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Smartly, Nissan opted to take a conservative approach to the Rogue's redux, though you might not think so upon first glance. The boldly styled front end certainly isn't for everyone -- I'm not a fan, personally -- but it's at least expressive, which isn't something I could say about prior Rogues. The rest of the crossover's appearance is unsurprisingly conventional, although new two-tone color options are available to give that upright, two-box shape added visual interest. All told, the 2021 Rogue is about an inch shorter in both length and height than its predecessor.
Inside, 2021 Rogue loses half an inch of headroom and 1.5 inches of legroom up front. Rear-seat occupants, on the other hand, enjoy slightly more headroom and legroom than before -- 0.7 and 0.6 inches, respectively. A third row of seats isn't available, and while that might seem like a given considering the Rogue's small size, keep in mind that Nissan offered a holy-crap-that's-cramped option from 2014 to 2017. Trust me, the Rogue is better off without it.
The SUV's back doors now open to a full 90-degree aperture, which makes getting in and out easier and gives you more space when finagling car seats or other bulky items. A similar bit of helpfulness is found in the cargo area, where there's an adjustable divider in the two-tier load floor. Only available on SL and Platinum grades, this two-piece partition gives you a maximum of 36.5 cubic feet of storage space behind the second-row seats, while the Rogue S and SV make do with 31.6. Regardless of model, folding the back seats flat results in 74.1 cubic feet of room, which puts the Rogue ahead of the Toyota RAV4 (69.8) but behind the Honda CR-V (75.8).
Generally speaking, the Rogue's interior is perfectly nice. Nissan's comfy and supportive Zero Gravity seats are standard for both front and rear passengers, came wrapped in leather on my SL tester and is available with quilted, semi-aniline hides on the bougie Platinum. All of the plastics and wood appliqués are nicely grained and none of the vehicle controls feel cheap or flimsy. Well, mostly.
The new electronic gear selector is a particularly lousy part of an otherwise well-built cabin. It looks cheap and feels cheaper. On the other hand, no mechanical linkage to the transmission frees up space beneath the console for added storage, but considering how cavernous the compartment aft of the cup holders is, I don't imagine needing that extra space all that often.
Most Rogues will roll out with an 8-inch color touchscreen display in the center of the dash, running the newest version of the NissanConnect infotainment system. A larger 9-inch high-definition screen is optional on the SL and standard on the Platinum, with the same NissanConnect software inside. This system isn't my favorite, with its occasionally laggy response times, but the graphics are nevertheless colorful and crisp -- on the HD display, at least -- and it's a step up from the Display Audio and Entune systems offered in the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, respectively.
If you want the mega-tech experience, go for a Rogue Platinum, which comes with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.8-inch head-up display, as well as a wireless charging pad. It kind of sucks that you have to spring for the most expensive Rogue -- $36,525, including $1,095 for destination -- to get these niceties, but so it goes. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board. What's more, wireless CarPlay is optional on the SL and standard on the Platinum, and every Rogue save for the most basic S has an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot as well as four USB outlets (two A, two C).
A whole bunch of driver-assistance technologies come standard on every Rogue, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a driver alertness monitor, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking. Nissan's excellent ProPilot Assist joins the standard roster on SV trims and higher, combining adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist for easy-breezy highway commuting. A newly enhanced version of this tech, ProPilot Assist with Navi-Link, is optional on the SL and standard on the Platinum. It uses navigation data to adjust the Rogue's speed for things like tight highway curves and busy intersections, and it can even keep the steering assist active on freeway exit ramps. The uplevel ProPilot software also includes speed-limit adaptation, which is something normally reserved for higher-end luxury cars.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Rogue's driving experience isn't so techy; you won't find turbochargers or electric assistance under the hood. Buyers looking for more punch should check out a Mazda CX-5 with the 2.5-liter turbo, and if you're all about fuel-sippin', the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 can be had with hybrid powertrains. The Escape and RAV4 even offer plug-in options.
The Rogue, meanwhile, uses a reworked version of Nissan's long-standing 2.5-liter I4, making 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, increases of 11 hp and 6 lb-ft over the 2020 model. A continuously variable transmission is mandatory across the board, and buyers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive on every trim level.
Nissan's CVT is one of the better transmissions of this type, largely fading into the background without roughness or loud droning during acceleration. But the Rogue definitely isn't quick, and it occasionally suffers on steep grades. Climbing California's notorious Grapevine on the I-5 freeway at 75 mph requires a heavy right foot, especially since the 2.5 has a dearth of low-end torque. The experience would be worse with passengers and/or more cargo onboard, too. This is where the low-end torque from a turbocharger or added electrification can really help, but competitors generally also make you pay extra for their more-powerful engines. Nissan offered a Rogue Hybrid previously, so perhaps a more powerful engine option will come along in the future.
Fuel economy ratings of 27 miles per gallon city, 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined are on the better side of average for the compact crossover class. Opting for all-wheel drive reduces those figures by one to two mpg depending on trim level, but again, that's not uncommon for small SUVs. After several days of testing in mixed conditions, my Rogue's onboard computer shows 28.5 mpg.
The engine itself may be pretty mediocre, but overall, the Rogue drives with confidence and composure. The redesigned rack-mounted electronic power steering is a lot better than in old Rogues, with improved weight and more natural turn-in that doesn't feel overboosted. Even so, as far as steering feel is concerned, the Rogue, like most other small SUVs, is as dead as your childhood dreams.
A new, stiffer frame gives the Rogue a solid on-road demeanor, and the suspension is nicely tuned to soak up the sort of rough pavement and occasional pothole you'll experience in everyday driving. The base Rogue S rides on 17-inch wheels, but 18s and 19s, like the ones on my tester, are available. Brake feel is solid and easy to modulate, and if you hustle the Rogue through a corner you'll find predictable amounts of body roll. But for the key missions of a Nissan Rogue -- running errands, commuting to work, taking the kids to the lake -- this vehicle is appropriately tuned.
Pricing for the 2021 Nissan Rogue starts at $26,745 including destination and all-wheel drive is a $1,400 upcharge on every trim. Like every other aspect of the Rogue, this puts Nissan's CUV squarely in the middle of the compact crossover class.
It's hard to fault Nissan for playing it straight with the 2021 Rogue. The current model is doing really well for the automaker, and it's the segment's third best-selling model behind the Toyota and Honda. Frankly, considering Nissan's big-picture troubles, it's probably not a good idea to shake up a winning formula. Is the Rogue the most attractive, most fun-to-drive small SUV? No. But it's comfortable, spacious, economical and priced right, and those are pretty strong laurels on which to rest.