Nissan vastly improves its popular small SUV, which could very well now be best-in-class.
As a flavor, vanilla gets a bad rap – it’s often portrayed as the boring, uninspiring default versus more exciting flavors like balsamic strawberry or chili-chocolate. But there’s something to be said for a bowl of ice cream flavored with real vanilla, capping off a meal with comforting, familiar richness that soothes, rather than challenges the senses. To that end, consider the 2021 Nissan Rogue to be good vanilla’s automotive equivalent.
Newly redesigned, the Nissan Rogue compact SUV addresses many of the faults of its predecessor (a cheap interior, uninteresting design, and dated technology) without abandoning its core traits of efficiency, value, and roominess. Though still offering a rather uninspiring driving experience, the 2021 Rogue parlays its family-friendliness with crisp, contemporary styling and comprehensive safety features – like vanilla, the Rogue might not be overly flavorful or bold, but most people will probably like it at least a little.
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Styling-wise, there wasn’t much wrong with Nissan’s old SUV, but there wasn’t much right with it either. You can’t say the same of the 2021 Rogue. From its big V Motion front grille to its upright rear hatch, the new crossover has personality to spare. The hood features crisp peaks that generate from the bold grille’s chrome accents. The greenhouse ditches some of its predecessor’s swoopiness, with squared-off rear door glass and a more vertical hatchback profile.
A set of nineteen-inch alloys fills the wheel arches, giving the Rogue a planted stance that’s underscored by sharp-edged fender flares front and rear – 17s are standard on the base model, while the SV gets 18s. A stout shoulder line vanishes into the front door–mounted mirror, only to reappear midway through the rear door as a hip that blends seamlessly into the taillights. Lower on the doors is a slick body contour that somehow gives the Rogue an hourglass figure – for a family vehicle, Nissan’s newest crossover is a shapely machine, boasting offbeat-yet-cohesive, seemingly Gallic styling.
Inside, a redesigned-yet-familiar D-shaped steering wheel appears in front of the driver, who faces a pair of analog gauges with a 7.0-inch information display in the center. A stitched dash panel shaped like a wing gives the passenger something to appreciate. Between the two is a tablet-style, 8.0-inch infotainment display mounted high, with intuitive automatic climate controls beneath it. A high and wide center console with convincingly metallic faux-aluminum trim gives the front seats an intimate, cockpit-like feel, with space below for an open storage cubby.
Materials quality up front is nearly class-leading thanks to the SL’s standard leather upholstery on the seats and steering wheel, with soft-touch plastics appearing on every surface above knee level. That said, a flimsy-feeling electronic shift selector gave us some pause, and the passenger side-view mirror bobbled around worryingly on rough roads – we don’t recall such issues in the sterling Mazda CX-5. In the rear, the door panels are hewn in hard plastic, with soft-touch armrests. The kids probably won’t notice.
Though peppered with a few cheap materials, the cabin is a nearly faultless place to pass the time. In true Nissan fashion, the wide front seats get proprietary “Zero Gravity” cushions that provide plenty of support and comfort over long trips. Thickly padded door and center armrests further the cause, as does a remarkably hushed, serene ride that abides barely any outside noise. Excellent storage solutions provide both front seat occupants with places for their phones, soda cups, and water bottles – all four door pockets, for example, are large enough for a 32-ounce HydroFlask.
In the second row, there’s a slight lack of thigh support for long-legged passengers, but anyone under 5-foot-10 will find the rear bench comfortable enough for very long trips. A flat rear floor and abundant toe room under the front seats allow folks to stretch out, and the split rear seatback reclines a few degrees for max-relax. The second row is probably best suited to two adults, but three would fit with only a little grumbling. Nissan thoughtfully includes LATCH anchors in all three seating positions, giving growing families lots of comfort and flexibility.
Front head- and legroom are more than adequate, at 39.2 inches and 43.3 inches respectively, both of which beat out the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In the rear, 37.8 inches of headroom and 38.5 inches of legroom create plenty of hats-on, legs-out space for all but the tallest passengers, though those key competitors turn the tables here with more space in both metrics. Working in the Rogue’s favor is an open, airy greenhouse that alleviates claustrophobia more than the Honda and Toyota, as well as improved hiproom in the back.
