By on October 5, 2020

Many automotive enthusiasts are excited about new luxury wagons or high powered sports cars. In TTAC’s case, many of our Best and Brightest are excited about H-Body Oldsmobiles. While I too share your excitement for the Olds Eighty Eight, the average new car buyer does not. They care about the crossovers. The compact crossover has become this generation’s Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, or Ford Taurus. The best-selling cars of yesteryear have been increasingly replaced in American garages by the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V, or Nissan Rogue.

Because of their popularity, whenever an auto manufacturer releases a new high-volume crossover, it’s a big deal. Last year, full-sized trucks from the Detroit Three were the best selling vehicles in America. However, the next three best-selling vehicles were the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue. Manufacturers have been hyper-focused on making these vehicles the first choice for American families. Last year, the Nissan Rogue was America’s sixth-most purchased vehicle, despite the fact that it is seven years old. So when Nissan invited TTAC to drive the all-new 2021 Nissan Rogue, we were happy to attend.

Nissan is in the midst of a transformation. It’s more focused on building its business in North American by offering 10 new products in the next 20 months. The Rogue is the first of six new or redesigned vehicles that will debut by the end of 2021. U.S. production of the 2021 Nissan Rogue began last month in Smyrna, Tennesse. Nissan has redesigned the Rogue with the features they believe customers want; safety, modern design, convenience, and premium driving dynamics. A drive through Michigan’s Livingston and Washtenaw Counties was our first look to see if Nissan hit the mark.

Before even stepping into the 2021 Nissan Rogue, you can tell that design is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The 2021 Rogue looks much more premium than the outgoing model, but it isn’t a shocking redesign like the 2022 Hyundai Tucson. There are design elements, like the LED signature lamps, floating roof, and U-shaped bodyside, which will carry over onto other Nissan vehicles.

Inside the Rogue, you will find a much-improved cabin. The interior materials feel of proper quality, and the layout is intuitive. Our SL-trimmed Rogue featured leather seats, tri-zone HVAC, an eight-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a panoramic moonroof. I did have connectivity issues with CarPlay on my iPhone 11. However, that could have been an issue with the preproduction unit or the cable that was provided. The touchscreen infotainment system responded quickly, had a simple layout, and was very easy to use. Nissan touts their seats as “NASA-inspired Zero Gravity Seats” and I found them to be very comfortable. The seats are well-bolstered and supportive while allowing the driver to quickly find a comfortable driving position.

Those with small children will also appreciate the 5-point LATCH in the rear seats and a nearly 90-degree rear-door opening. The way the door opens makes it much easier to get an infant car seat or toddler our of the back seat. That extra space surprised me when I was able to sit behind myself in the Rogue even though I am six-foot-five. I don’t know that I would be comfortable on a five-hour drive, but there is plenty of room for normal-sized humans.

The spaciousness extends to the rear cargo area. The cargo area is improved over the outgoing model and features a larger cargo opening. Once the liftgate is opened, you can see that Nissan thought of clever storage solutions. For example, there is storage behind the wheel arch designed to hold a gallon of milk. There is also an available flexible cargo divider.

On rural Michigan’s back roads, we were able to get a feel for how the 2021 Nissan Rogue drives. It’s better than I expected. The Rogue isn’t a sports car and isn’t pretending to be one. However, it rides and drives well for the class. The Rogue didn’t roll through corners or feel sloppy through hills and valleys. Acceleration is modest, but the Rogue doesn’t feel underpowered. A direct-injected 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder putting out 181 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque is the only engine option for 2021. The only transmission offered is Nissan’s XTRONIC CVT. There are paddle shifters, but I didn’t touch them because it’s a CVT. I’ve often had poor experiences driving vehicles with a CVT. I didn’t feel any fake shift points or notice awful CVT noises during my drive. The transmission was rather uneventful, which is ideal on a crossover.

