The 2021 Nissan Rogue is quieter, quicker and more interesting to look at than the aging current model, but is still built for mass appeal. Can it tempt more CUV buyers into the Nissan family? That remains to be seen.
We’ve all had a rough 2020, but Nissan’s tough times started last year. The company was already on the ropes after a disastrous 2019 that saw major scandals and falling sales. The COVID pandemic only worsened an already complicated situation. Nissan badly needs a win, and it is betting big on reviving sales of its best-seller: the Nissan Rogue.
Full Disclosure: Nissan gave me an hour-and-a-half to tool around in a Nissan Rogue with a full tank of gas and a full belly of chicken salad sandwich.
Testing Conditions: Driven on some of the only “good” roads in boring flat Southeastern Michigan on a rainy and cold fall day.
The current generation of the Nissan Rogue had a facelift in 2017 but is still essentially the same vehicle Nissan debuted in 2013 for the 2014 model year. Nissan has done alright for itself with that Rogue. It’s consistently in the top five best-selling vehicles in America every month. Having high sales in the money-making crossover segment is certainly a boon to the struggling automaker, which dropped back to fifth place in rankings of most valuable Japanese automakers, knocked down a peg by Subaru last year. The Rogue makes up a little less than half of all of Nissan’s SUV and truck sales in total, 350,447 Rogues in the U.S. in 2019. Pretty good, but that’s down from a staggering 412,110 in 2018.
Nissan can’t afford to let those numbers slip anymore. Even when COVID-19 shut down its plant in Tennessee, Nissan vowed to hustle the new, more distinctive vehicle into showrooms this fall, a promise they repeated during our drive.
The new Rogue is 1.5 inches shorter and sits two-tenths of an inch lower than its predecessor on an all-new platform and chassis. It’s outfitted with a tweaked version of the outgoing car’s 2.5-liter direct-injected inline-four now producing 181 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque over the 2020 model’s 170 horsepower and 175 lb-ft mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. It is still absolutely riddled with all the safety features you’d want in a kiddie cart.
The Nissan folks put me in the fancy, but not-quite-top of the line Rogue SL, which runs for $32,000 in front-wheel drive and $33,400 in all-wheel drive. The SL gets a few luxuries over the SV and S like 19-inch wheels, hands-free liftgate (a must for moms and dads), a panoramic moonroof and tri-zone HVAC, which lets the kids in the back seat to control their own climate. Mine also came with Nissan’s advanced driving assistant systems. ProPilot Assist is standard on the SL trim, and for an extra $1,320 you can get Navlink to go with it. SL used to be where the Rogue topped out, but Nissan has a new Premium trim which comes with all the bells and whistles and a few of its own including quilted leather seats, wireless charging for devices and ProPilot Assist and Navlink standard.
This car is unashamedly aimed at the kid-hauling, grocery-getting set who are always on the hunt for the safest vehicle possible and don’t mind searching for their rides in a sea of familiar faces in the grocery store parking lot.
If I had kids or wanted anything to do with kids, this car seems like it would be a real treat. Little things, like the rear doors opening at nearly 90 degrees to allow parents to easily hustle kids in and out of the back seat and a special storage space specifically for a gallon of milk in the cargo area, are probably fantastic for families.
The new generation has a roomy interior with loads of legroom in the back seat. The back row also features a five-point harness in the center seat, perfect for anchoring rear-facing car seats.
Something even we nonparents can appreciate is the noticeably quieter cabin over the last-gen. Nissan says the new multilink suspension, stiffer rear suspension and double-piston shock absorbers, as well as a thicker dash and front acoustic glass, are what give the new Rogue a quieter and smoother ride. It certainly drove more like a premium vehicle than the last Rogue.
The new exterior design is interesting at least. It carried over Nissan’s familiar design language while still updating the front end to a more aggressive modern styling familiar to folks in the market today.
It may not surprise you to learn that the Rogue didn’t exactly get the blood pumping. Nissan says it is aiming for sporty and luxurious. While the engine has 11 extra HP under the hood, you are still definitely driving a family vehicle from Nissan. It proved plenty sure-footed on the slick winding roads around Dexter, Mich., but I wouldn’t necessarily call it sporty, whatever that means in the first place. It drove exactly like a crossover drives. Nothing Earth-shattering there.
The dash has a nice fluid swooping motion to it, and I appreciate the two-tone color scheme but the digital dash seemed crowded and dated while the steering wheel still felt a little cheap and flimsy. My SL really could have used a head-up display, but the head-up display isn’t even available on the SL trim. You have to go up to the Premium, where the head-up display is standard. It seems with all the standard safety features that come with the new Rogue this would be a no-brainer to include standard or at least as an option for the top two tiers.
Nissan did away with the Rogue’s hybrid option in 2019, and Nissan officials were unclear if or when a hybrid option would be available. It can’t be too far behind, especially if Nissan is courting Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 buyers, all of which have the option to go green.
The 2021 Nissan Rogue crash test data has yet to be released, but the previous year rated Good across the board with IIHS, except for the small overlap front: passenger-side, which still earned a solid Acceptable rating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave last year’s Rogue four out of five stars overall on front and rollover crashes, and five stars in side impacts.
It will crash test alright I’m sure. What Nissan really brings to the safety table is its standard suite of active safety features, now known as Safety Shield 360. It comes with rear automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and high beam assist. All of that wrapped up in 10 standard airbags.
When I put the lane departure to the test on the freeway, it gently braked and steered the Rogue back into its lane every time. I really appreciated the subtle nature of the Rogue’s corrective driver features: You aren’t hit with a buzz and a klaxon going off every few minutes, but you aren’t going to be lulled into a false sense of security. After eight seconds with hands off the wheel, the car does indeed start throwing warnings up on the digital dash and slowing down.
If you’re going the Rogue route, your priorities are probably more aligned with safety and ease of use than any element of fun driving or luxury. As such, I would probably skip the Premium trim. Even with the head-up display, wireless charging and luxurious quilted seats, $35,430 for the front-wheel drive and $36,830 for the all-wheel drive just seems a bit of a reach for a Nissan Rogue. You need some cash left to invest in the ol’ college fund after all. Really, the middle of the road SV with the optional $2,660 SV Premium package would be my best buy for the new Rogue. It gets you the hands-free power liftgate, which seems like a must if you’re dealing with running errands and kids, plus roof rails and the slick power moon roof.
Nissan is aiming to sway Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota Rav4 buyers into the Nissan category. The Rogue makes an attractive buy for safety seekers looking for the most bang for their buck.
This is such a parent trap that I could feel even my own dusty biological clock suddenly start to wind up again. Who cares if I don’t actually want kids, look at how convenient and safe they would be in this vehicle!
Love it or hate it, you’re about to see a lot of these on America’s roads. It’s a perfectly reasonable purchase for the practical American family. At least their cars finally look sort of interesting, even if their lives are not.