I tested a $35,275 Nissan Rogue, the carmaker's top-selling compact crossover SUV, all-new for the 2021 model year.
The Rogue is Nissan's most important vehicle in the US, with annual sales that have exceeded 400,000 units.
The new Rogue has been upgraded in many areas, including the exterior design and infotainment technology.
The 181-horsepower engine is on the lower end of the oomph spectrum as vehicles of this type go, but it gets the job done.
The new Rogue has enough of a premium interior character to pick off a few Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V buyers and to defend its position in the ultra-competitive company crossover segment.
Nissan doesn't get as much press as Toyota and Honda, its chief rivals, but in many ways, the automaker has more to offer consumers than its compatriots.
Through its longtime participation in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, Nissan was part of the world's largest automaking enterprise, by sales, in 2018, beating out Volkswagen. As an individual nameplate, it sells everything from the 370Z sports car to the Leaf EV to the Titan full-size pickup, with numerous models in other segments, retailing at a wide range of price points, in between.
Nissan also has a luxury arm, Infiniti, that competes with Toyota's Lexus and Honda's Acura, but also with Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Lincoln.
But if you were to look at all Nissan does, its most important vehicle by far is the Rogue compact crossover SUV. In 2019, Nissan sold 350,00o Rogues in the US — an impressive figure, but down from more than 400,000 the previous two years.
The Rogue debuted in 2007, but it was the second-generation crossover that truly hit the bullseye for Nissan, perfectly timed for a switch that commenced in 2013, with buyers saying no to sedans and yes to compact SUVs. Rogue feasted on that market for seven years, but ebbing sales in recent years indicated that it was time for a redesign.
Nissan could have held the line and given the Rogue a mild makeover, but the company went much farther, basing the 2021 Rogue on a new platform that generates something of an optical illusion: It's about the same size as the previous generation, but it looks larger.
A compact-plus appearance
Compared with its main competitors, the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V, the new Rogue has a sort of compact-plus appearance. Nissan gave a sneak peek a few months ago before loaning me a vehicle to properly test, and my first reaction was, "Wow! Big Rogue!"
That impression was heightened by the fact that I own a RAV4 and could consider the two crossovers bumper-to-bumper. And the new Rogue did indeed seem to be trending toward Pathfinder/Highlander dimensions, even if it's basically the same size as the outgoing version.
I've always been fond of the Rogue and have tested the gen-two vehicle a number of times. My take on Nissan is that it usually offers a more premium product than Toyota or Honda, but Nissan's vehicles can be behind the times as far as technology goes, and they have a less sterling reputation for reliability than their Japanese rivals.
There's a bit of hairsplitting at play here, however. And both the RAV4 and CR-V have been around longer. Nissan makes a fine little truck, and the Rogue's sales success since the mid-2010 could be chalked up to high-quality as much as good timing.
The price is nice
My review Rogue SL started at $33,400 and topped out at $35,275, with a $395 two-tone paint job and some fancy, $385 floor mats adding to the sticker price beyond the destination charges. The "Boulder Gray/Super Black" exterior was totally worth it and a nice deal at less than $400. Value for money was a theme that would recur often in my days with the new Rogue.
The upshot is that Nissan has pushed itself just enough with this crucial vehicle, fixing what wasn't so appealing about the previous generation while not messing with what worked. The result is a Rogue that's close to perfect, although with a few lingering problems.
First off, let's dispense with the only thing one might want to complain about forcefully — the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, which lacks turbocharging, puts out 181 horsepower with 181 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), yielding a 0-60mph time north of eight seconds. There is but one option.
The competition has turbos, doesn't confine you to a CVT, and is either slightly or substantially more powerful than the Rogue, while using in some cases smaller motors. On paper, the new Rogue is a loser in this department, but I've driven all the other compact mass-market SUVs on the market, and day-to-day, the Rogue is predictably just fine.
Maybe I longed for a little more oomph when merging to the legal speed limit in my New Jersey enclave. The CVT, however, is smooth and relatively responsive, so while the Rogue can't grab gobs of available torque for passing maneuvers, it can handle the freeway.
Nissan is doing some hard calculations here, assuming that prospective buyers want a nice crossover at a nice price and aren't going to get hung up on driving dynamics and straight-line speed if the thing can basically go fast enough. In my experience, horsepower hangups are not worth the time and effort it take to maintain them, especially when much of one's driving is going to be in traffic, anyway.
A reliable powertrain, and a premium interior
Also, Nissan engines have a well-deserved reputation for reliability, and with a naturally-aspirated four doing the work, there isn't much that's going to go wrong.
Dispensing with the gearhead gripes, we can move on to the good stuff: the Rogue SL's lovely interior and much-improved suite of technologies. Cargo capacity is solid, at 36 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 73 cubic feet with them dropped. Towing capacity is negligible, at 1,350 lbs., but that's enough to haul a modest trailer, and again, Nissan is angling for more enthusiastic SUV customers, preferring to deliver a compelling update to the old-school station wagon.
My SL trim tester sits just below the top-line Platinum and above the S and SV trims. My crossover had 19-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather seats, a power liftgate, rear sunshades, and three climate zones (dual front, single rear). That's a lot of appealing extras for $33,400, and my SL was also all-wheel-drive.
That price isn't too far off what I paid for my certified pre-owned 2017 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, which lacks leather seats and a powered liftgate. Objectively, the 2021 Rogue SL is a nicer package, even if I wouldn't be getting slightly higher fuel-economy. (Nissan didn't provide me with that data, but it's around 30 mpg, according to some other reviewers.)
In the front and rear seats, I felt comfortable and even borderline pampered, something I also don't experience in my RAV4. But this is nothing new for me and Nissan SUVs — I usually worry, just a bit, that the brand is pressuring Infiniti's mojo by offering such premium interiors.
Additional interior materials and appointments were all high-ish grade. This isn't a Mercedes, but the new Rogue more than makes up for what it lacks in power by inviting you to spend time inside the cabin.
Improved technology and a reassuring redesign
Nissan has upgraded the Rogue's infotainment system with a responsive nine-inch central touchscreen. It does everything well, from managing Bluetooth and USB connections to supporting both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
At this point, this vehicle basically meets the industry standard for compact-crossover tech, and it's certainly comparable with similar offerings from Honda and Toyota, neither of which are noted for superlative infotainment systems. (If this is critical for you, then Ford and Chevy have notably better setups in their crossovers.)
I wouldn't call the new Rogue exciting so much as reassuring. It's moderately fun to drive, but it truly shines in simple puttering around the suburbs, running errands, or on highway jaunts when the CVT and engine can reach a mellow cruising velocity. It has plenty of room for stuff in the cargo hold, and the back seats are roomy enough that adults should be able to tolerate them for short trips.
Everything inside looks just a little bit better than it did on the previous generation, and the boxier exterior design gives the Rogue some additional road presence, putting it in GMC Terrain territory. The rear doors have even been rethought to swing out a full 90 degrees, something that parents with small children who are still in car seats or boosters should appreciate.
The verdict on the 2021 Rogue is Nissan didn't fix what wasn't broken and did fix what some owners might have complained about, while not messing with a successful formula so much that sales could be threatened.
In fact, there are more reasons than ever to take a close look at the Rogue, and that should keep the crossover in its number-one US sales position for the US, and number three overall among compact SUVs.
Mission accomplished, indeed!
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