A first-place product fighting for third
THE GOOD
  • New styling inside and out
  • Great adaptive cruise control
  • Tons of available tech
THE BAD
  • Interior plastics below par
  • Infotainment interface
  • Some small controls inside

Harsh though the reality may be, few vehicles have done less to earn their top-selling status than the Nissan Rogue.

Sure, it’s been the brand’s best-selling vehicle for the last eight years; and it’s among the most popular crossovers in Canada, consistently ranking in the top-five for sales. But with all due respect to anyone who’s bought one, it’s just not very good. Cheap, yes, but this compact crossover could hardly be described as cheerful.

Which brings us to the redesigned 2021 Nissan Rogue, which sets off in a different direction altogether.

Styling: 10/10

Indeed, Nissan is charting a new course with its bread-winning compact crossover, and the Rogue’s new look certainly shows it. While shades of its predecessor can be spotted without squinting, the overhauled version is a handsome machine.

Its squared-off shape is similar to that of the Subaru Forester, boasting more presence than before despite being slightly smaller by some measures. From there, it blends ruggedness with the right amount of elegance to leapfrog much of the competition with its standout styling. While a selection of two-tone exterior finishes give the Rogue something of a sportier look, the rich red paint worn by this tester keeps it classy.

Inside, every trim benefits from a nice mix of materials and colours that stands out from the usual sea of black in this segment. Even the base version gets a unique look, with textured charcoal upholstery on the seats and door panels that’s set against a black and brown backdrop. The loaded Platinum model, meanwhile, is offered with perforated and stitched leather seats finished in a choice of black or tan that feel the part of the $40,000 asking price. It’s not quite as nice as the cabin of the top-of-the-line Mazda CX-5, but then it’s not as expensive, either.

Comfort: 8/10

Those seats not only look good, but they provide plenty of support during long drives, too. Not much settling or shifting was required over the course of a multi-hour outing covering a variety of road types and weather conditions. The quietness of the cabin also impressed during that late-November adventure, with pounding rain doing little to disrupt the ride.

The rethought Rogue takes its role as a mini truckster quite seriously, and the ride quality comes across at times as rather rigid as a result. Fault both the chassis and suspension damping for this, with cracks and bumps in the road unsettling the ride somewhat – particularly at city speeds. While it lacks the outright ride comfort of key competitors like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, the Rogue remains well composed despite jostling around over anything but rolling roadways.

Driving Feel: 7/10

It’s an odd sensation for a vehicle to simultaneously feel so hefty and almost truck-like, yet also so nimble and feather-light. So many in this segment and beyond are one or the other, making the Rogue unique in its road manners. It’s as simple as any other crossover out there like it to drive, and yet it’s stiff and rugged at times like an off-roader.

That means it does on occasion have a tendency to list and roll on its suspension when even just a little too much speed is carried into corners, but it never feels like it’s careening out of control. In fact, the steering is a true highlight, with a variable ratio that requires less effort to operate at low speed for easy manoeuvring while firming up nicely while cruising to keep the crossover tracking true in its lane of travel while offering satisfying resistance during cornering.

User Friendliness: 8/10

What this Nissan lacks in ride quality compared to the segment-leading CR-V and RAV4, it matches – and even manages to exceed – its peers in terms of ease of use and access. The Rogue employs many of the same tricks that go mostly unnoticed but have big benefits each and every day. Doors that extend to the bottom of the rocker panels, for instance, are great for keeping salt and road grime off of pant legs, while the door openings themselves are large. Finally, the rear doors open exceptionally wide – handy when it’s time to help little ones into their seats.

Once inside, the Rogue offers excellent outward visibility thanks to large windows all around. The driver’s seat is height-adjustable, too, so users of varying stature can take advantage of those outstanding views. Most controls are easy to access from the left chair, though some of the switchgear for the heating and cooling system are difficult to identify at a glance.

Then there’s the infotainment system that isn’t quite a showstopper, nor did one of its marquee features function at all during testing. While SV and Platinum trims come equipped with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, the unit borrowed for Nissan Canada for evaluation encountered an ongoing server error that rendered it inoperable. That also meant no wireless Apple CarPlay, another calling card for this new Rogue, though the USB-A and USB-C ports up front allowed a hard connection to the smartphone-mirroring system.

Features: 9/10

Every version of the Rogue gets both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which run through an eight-inch touchscreen mounted on the dash (the Google system isn’t available wirelessly). There’s also satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heated front seats and steering wheel, the latter of which is rare to be counted as standard at this sub-$30,000 starting price. Outside, there’s LED lighting all around, heated mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, and keyless entry with proximity buttons for the front doors. It all adds up to a decent package for the money.

Moving to the mid-grade SV trim ups the ante to include a power-adjustable driver’s seat, power sunroof, roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels, and proximity buttons for the back door. The only notable absence is a power tailgate, though one’s included with the Premium pack that can be added for $2,200 – assuming the $2,300 all-wheel-drive system has been added first. That package also includes a couple features from the top trim, like sunshades in the back doors and heated rear seats.

Finally, there’s the top-of-the-pile Platinum trim that adds a larger nine-inch infotainment display, heated rear seats, a tri-zone climate system, digital gauge cluster, head-up display, 10-speaker stereo, and those rear-door sunshades inside, as well as a motion-activated power tailgate and 19-inch wheels.

