I want to be clear that I don’t necessarily think the new 2021 Nissan Rogue is a particularly daring or bold or, really, even all that interesting a design. I do think the very fact that it’s a Rogue—the third-best-selling SUV in America—makes the design choices seen here worth looking at, because if Nissan feels comfortable enough incorporating them into the car that’s making them the most money, they’re likely design choices that we’ll be seeing a lot more of, all across this still-gigantic crossover/SUV segment. So let’s dig in a bit.
The most fundamental design difference in the new Rogue and the outgoing one has to do with a general boxification of everything. Where the 2000s were about smooth suppository/river stone smoothed curved forms, and the 2010s were about adapting those forms with greater amounts of surface detailing and angular elements, the 2020s seem to be continuing a push into more simplified, more boxy proportions.
Compare the 2021 Rogue up there to the outgoing 2020 one here:
Pillars are getting a bit more vertical, after years of shrinking, the greenhouse is getting higher again, and, thankfully, window area is increasing as well.
Side surface details and character lines and intaglio areas and so on are being lessened, and in its place a prominent, Volvo-like “shoulder” line is emphasized, giving a sort of muscular stance to the vehicle.
I think the idea behind all this is an attempt to make these mass-market crossovers share some design traits with more well-known upmarket SUVs, like Rovers (Range and Land), ultra-high-end SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and even high end (if crappy) SUVs like the Lexus LX570.
These higher-end SUVs tend to have a taller, heftier, and somewhat boxier presence, and cars in the class that the Rogue is in have always been saddled with the miserable burden of “aspirational” design, something I personally dislike but is very much a thing and nobody gives a pair of poops what I think about that.
Even more than these high-end options, though, I think the Rogue’s real inspiration came from a much more accessible source:
The Kia Telluride. I’m not saying the Rogue was necessarily directly influenced by the Telluride, but I will say that Kia’s skillful adapting of the boxier handsomeness possible in an SUV design feels like it had to have caught the attention of Nissan.
Likely, both companies were working from the same concepts and theories, but if the Telluride was a test probe launched into the atmosphere of the planet Boxiersuvsforeveryone, the results radioed home must have been good, because the Rogue is part of the first wave of colony ships ready to settle on that planet.
This design direction is only good news for visibility and interior space as well, so that’s an added bonus, along with, hopefully, a trend towards more rectangular-shaped cargo openings, since many of the things shoved into crossover hatches are boxes, and boxes have corners, something often chopped off of irregular hexagon-ish tailgate openings.
I think the front-end treatment is an improvement over the 2020 Rogue, and I hope also represents some new design trends, specifically, a gradual return to simplicity after a decade of increasingly baroque front end designs that too often turn into riots of slash-shaped lamps and open wounds of vents, fake and real, all fighting for attention on the face of cars.
Toyota has been particularly bad about this, but Nissan is guilty, too. Let’s compare the 2020 and 2021 Rogue faces:
The big difference is that the 2021 face is the result of a lot of editing. The grille has been simplified to one trapezoidal element with with one inner grille pattern instead of before, where a thicker chrome trapezoid was inset into a larger trapezoidal cavity, with two separate sections of air-intake grille areas, each slightly different.
The lower air intake is one long area at the bottom, as before, but dispenses with the pair of foglamps/fake grilles from the outgoing model.
The lighting has separated the functions of DRLs and indicators from one pair of complex units to two separate units per side, upper DRLs and indicators taking on the “eye” locations, while the actual headlights are in simpler, more rectangular units below.
Nissan has played with this before with the Juke, which used similar DRLs/indicators and round lower headlamps.
We’ve seen this on other makes to varying degrees of success, like the 2018 Jeep Cherokee redesign or the Kia Telluride’s sibling car, the Hyundai Pallisade.
I don’t always think this motif works, but I think here it’s quite an improvement to the Rogue’s front end.
Overall, what we see from the Rogue’s external design is part of what appears to be a continuing trend in SUV and crossover design towards more simplicity, cleanliness, and boxiness, and I think these all represent positive design trends that should lend to vehicles that are easier to see out of, offer more interior room, are easier to load, and, I think just look better.
We’ll have to see if this actually spreads as other leaders in this space, like the Honda CR-V or the Toyota RAV4, approach their re-design cycles.
In the meantime, I think we can expect better-looking Rogues in our nation’s Target parking lots, and I’ll take that as a small victory.