redesigned vehicles for 2021, ranging from the cutting edge Nissan Ariya electric SUV to the old-as-salt Nissan Frontier mid-size pickup truck.

The Rogue is Nissan’s best-seller and one of the top ten selling vehicles in the U.S. The 2021 redesign enhances the Rogue’s most well-known traits by bridging value with good standard features and an unremarkable ride. It gets better but doesn't do anything that different, in a sense splitting the difference between compact crossovers with electrified powertrains but also evolving from its own past. 

With a top new Platinum trim, the 2021 Rogue’s features list grows longer and the price remains nearly the same. It’s 1.5 inches shorter in length, but clever packaging and deep storage areas boost overall cargo space 4.1 cubic feet to 74.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. 

Nissan is touting the Rogue as a family vehicle, and the storage areas and standard safety features affirm it. The rear doors open nearly 90 degrees that make for plenty of space to load bags, dogs, or even three child safety seats, according to Nissan. The rear seats seem roomy enough to believe it, even though the expanded cargo room cuts into one inch of leg room to 36.8 inches for rear riders. Still, a 6-foot passenger could easily fit behind a 6-foot driver. The 60/40-split rear seats collapse with the push of a button so even the kids could help load the back. 

The cargo area has two panels to make the floor flat with the seats down, or they can be lowered a couple inches for more depth. Deep side pockets can fit a gallon of milk or a jug of booze.

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

Clever storage areas extend up front, too, with cup holders wide and deep enough to fit a 32-ounce Yeti bottle. The center storage rest splits in half lengthwise so rear riders can access the two USB ports as easy as front riders. Below the console hides a storage area that keeps pocketbooks and tablets out of view from lurking eyes. 

A new electronic gear shifter enables that extra storage, but it feels on the flimsy side. It looks similar to the shifters in premium vehicles like Lexus, but the Park button is on top of it, and a button on the side engages the gears. 

The menu buttons below the available 9.0-inch touchscreen (8.0-inch is standard) similarly feel flimsy, but the large, clear display is easy to use with minimal distraction, even on a cold, rainy, Midwestern fall day.  

I tested the SL trim that costs $33,025, including $1,025 destination. It slots below the new $36,455 Platinum trim and the $28,365 SV trim, which would be my pick for value. 

The base S model costs $26,675 and comes well-equipped for only $160 more than the outgoing 2020 Rogue. It has an 8.0-touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, two USB ports, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, and a slew of safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection front and rear, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic high beams.   

The Rogue SV adds 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat, a wifi hotspot, keyless entry, a surround-view camera system, and adaptive cruise control that can stop for up to 30 seconds in stop-and-go traffic without driver intervention. The throttle response is smoother, and the active lane control system does a better job of staying in the center lane in brief testing on I-94. 

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

2021 Nissan Rogue

The SL trim lays out the comfort with leather seats, power liftgate, power front seats, a panoramic sunroof, tri-zone climate control for rear passengers, and 19-inch wheels. I’m not sold on the $4,640 price bump over the SV, and the Platinum trim, which was a package last year, strains the value proposition even more with a 9.0-inch touchscreen, Bose sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless smartphone charging, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and a 10.8-inch head-up display.

All Rogues are powered by a familiar 2.5-liter inline-4 with a revised continuously variable transmission (CVT) that helps make the front-wheel-drive Rogue about 1 mpg more efficient to 29 mpg combined. All-wheel-drive models lose 1 mpg but gain two more drive modes with Off-road and Snow. Shared with the Altima mid-size sedan, the 2.5-liter makes 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, improvements of 11 hp and 6 lb-ft over the 2020 model. It’s built for comfort and quiet, not for speed. 

More notable is what isn’t noticeable. The Rogue rides on new bones with a new platform and chassis that’s quieter and smoother thanks to a multi-link rear suspension and a stiffer, stabler rear. The old Rogue could be loud at highway speeds, with noise coming from the road, engine, wind, and even the rear. Wind noise has been diminished, and the only presence of engine noise is when flooring it in Sport mode. It’s far from quick, but it’s not as pokey as the previous model. In Sport or Standard mode, the CVT simulates a 7-gear automatic, or the flimsy gear shifter can be used for manual override. Meh. 

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

Rivals such as the 2021 Honda CR-V can be had as a hybrid, and the 2021 Toyota RAV4 and 2021 Ford Escape offer both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. The only benefit of the Rogue’s single powertrain option is value. 

Like its new bones, the 2021 Rogue gets a new skin with some Nissan hallmarks. A U-shaped grille extends its lines over the hood then down the body in another U-shape dipping under the side mirrors, along the door handles, then back up to the rear pillar. It looks good, sharper in profile than it does from the front, where the LED headlights split from daytime running lights that narrow like an eyebrow from a disapproving aunt.  

The redesigned Rogue doesn’t go rogue and blaze any new path for Nissan, but it provides comprehensive base content that prioritizes safety and connectivity, and offers premium-leaning options. 

Nissan provided lodging to bring you this firsthand report.


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