Safety: 8/10

Honda and Toyota are still leading the charge in this segment and beyond when it comes to the inclusion of advanced safety features, though Nissan isn’t far behind. Every version of the Rogue comes fitted with automatic emergency braking front and rear, the former featuring pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam headlights. There’s also a government-mandated back-up camera and 10 airbags throughout the cabin.

The SV and Platinum trims add stuff like lane-keep assist and an adaptive cruise control system that easily ranks as the best on the mainstream market. Rather than fighting for control of position within a lane of travel like so many competitor systems with their lane-centring functions, the steering assist in the Rogue provides gentle nudges but is easily overridden by the driver. Better still, it requires both hands on the wheel to work, and can easily be shut off for those who’d rather not use it.

Meanwhile, the Platinum trim tested integrates its built-in navigation and traffic sign recognition to slow the Rogue down through twists in the road and provide prompts to slow it down automatically when the speed limit changes. That’s the kind of technology usually reserved for premium products, and it all works outstandingly well.

Value: 9/10

With or without that advanced technology, the Rogue is well priced against the competition. Like both the RAV4 and the CR-V, the cheapest version features front-wheel drive for its $28,498 asking price before taxes and fees are tacked on, which is right in line with its rival from Toyota and roughly $1,300 less than the cheapest version of Honda’s compact crossover. While the base Forester is about $500 more, it includes all-wheel drive – a feature that’s a $2,300 upgrade here.

That brings the price to $30,798, which is still well within reach of the RAV4 and nearly $2,000 less than a comparable CR-V. The mid-grade Rogue SV, meanwhile, is $31,998 for a front-drive version or $34,298 with all-wheel drive; then there’s that Premium package that pushes the price to $36,498. Over at Toyota, a similar version of its segment leader is priced within a few hundred bucks with or without all-wheel traction and a similar upgrade package.

Finally, the feature-filled Nissan Rogue Platinum rings in at $39,998 before delivery fees and the government’s share, which is less than the $41,350 RAV4 Limited and $41,905 CR-V Touring. While it lacks the former’s ventilated front seats and the latter’s panoramic sunroof, there’s that head-up display that doesn’t come in either, plus the superior adaptive cruise control system.

Practicality: 8/10

In a head-to-head comparison, the Rogue trails both its foes when it comes to cargo room – though that’s not what the spec sheet says. On paper, the new Rogue has 1,028 L behind the back seats and 2,064 L with them folded. Those numbers put it in lockstep with the RAV4 and CR-V, but in reality it comes up a little short by both measures. The simple explanation here is that there are a couple different methods used to measure cargo volume, and it looks like Nissan uses a different one than its rivals.

Fear not, however, because there’s tons of room in the back for stuff regardless of how it ranks by the numbers. The liftover height isn’t quite as low as the Honda’s, but it’s a wide space that benefits from a flat load floor with the 60/40 back seats stowed. The top trim also adds quick-release handles to fold each side in a hurry, as well as a configurable cargo floor that can be raised or lowered, or even used as a pair of dividers to keep cargo upright.

Passenger room, too, isn’t quite as generous as those segment leaders, though the Rogue is more than spacious enough to accommodate a family of four while boasting more front-seat headroom than the CR-V and RAV4. (Both of those have a little more upright space in the back, but those this side of, say, 6-foot-5 should be fine with what the Rogue’s rear quarters have to offer.)

Power: 8/10

While rivals like the Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Mazda CX-5, among others, offer multiple gas-powered motors to choose from, Nissan continues to keep the Rogue simple. That means just one engine is offered: a 2.5L four-cylinder that spins up 181 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. While output isn’t especially impressive, it’s competitive for each of those crossovers’ base motors, not to mention the only ones offered in the RAV4, CR-V, and Forester.

Beyond keeping up with the Joneses, the naturally aspirated engine offers impressive throttle response for passing slower traffic or merging onto highways. Even the continuously variable transmission (CVT) it’s mated to is – gasp! – good, with simulated gear changes that are convincing enough to make it feel like a conventional automatic. Roll onto the throttle at speed and the powertrain reacts quickly, the revs spiking without much fuss as it provides the extra momentum requested.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

The engine–transmission combo can come across as lazy with the drive selector set to eco mode – the console-mounted dial comes fitted in every all-wheel-drive Rogue – but the trade-off is impressive fuel consumption. While the official ratings of 9.2 L/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway, and 8.3 combined are similar to most of the top non-hybrid models in the segment, they were easily matched during testing. Despite the nasty weather encountered while evaluating the Rogue, the final fuel tally stood at 8.5 L/100 km over the course of nearly 700 km.

The Verdict

This is a segment that’s long been dominated by the two at the top – the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V – and the third-generation Rogue isn’t likely to change that fact. Rest assured it’s not for a lack of trying, though. Because after eight forgettable years, the redesigned Rogue is everything a crossover like this needs to be. It’s roomy, easy to drive, and can be decked out with tons of technology. The 2021 Nissan Rogue may be fighting for third place, but this compact crossover clearly has first-place aspirations of its own.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $39,998
Peak Horsepower 181 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 181 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm   Destination Fee $1,830
Fuel Economy 9.2 / 7.2 / 8.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $42,228
Cargo Space 1,028 / 2,064 L seats up/down  
Optional Equipment
$300 – Scarlett Ember Paint, $300