Drive: 2021 Nissan Rogue offers unexpected level of refinement

Back when the Nissan Rogue was introduced in the fall of 2007, we very much looked forward to test-driving one. Several of our friends had bought Rogues and indicated they were happy with their purchases. Eventually, a new Rogue arrived. We figured the Rogue to be priced right, right-sized and functional.

Initially, however, the Rogue came up short —literally. Its most serious defect, from our perspective, was inadequate legroom for tall drivers. Its driving and riding qualities were adequate but uninspiring. In a nutshell, we approved of what the Rogue tried to be, but were unimpressed with what it was.

None of these criticisms apply to the 2021 model. It’s comfortable, refined and well-equipped, with a stylish, roomy interior and ample cargo room. Yes, the Rogue, like so many cars nowadays, has bulked up over its 13-plus years in the U.S. market and all but qualifies as a midsize SUV. People who prefer the smaller-bodied Rogue of a few years ago can opt for the compact Rogue Sport or the subcompact Kicks.

What really struck us about our test car, a 2021 Rogue SL sticker-priced at $36,705, was its refinement. It rode, handled, accelerated and braked like a much more expensive car.

The Rogue comes in only one mechanical configuration and body style, but Nissan offers it in S, SV, SL and Platinum trims. Prices range from $25,480 for the Rogue S to $35,630 for the Rogue Platinum. The base price for the Rogue Sport is $24,060.

The list of competitors is long and impressive. Our longtime favorite is the Mazda CX-5, but a trip to the Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford, Subaru, Jeep, Hyundai or Kia dealership also will yield some desirable alternatives. Compact and midsize SUVs, and those like the Rogue that fall somewhere between, remain among the most popular vehicles on the American road. Indeed, the Rogue is Nissan's biggest U.S. seller, with record sales of 412,110 in 2018.

Available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Rogue is powered by a 181-horsepower inline Four with one of the best continuously variable transmissions in the business. It’s rated at 26 mpg city, 33 highway, with front-wheel drive, and 25/32 with all-wheel drive.

2021 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

Price: $36,705

Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four, 181 horsepower, 181 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: Xtronic continuously variable

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Ground clearance: 8.2 in.

Curb weight: 3,613 lb.

Wheels: 19.7-in. alloy

Tires: P235/55R19, all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 36.5 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 74.1 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 1,350 lb.

Fuel capacity: 14.5 gal.

Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 32 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

The Rogue is well equipped in SL trim, featuring desirable safety technology such as blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning. Serving the driver and front passenger are heated power seats. Rounding out the standard-features list are satellite radio, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, WiFi hotspot, automatic climate control, remote start, leather upholstery, intelligent cruise control, power panoramic moonroof, and hands-free power liftgate.

Significantly, the major safety features are included in all trim levels.

Nissan stopped offering a third-row seat with the 2021 redesign — a good call, since third rows in compact and even midsize SUVs serve little purpose. The change served our test car well. During several trips to the local home-improvement center, we were repeatedly impressed with the Rogue’s ability to swallow anything and everything we hefted into the cargo compartment.

The Rogue has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.