The new powertrain and improved aerodynamics on the 2021 Rogue contribute to a 1-2 mpg improvement of the 2020 Rogue. On a front-wheel-drive Rogue, that is good for up to 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. That is a combined rating of 30 mpg. Available all-wheel drive drops mileage to 26 mpg  city, 33 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. Over the seventy-mile loop Nissan set up, I averaged just over 33 mpg.

The Rogue is also noticeably quieter and rides smoother than some of its competition. Aerodynamic improvements, a new multi-link rear suspension, a thicker dash insulator, and front acoustic glass make for an extremely quiet ride. Nissan benchmarked the ride against premium competitors. The double-piston shock absorbers and new chassis certainly help with ride comfort and quality. That combined with the cabin ergonomics makes for a compelling family road trip vehicle.

The comfortable ride, good fuel economy, and excellent use of space weren’t what most impressed me about the 2021 Nissan Rogue. That honor is reserved for the impressive suite of standard safety technologies found on the vehicle. Every 2021 Nissan Rogue comes with Nissan’s Safety Shield 360. This is the most comprehensive grouping of standard safety technologies in its class. High beam assist, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, blind-spot warning, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection are all standard. Upgrading to the SV trim will add Nissan’s adaptive cruise system call ProPILOT Assist. I did have issues with ProPILOT Assist when driving during the rain. Nissan’s system seems sensitive to inclement weather. The system on my wife’s Lincoln crossover has worked through the perils of Michigan winters. I’m not sure if ProPILOT is up to that task.

Nissan offers all of those safety features standard on the Rogue S that has an MSRP of $25,650 when equipped with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option. The new Platinum trim level tops out at $36,830 with all-wheel drive. It features a larger center display, a 12.3-inch digital dashboard, a head-up display, quilted leather, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and a BOSE premium audio system. We drove the front-wheel-drive SL trim that starts at $32,000. The expected volume trim is the SV trim. It adds ProPILOT Assist, large alloys, a power driver seat, an exterior camera, and the ability to add a premium package for a few thousand more. The SV trim starts at $27,340 when equipped with front-wheel drive. All 2021 Nissan Rogues have a destination and handling charge of $1,095.

For my money, the 2021 Nissan Rogue SV and SL are very compelling choices in the compact crossover space. Both offer more content than their competitors, and Nissan has done their homework on how families use their vehicles. The SL trim offers a level of content that, until recently, was only found in luxury crossovers. Now Nissan offers this safety tech standard for cheaper than the competitors. Nissan has placed a focus on safety and value and it shows. With modest MSRP increases of less than $200 on most trims and a renewed focus on the customer, I expect the 2021 Nissan Rogue to continue to be Nissan’s best-selling vehicle. If you are shopping for a compact crossover, it should definitely make your shortlist.

[Images © 2020 Adam Tonge/TTAC]

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32 Comments on “2021 Nissan Rogue First Drive: Value and Safety...”


  • avatar

    The Rogue has come a long way from that very basic first generation with its goofy punch out grille.

    Styling is certainly better, though I see Rav4 and Escape derivatives at the side and rear.

    Steering wheel looks ugly, geometric horizontal spokes and a swooping vertical one. Dash looks really unbalanced as it swings away from the passenger. And the top screen still looks like an afterthought in 2021.

    But none of that matters as they’ll sell 50 million, and at least it drives well as a comfort wagon.

    They just won’t sell as many to Enterprise as normal.

    Edit: Nissan really needs to improve the stability of its driver assist software. It’s not really acceptable for it to give up in a light rain, which it did here and also on the Altima I had a couple of years ago as a rental.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      The screen seemed fine when driving. I think it is mostly set up for CarPlay/Android Auto. The base infotainment system is very basic. That’s both good and bad I guess. It certainly doesn’t have the features of Ford’s system. But now that people use their phone, I don’t think you necessarily need it.

