2021 Nissan Rogue Review: Hard to Get Much More for $30K Than Nissan's New Crossover
It's all about that bang for the buck, including driver aid features you usually find on much more expensive cars.
It's easy to be persuaded or put off by a car's price. Whether it's a screaming bargain at $19,999 or a six-figure supercar, what matters most to buyers is that they feel like they're getting exactly what they paid for—and then some, ideally. Starting at under $30,000, the 2021 Nissan Rogue sits in the core of a mega-competitive segment, where a couple-hundred-dollar price difference or not having the right features could put it at a serious disadvantage. And let's just say that Nissan can't afford any screw-ups right now.
The Rogue is a crucial car for Nissan. For 2021, the brand's best-selling model sports all-new everything: exterior and interior design, platform, drivetrain, as well as safety and driver-assistance technology. On that last front, it makes some very advanced—and typically very expensive—driver aid features accessible at an extremely reasonable price.
An economy compact crossover generally has to be four things: practical, comfortable, reliable, and in this specific case, packed with value. Things like good looks and driving dynamics typically get put on the backburner for the sake of keeping costs down. Historically, the Rogue has delivered on all of those fronts.
So, how well does this all-new Rogue stick to that recipe?
2021 Nissan Rogue SV AWD, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $28,740 ($30,220)
- Powertrain: 2.5-liter inline-four | 181 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque | continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) | all-wheel drive
- Max Towing Capacity: 1,350 pounds
- EPA Fuel Economy: 25 city | 32 highway | 28 combined
- Cargo Volume: 31.6 cubic feet (74.1 with the second row down)
- The Premise: A value-packed, tech-heavy crossover for the masses.
- Quick Take: Everything that you need and nothing that you don't. This crossover checks enough boxes to stand out in a crowded segment.
Simple Design Inside and Out
The Rogue that Nissan dropped off at my house with a full tank of gas differed from most press cars in the sense that it wasn't loaded to the gills. It was a price-sensitive tester that came equipped with cloth seats and standard equipment—perfect for getting a proper feel for a car ordinary folks are likely to buy. That's good for me, the tester, and for you, the reader who may be in the market for one of these things like one of the other 20,000-odd people who buys them every month.
Overall, the new Rogue looks sharp, especially in my tester's Caspian Blue color. The new front fascia's design is a wild departure from the outgoing Rogue, with its larger "V-motion grille," standard LED daytime running lights, and lower driving lamps a la Hyundai Kona. It has a bit of a Transformer-esque look to it, but it's charming.
The profile and rear offer traditional crossover proportions and floating-roof silhouettes, borrowing heavily from design cues found in the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. Catch the Rogue's rear end from afar, and you'll most likely confuse it for the Ford. Nissan claims that its design has a purpose, with the new A-Pillar routing air along the sides of the Rogue to make it quieter and more efficient.
This new model is 1.5 inches shorter and 0.2 inches lower than the previous Rogue, further adding to its more compact and tighter design. Typically, this would translate into a slightly less spacious interior and possibly stiffer ride, but that's actually not the case here, but I'll elaborate on this later on.
Inside, gray cloth seats and a gray headliner depict a bare-bones crossover that won't exactly win you over with a warm or cozy cabin, but it's not exactly ugly either. What it is, is simple and utilitarian. In my test vehicle's SV trim, nothing's about that fancy life: seats and steering wheel aren't heated, no sunroof, no power liftgate, no rear-only climate zone, etc. Those, you have a pay a bit more and upgrade to the $32,000 SL trim.
However, I was pleased to find an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone climate system, heated side mirrors, and because it's already cold outside; remote start.
The seats are well-padded and very comfortable all around, with the rear seats offering plenty of hip- and leg-room for up to three adults to share on a multi-hour trip. In the back, the rear doors open up to an impressive near-90 degrees, which makes it extra easy to load in things like baby car seats, pets, etc. Also, the second row offers two sets of LATCH kid car seat anchors.
