Nissan may be hemorrhaging money, but you wouldn’t know it from sitting inside the new 2021 Rogue. Nissan spent the money to place upscale materials in the spots where they matter most, leaving a remarkably nice interior. As in any mass-market vehicle, there are some clear cost-cutting measures, but who cares if the lower door panels are hard plastic if the instrument panel looks great, the turn-signal stalks move with precision, and the textured finish on the window switches is pleasing to the touch?
These sorts of details stand out in the compact-crossover segment where all the key players are essentially the same size, the same price, and offer the same features. And frankly, we wouldn’t have blamed Nissan if it had punted on the third generation of its compact SUV, given that the outgoing Rogue sold in huge numbers despite being about as compelling as a plastic storage container from Walmart.
Although it won’t succeed on its transformed interior alone, the new Rogue is far better equipped to compete with the Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV4s of the world. We mean that literally, as our Rogue Platinum test car had features uncommon for this segment including wireless Apple CarPlay, a separate climate-control temperature zone for rear passengers, and rear-window sunshades. We’d be even more impressed if the fully loaded model were a few thousand dollars less than our test car’s $38,660 sticker price.
While you can pay extra for a fancy equipment Rogue, no amount of money will change the equipment under the hood. The Rogue’s sole engine is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four with 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. It provides competitive-enough numbers against other base-engine crossovers, hitting 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. It’s also 1.2 seconds quicker to 60 mph than the old Rogue, a noticeable improvement. But with many competitors offering a power upgrade and the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape sprouting both hybrid and plug-in-hybrid variants, the Rogue’s roster is looking a little thin.
The best compliment we can pay the Rogue and its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is that it stays out of the way. The engine is quiet and well-isolated from the cabin, so even when it hangs on and drones at elevated rpm it’s not too irksome. In Sport mode, the CVT even does a decent impersonation of a step-gear transmission.
Conquering twisty roads is not the Rogue’s forte, but there aren’t really any compact crossovers that get the pulse racing. This one at least handles better than the class norms dictate, with good body control and direct steering. Our results at the test track were on par with the CR-V and RAV4, with a 0.84-g skidpad result and 169-foot braking distance from 70 mph.
The fact that the new Rogue measures up to its chief rivals on paper is a win for Nissan, as the old model was significantly slower, worse to drive, and less refined than pretty much every other compact crossover on sale. Closing the dynamic gap is important, but it’s the new interior quality and available features that will likely help the new Rogue win sales. It doesn’t hurt that the Rogue’s outward appearance reflects the improvements within, with a leaner, more athletic shape and attractive lighting elements that make its predecessor look dowdy and dated. While the old Rogue was a compact crossover you settle for at a rental counter, the new model is one you might actually want to buy.
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