2021 Nissan Rogue: Smartly Designed for Family Use

It’s not news that compact and midsized crossovers are the hottest vehicle segments in the industry. In 2019, the Nissan Rogue crossover made up over 28% of total Nissan vehicle sales. Nissan sold 141,262 more Rogues than they sold Altima sedans, their second best seller. So to say that the redesigned 2021 Nissan Rogue is important to Nissan’s bottom line is a huge understatement.

Front 3/4 view of 2021 Nissan Rogue
Image courtesy of Nissan

Nissan’s sales have been in a slump lately, and many blame this on what was an aging and uninspired lineup. But it’s clear that Nissan is working to change this. Nissan’s hottest selling car models, the Altima, Sentra, and Versa have all been recently redesigned, and Nissan says that the new Rogue is the first of five additional new models coming over the next year.

I’ve poured through the press release on the new Rogue. Here’s where I think Nissan nailed it, and where I’m concerned they might miss the mark.

Pro: The Rogue’s Overall Mission

Crossovers are today’s family vehicle of choice (the modern day minivan or station wagon, depending on the decade in which you grew up), and Nissan made a brilliant move by shamelessly catering the new Rogue to these shoppers. So many crossovers try to be athletic and sporty, or pretend to be off-road capable. The Rogue’s family focus probably won’t make it a favorite among auto journalists who prioritize driving dynamics and performance. But its features and safety technology are sure to be appreciated by the people who will actually spend their hard-earned money on one.

Rear 3/4 view of 2021 Nissan Rogue
Image courtesy of Nissan

Pro: The “Family Hub” Interior

Families are likely to value interior space and comfort. With that in mind, the “family hub” is the name Nissan has given to the Rogue’s interior. Looking over the specs, it doesn’t appear that the new Rogue will have vastly different interior dimensions than the outgoing model. The exception is cargo space, which is 4.1 cubic feet larger on the new 2021 model when the rear seats are folded down.

But if the dimensions aren’t dramatically different, usability and features are improved. Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seat engineering (“inspired” by NASA – whatever that means) is added to the rear seats, in addition to the front. Personally I’ve never really noticed a difference in other Nissans with these fancy NASA seats compared to other vehicles, but hey, a focus on seat comfort is always a good thing. On top trim levels, the rear seats can also have their own climate zone, separate from the front two seats, and the Rogue is the first in its segment with this feature. The rear windows have integrated sunshades to protect little Bucky’s eyes from glare, and installing his car seat will be simpler thanks to 90 degree door openings and easy mounting in any of the three rear seat positions.

Interior styling looks nice, too. Nissan has done a great job upgrading their interiors lately, and this trend continues with the 2021 Rogue. There are larger, upgraded screens both in the instrument panel and in the dash for infotainment functions. Push button start is standard on all trims, as are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The top Platinum trim will have quilted leather seats – a nice, upscale touch.

Dashboard image of 2021 Nissan Rogue
Image courtesy of Nissan

Pro: Lots of Safety Technology

Another thing that families are likely to appreciate is safety. In addition to 10 standard airbags, the Rogue is packed full of advanced safety technology as well. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning with rear automatic braking are all standard. All Rogues will also have what Nissan calls “Intelligent Driver Alertness technology” and Rear Door Alert.

Side profile view of 2021 Nissan Rogue
Image courtesy of Nissan

If you want features like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the top trims to get Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist system. Nissan says their cameras and sensors that power this system are smarter than before, and the Navi-link feature will use the Rogue’s navigation system to slow down automatically for curves in the road or highway off-ramps without having to change the settings of the adaptive cruise control system. Nissan was one of the first mainstream automakers to introduce a 360-degree bird’s-eye-view camera system, and it will continue to be available in the new Rogue.

Image of navigation screen in 2021 Nissan Rogue
Image courtesy of Nissan

Eh: The Styling

I’m not in love with the styling of the new Rogue. I’m sure I’ll get used to it once I start constantly seeing them on the road, but for now, it looks derivative. I see a lot of Hyundai Santa Fe influence in the front end, and elements from the Toyota RAV4 in the rear 3/4 view. It also looks a little slab-sided and upright. Basically, I don’t think anyone will call the new Rogue the most beautiful compact crossover.

Con: The Transmission

Nissan has been almost exclusively using continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) in nearly their entire model line for a while now. They were one of the first automakers to widely embrace CVTs for their ability to deliver improved fuel economy. Many people don’t like CVTs due to their unnatural feel and increased noise over a traditional automatic transmission. The 2021 Nissan Rogue will use a CVT as the only transmission option.

The issue is one of quality. If you ask around, there are anecdotal stories of Nissans having catastrophic transmission failures relatively early in the vehicle’s life. I’ve heard as low as 65,000 miles – of course, right after the original powertrain warranty expires.

Reliability data backs this up…

On the hunt for data to back up these anecdotes, I turned to Consumer Reports reliability ratings. Looking at Nissan’s most popular models, it was indeed pretty consistent that on average, the 2012-2014 models showed major transmission issues at some point in that car’s history. Assuming an average of 15,000 miles per year for those 2012-2014 vehicles, that would indicate that many Nissans needed major transmission repairs before anywhere between 90,000 to 120,000 miles.

My initial thought was that perhaps the CVTs used during those years were a bad batch, and have since been reengineered for better durability. But I haven’t found any information to support that. Nissan has extended warranty coverage for certain impacted vehicles up to 120,000 miles – but I bet most buyers would rather avoid a transmission replacement all together, even if the repair is covered by a warranty. There have also been multiple class action lawsuits against Nissan due to the fragility of these CVTs. What a mess. It’s surprising that Nissan continues to insist on using this transmission in the vast majority of vehicles they sell.

This is not great news. It doesn’t bode well for long-term ownership of Nissan products. Perhaps the 2021 Rogue could be a good choice as a lease, where the mileage stays low enough that you’d likely not have any transmission issues, but I’d be wary of owning any Nissan with a CVT once the odometer really starts to climb.

In Conclusion

Nissan made a safe but smart choice in catering the 2021 Rogue to the core compact crossover customer base – families. The new Rogue’s many potential customers will appreciate the smart interior design, comfort, and features. It will go on sale in the Fall of 2020.

But the questionable quality of Nissan’s transmissions is highly concerning. I’ll be watching for improvements in the reliability data, but as it stands today, I will no longer be recommending any Nissan vehicle with a CVT. Unfortunately, that includes the new 2021 Nissan Rogue.

Thank you for reading!

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