The Rogue offers 36.9 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats upright, coming up short to the Honda’s 39.2 and the Toyota’s 37.6 cubes. With the rear seats down, the Rogue’s 72.9 cubic feet splits the difference between the RAV4’s 69.8 and the CR-V’s 75.8. If it doesn’t win in absolute numbers, Nissan nevertheless makes the most of the room it has available. A cubby in the corner of the cargo area is perfectly sized for a gallon of milk, and the company’s Divide-N-Hide storage panels allow for some cargo customization and separation, if need be.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Wireless CarPlay is available on the new Rogue, but only as part of the SL Premium Package or by stepping into the top-rung Rogue Platinum, and wireless charging is only available on the flagship trim. Otherwise, just about every connectivity feature comes standard, even on the base Rogue S, including an intuitive and attractive 8.0-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. All told, the new SUV’s infotainment package is a massive improvement over its predecessor. The midlevel SV and mid-luxury SL trims add ProPilot Assist technology to that base content.
Forking over the extra cash for a Rogue Platinum brings both those aforementioned wireless technologies along for the ride, as well as a larger 9.0-inch infotainment display, fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster, and head-up display. The Platinum also gets embedded navigation, which is integrated into the adaptive cruise control to proactively slow for curves in the road. The Platinum gets Bose audio standard, while the SL only offers it as part of the trim level’s premium package; we didn’t miss it since the standard system does a decent job reproducing lots of different musical styles.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the 2021 Rogue is rather dull to drive, powered as it is by a 2.5-liter inline-four with 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet. Representing an improvement of 11 hp and 6 lb-ft over the outgoing Rogue, the added power isn’t really noticeable from the driver’s seat, possibly because it’s smothered by a continuously variable transmission before heading to the front wheels (our tester didn’t have all-wheel drive, which is a reasonable $1,400 option).
All that said, there’s nothing overtly bad about the way the Rogue goes about its business. Planting the throttle results in consistent – if gradual – acceleration, and the CVT does a decent, drone-free job of transferring power to the wheels. Numb steering is nonetheless accurate, and the brakes are secure and capable. It’s not nearly as exciting to drive as a Mazda CX-5, but the 2021 Rogue disappears into the background in a good way. There are no obvious foibles to distract its occupants from the serene, whisper-quiet ride.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Nissan Rogue
The 2021 Nissan Rogue is nearly unmatched in terms of safety. In base form, it comes standard with forward collision monitoring and automatic emergency braking, lane departure prevention, blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, automatic rear braking, automatic high beams, and a driver alertness system. Stepping into the SV or SL trim adds ProPilot Assist, a suite of features that includes adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and traffic jam assistance, each of which do their job very well, avoiding aggressive acceleration, braking, or steering intervention in favor of smooth, comfortable inputs.
The Platinum features the aforementioned navigation-linked ProPilot Assist. It also adds an inboard side airbag between the driver and front passenger seats, in addition to the roster of front driver and passenger airbags, front knee airbags, front side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags found on all Rogues.
For those shopping for a base-model SUV, they’ll find a bit more safety and driver-assist content in the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, both of which include adaptive cruise control and lane centering on even their cheapest trims.
Achieving 26 miles per gallon city, 34 highway, and 29 combined, the front-wheel-drive Nissan Rogue is relatively efficient. Some traffic-heavy routes saw our indicated fuel economy drop to 24 or 25 mpg, but nailing 32 mpg over our 400 miles with the Rogue was pretty easy.
In fairness to its competitors, the Rogue comes up a bit short. The CR-V and RAV4 both hit 30 mpg combined thanks to improved city and highway ratings, while the Ford Escape achieves 30 mpg combined in spite of worse highway fuel economy than the Rogue. Nissan outdoes Mazda in this metric, however; the front-wheel-drive CX-5 gets 25 city, 31 highway, and 28 combined mpg.
The Rogue starts at $25,650 for the base trim, but the SL model featured here goes for $32,000. Our tester added only floor mats and a cargo mat ($385) and destination and handling ($1,095), bringing the total to a reasonable $33,480. But the Rogue SL FWD isn’t the cheapest entry in this segment. One could step into a Honda CR-V EX-L ($30,450) or a Toyota RAV4 XLE Premium ($30,150) for less, while the Ford Escape SEL is the mid-lux loss leader, starting at just $29,205.
However, we’d argue that the Rogue SL offers more luxurious interior appointments than any of those competitors – the Toyota gets leatherette upholstery and the Honda’s infotainment surround is declassé piano-black plastic, to say nothing of the cheap (and cheap-feeling) Ford Escape. We also think the Rogue offers more passenger comfort, and its ProPilot Assist feature set works as well or better than its competition’s active driver-assist technologies.
Although it didn’t provoke lots of emotion, the 2021 Nissan Rogue earned huge amounts of respect from its driver and passengers, thanks to its roomy cabin, easy-to-use technology, and calm driving demeanor. Bundled with edgy, almost French styling, the new Rogue proves that in this case, vanilla doesn’t have to mean bland.
Rogue Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Nissan Rogue Review
2021 Nissan Rogue SL FWD