  • avatar
    07NodnarB

    Geewhiz, its so inoffensive, that its offensive. I took one look at it and was bored. Playing it so safe…yawn. That means it’ll be a bestseller almost instantly. Bleh.

  • avatar
    make_light

    Doesn’t seem bad for what it is, but the Platinum model C&D tested was over $38k I believe. You can get a similarly-equipped Outback Turbo for about the same coin (or even less for the Onyx edition)… at those prices, not sure why you’d ever choose this. Alas people will.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      I wouldn’t choose the Platinum either. What they put me in was as high as I would go. The SV with the Premium Package is probably the best option.

    • 0 avatar
      amwhalbi

      I agree, make_light. If a Platinum would be similar in cost to a well equipped Outback (Limited, for example), it would still be an uphill battle to get me to pick the Rogue over the Outback. But the mainline Rogue looks to be a better competitor to the usual compact suspects (CR-V, RAV-4, Forester, Tucson, CX-5, etc.).

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Nice review. I appreciate the inclusion of useful details (90-degree rear door, storage cubbies) and the absence of cutesy metaphors. The motor alone would be enough to put this on my list, big NA 4’s are getting harder to fine. I’d like mine with a 6-speed stick, but that ship has sailed. At least Nissan seems to be making CVTs that work.

    If TTAC ever revives the Ace of Base series, this would make for a good entry.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Hopefully they have made some progress with the CVTs, because they have a horrifically bad reputation (the JATCO CVTs). I see no picture of the front end. That’s a good thing, because from what I can see, it’s weird.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    This model is their biggest seller-and will probably continue to sell well.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Why think too long? Just smash Hyundai and Toyota, get nissan

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This seems nice enough, but I’d want to look at the 22 Tucson Hybrid before buying this.

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    Bingo, SCE to AUX. As I was reading the article, I kept thinking, “Wonder how will this compare to the ’22 Tucson?” Must say, I never would have considered a Nissan before, based on my ho-hum experience driving their rentals. But this one might be worth a quick look-see.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Affordable? Yes. Able to haul most of my stuff most of the time? Yes. Sitting up high and feeling safe? Yes. Haul four passengers comfortably? Yes. Comfortable for the daily slog and the occasional out of town weekend trip? Yes. Tires and suspension able to handle our 3rd world level streets? Yes. Handling? Like a pig on a frozen pond. Acceleration? Yes, it does somewhat. This is how the automotive market is trending. Did I mention it’s usually front-wheel drive and comes with an automatic? I miss my Escape but not enough to trade my IS for a new one. The new Bronco is a whole other story.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I miss my ’05 Escape, although my ’17 does everything well and has been trouble-free, but the new Escapes look awful to me. Looks like a giant suppository. I like the new Bronco Sport though. Love that the rear window opens like the earlier models.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    BTW, how many members of the “Save the Manuals” movement are shifting a front-wheel drive trans-axle? Wrong wheel drive and a stick is kinda like a veggie burger. It’s almost right. Firing up the air popper.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      We exist. My Jeep (Compass) is ‘FWD-biased’ 4×4, with a manual. The programming makes it more of a 4×4 with FWD economy mode when cruising.

      Before this— it was always a FWD manual daily runner— 3 ‘new’ ones. I’ve always put my money where my mouth is.

      And I’ll eat a black bean burger .all.day.long. :)

  • avatar
    SqueakyVue

    What about the B5 Passat, GTI, anything mazda or even the last Focus/Fiesta ST? I love RWD as much as the next guy but there used to be plenty of passable FWD options.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    The interior looks nice. Friend has a current CR-V and this certainly looks better.

  • avatar

    This is good for folks who buy car as commodity, and if that is your yardstick, this is a large car for cheap if you avoid the upsell. The upsell is kinda rough, a full 1/3 more for a better radio and AWD…wow. Probably translates ok in “low monthly payments” Any complaints about CVT or performance aren’t relevant to this market. The bluetooth music and back up cam will get the ohhs and aaahhhs.

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