Trunk space is just what you'd expect on a crossover, and then some. Fitting things like a mountain bike will require you to fold down at least one side of the second row's seatbacks, but most other things, including a 1.5-year-old, 135-pound Newfoundland puppy, will fit just fine back there.
On the Road
The 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder under the hood offers 181 horsepower and an equal amount of torque. Most importantly, the engine enjoys a harmonious relationship with the CVT transmission and the rest of the drivetrain, which results in a livelier-than-expected driving experience.
On city streets, the Rogue is zippy and ready to quickly emerge out of tight spots at the slightest touch of the throttle. Yes, CVTs are often hated by everyone and their mom, but it really pairs well with what the Rogue's supposed to be and do. I never caught the Rogue "off guard," or hesitating to do exactly what I wanted it to do.
It simply did its job and did it well, offering more than enough acceleration whether on city streets or on the interstate. I'm serious, this Rogue does not feel slow.
The Rogue is equipped standard with paddle shifters and various driving modes for eco, snow, mud, and other driving conditions, but I didn't have any valid reasons to explore those during my test.
The front and rear suspension (independent strut with coil springs up front and multi-link in the back) managed to provide a comfortable ride around town, with the 17-inch wheels wrapped in 235/60R18 all-season Yokohama Geolandars doing a great job of absorbing bumps and road imperfections. I didn't exactly autocross the Rogue, but I can say that it feels more agile than the outgoing model and shows considerably less body roll during cornering than its predecessor, too.
I did encounter two annoying issues over the course of a week. One was a hideous engine drone at around 35 mph, where the CVT or engine seemed to be working a bit harder than expected and it made for an unpleasant sound that snuck into the cabin. On the plus side, Nissan really did a great job soundproofing the cabin to keep the road or wind noise out.
The second issue was the horrible shifter design and operation. Not only is the shifter ugly, but it's also unintuitive. I constantly had to double-check I had engaged the right gear because there's zero feedback from the shifter. Oh, plus the fact that you'll become the laughing stock at the drive-thru car wash—the kind where you engage neutral and a floor-mounted mechanism grabs the tires to pull you along—because engaging neutral takes some sort of wizardry. I had to keep moving the shifter up and down while receiving zero feedback until the N finally lit up.
This is where the Rogue shines and it gets one over the competition. Even at this $30,000 price point, my tester was equipped with a sharp eight-inch touchscreen to operate the usual systems: radio, phone, media, car settings, etc. but it also featured Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The stock infotainment system is basic but straightforward. There is a dock at the bottom of the screen with the most common features, and tapping on each one opens a set of submenus.
Most importantly, the SV trim includes Nissan's Pro-Pilot Assist standard, which is a suite of safety and driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning, and rear automatic braking with cross-traffic alert.
All of these are features were not only reserved for premium-tier vehicles just two or three years ago, but even today are optional on most mainstream cars. For example, the $70,000 2021 Chevy Tahoe that I recently drove lacked most, if not all of the aforementioned features. If that ain't value, then I don't know what is.
This, in addition to LED daytime running lights, digital gauges, push-button start, a decent sound system, remote start, etc., adds up to a serious tech package and safety package.
Crossovers and SUVs—or basically anything that's not a brown wagon with bags of power, all-wheel drive, and a manual transmission—tend to get dirt kicked their face by the enthusiast community. It's unfortunate, really, because these generate the cash needed by automakers to produce all the cool stuff enthusiasts adore. That's the Nissan Rogue in a nutshell. It's managed to keep the lights on and pay the bills so cars like the GT-R and upcoming Z can exist.
As I said, the recipe for an economy compact crossover is simple, and Nissan's really nailed it here. Yes, it's a pretty basic ride—though the Platinum trim offers fancier trimmings—but Nissan isn't trying to be Mazda and push the Rogue upmarket. Perhaps that's its biggest strength: it's not trying to be something it's not.
Whether you're just getting started in the adult world and are looking for a value-packed crossover that won't break the bank, or you're tired of being let down by the overpriced and overhyped, the Nissan Rogue is an honest-to-goodness ride that's in to please.
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