LOS ANGELES—Across the board, the biggest gripe about the Nissan Rogue has been its use of a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This type of automatic transmission is widely known for producing a loud, droning noise during heavy acceleration, and chief among CVT complaints is the notorious so-called “rubber band” effect: Step on the gas hard, and it feels like a rubber band is transferring power from the engine to the wheels. But now as the new 2021 Nissan Rogue is here, keep in mind that Nissan sold 412,110 examples of the car in 2018, its best sales record to date since the model entered the market more than a decade ago, in 2007.
A completely transformed 2021 Nissan Rogue goes on sale shortly, featuring a more chiseled body, an elevated interior, and overall more-boxy shape. Now in its third-generation, the redesigned 2021 Nissan Rogue we tested has a faintly more powerful engine, an improved CVT automatic transmission, sharp styling, and a new Platinum-trim grade. Subtly incorporating design cues from the X-Motion concept, which debuted at the 2018 Detroit auto show, the 2021 Nissan Rogue attempts to take a confident stance in the fiercely competitive compact SUV segment.
Departing from the affluent neighborhood of Montecito, California, where Nissan held its media event, we got our first test drive in a top-tier 2021 Rogue Platinum AWD. Pulling open the wide-opening door and being met with an entirely new cabin was a pleasant experience. Everything from the beautifully appointed leather upholstery to the electronic shifter seemed strong at this price point, especially for a mainstream SUV. The last time I drove a Rogue some years ago, to put it most politely, it was forgettable, but that’s not the case now.
2021 Nissan Rogue Test: Piloting the Upgraded Crossover
I started the engine and turned the rotary drive-mode knob to Sport. A massive windshield provides outstanding visibility and gives front passengers the illusion of a higher seating position. Charging toward the serene Ojai Valley, the Rogue found its footing on a two-lane road, where it was eager to show me why the 2021 model is a whole lot better than the one it replaces. It responded precisely to my inputs, the two-tone Rogue Platinum in Champagne Silver/Super Black handling the dizzying curves as if it had been down this road before.
On a few tight turns, I pushed the Rogue hard and applied the responsive brakes abruptly a few times, which created some notable movements, but chassis body-roll remained under control. In fact, the smooth ride quality, minimal cabin noise, and an attentive CVT connected to all four wheels presented a satisfying driving experience. The new Rogue’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, making 181 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, may not seem like much to work with, but the Rogue exceeded my initial expectations.
2021 Nissan Rogue Test: A Transmission With a Bad Rap
I found a deserted area, muted the volume on the Bose 10-speaker sound system, and stepped on the gas with full force: It’s a bit of an overstatement to say the CVT’s droning ruckus is far less apparent in this situation as a result of recent improvements. The high-revving engine sound remains an obvious CVT side effect, but it happens mostly when you launch from a standstill.
Changes to the 2021 Nissan Rogue’s powertrain increased horsepower by 11 and torque by 6 lb-ft, compared to the old model, and the revised CVT contributes to a slight boost in fuel economy and improved acceleration. This CVT feels smoother and less of a nuisance in comparison to our long-term 2019 Infiniti QX50, and the reality is, thanks to those earlier Rogue sales figures, the notoriously scorned CVT is here to stay.
2021 Nissan Rogue Test: Smooth-Sailing Enhancements
The new Rogue is built on an all-new platform, including a modified chassis, an updated suspension with double-piston shock absorbers, a stiffer rear-body structure, and increased use of high-strength steel. It all combines to make the Rogue feel like a higher-quality vehicle. Additional refinements worth noting are the thicker dashboard insulation, front acoustic glass, a new multi-link rear suspension, improved aerodynamics, and for AWD-equipped Rogues, Vehicle Motion Control, which works with Nissan’s stability-control system. Exterior enhancements include air curtains, underbody covers, an active grille shutter, revised A-pillars, and front-wheel air deflectors.
2021 Nissan Rogue Test: Dynamic Exterior Design
Inspired by the X-Motion concept, the 2021 Nissan Rogue is less rounded and extra muscular. The most striking angle is the rear three-quarter, where the floating D-pillar and two-tone color scheme come into play, creating movement and directing your attention to the rugged rear end. On the front end, an enlarged double V-Motion grille, sleek daytime running lights, diamond-mimicking headlights, deep-seated air curtains, active grille shutters, and a raised hood give the new Nissan Rogue an athletic look. Although this iteration of the Rogue appears larger than before, its overall length is actually shorter by 1.5-inches.
2021 Nissan Rogue Test: It’s the Inside that Matters
The biggest highlight of the 2021 Nissan Rogue is, hands down, the modernistic and classy interior, particularly for the Platinum-trim featuring diamond-quilted leather seats, stitched upholstery, and wood trim. Among convenience and tech equipment are a 12.3-inch customizable digital-instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, a 9.0-inch center touchscreen, larger door pockets, a Bose premium audio system, and a dual-lid center console with lower storage. All surfaces throughout feel good and work in harmony from a style standpoint, and the cabin tastefully combines minimalism, elegance, and technology.
Nissan characterizes it all as a family hub, where rear passengers enjoy increased legroom and headroom, tri-zone climate control, heated seats, and sunshades. A five-point LATCH secures a rear-facing car seat for the little one riding in the backseat. An improved Divide-N-Hide floor panel system provides different options to store items in the cargo space, and a compartment behind the wheel arch could hold a gallon of water or milk. Standard driver-assistance features across all trim grades (S, SV, SL, Platinum), include rear automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.
2021 Nissan Rogue: Pricing
The front-wheel-drive 2021 Nissan Rogue S model is the most economical; it starts at $26,745. On the far end of the spectrum is the Platinum, starting at $35,430; add AWD, two-tone paint ($350), and the interior protector package ($385), and that brings the total on our tester, destination included, to $38,660. All-wheel drive is optional for $1,400, and two premium packages are available for SL ($1,320) and SV ($2,660) models. There are five two-tone exterior paint combinations to choose from, which cost $350 and spectacularly change the Rogue’s appearance.
Another cool feature available on all new Rogue models is Nissan Concierge, a 24-hour service that connects you to a real person when you need assistance. A professional agent can help you buy groceries, locate a restaurant, plan events, and book hotels and travel. The Nissan Concierge service is complimentary for six months; thereafter a monthly subscription fee is required.
2021 Nissan Rogue Test: Whose Rogue Is This, Anyway?
Year-to-date sales of the outgoing Nissan Rogue stand at 167,401 for the first three quarters of this year, down from 272,300 in 2019. Even though this is a family-focused compact SUV, the revolutionized 2021 Nissan Rogue now has the potential to appeal to a younger crowd, and to single people and outdoorsy types. Expect the all-new 2021 Nissan Rogue to arrive at dealerships this fall, when it will have a good chance to become the best-seller in the compact SUV segment.
2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD Tech Highlights
- 8-inch head-up display
- ProPilot Assist w/Navi Link
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Traffic-sign recognition
- 3-inch digital-instrument cluster
- Bose 10-speaker premium sound system
- 0-inch center touchscreen
2021 Nissan Rogue Specifications
|ON SALE||Fall 2020|
|PRICE||$26,745 (base S model)/$38,660 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.5L DOHC 16-valve inline-4/181 hp @ 6000 rpm, 181 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||Continuously variable automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||25/32 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||183.0 x 72.4 x 66.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.0 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||125 mph (est)|