Christian Wardlaw | April 10, 2020
Compact crossover SUVs are the most popular vehicles in America, and on paper, the Nissan Rogue is the third-bestselling model in the segment behind the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In 2019, Nissan sold more than 350,000 examples of the Rogue, making it the seventh most popular vehicle in the U.S.
Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Before you assume consumers love the 2020 Nissan Rogue, be aware that the sales numbers include the smaller Rogue Sport and that many Rogues wind up in rental car fleets rather than in private hands. Also, the Rogue ranked seventh in its segment for overall appeal in the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study.
A redesigned 2021 Nissan Rogue is coming soon, and it will replace this now 7-year-old design. As such, Nissan makes no changes to the 2020 Rogue.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Rogue SL equipped with standard front-wheel drive, the SL Premium Package, a carpeted mat set, and a first-aid kit. The price came to $34,780, including the $1,095 destination charge.
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Rogue, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
Compared to the segment, Rogue owners skew female (52% vs. 50% for the segment). Rogue owners match the segment in terms of median age (59 years), but they make less money in terms of median annual household income ($85,789 vs. $92,841).
Generally speaking, Rogue owners’ sentiments about vehicles align with those of all compact SUV owners. J.D. Power data does show slightly greater concern about price-sensitive factors.
For example, 24% of Rogue owners self-identify as Price Buyers compared to 22% of compact SUV owners. Rogue owners are also more likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (70% vs. 67%) and are more likely to agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (72% vs. 67%).
Additionally, Rogue owners are more likely to agree that they are less willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly vehicle (51% vs. 56%). At the same time, Rogue owners are slightly more likely to agree that they will pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (83% vs. 81%).
Owners say their favorite things about the Rogue are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design and visibility and safety (in a tie), and the seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Rogue are (in descending order) the storage and space, infotainment system, climate control system, engine/transmission, and fuel economy.
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his perceptions about how the 2020 Nissan Rogue measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
Rogue owners like the way this SUV looks, and especially in SL trim with 19-inch wheels it is an appealing vehicle. The fenders are slightly too swollen for the Rogue's proportions, and the bold grille and headlight treatment takes some acclimation, but otherwise, this is a good looking compact crossover available in a variety of colors.
Two interior colors are available for the 2020 Rogue – Charcoal and Almond (tan) – but the latter is available with fewer exterior paint colors. Soft-touch material is used in the right places, including on the sides of the center console with SL trim, but this SUV does contain plenty of shiny hard plastic, lending it an inexpensive look and feel. Most egregious is the piece running the width of the windshield and canted at an angle where it looks cheap every time you drive the SUV.
Unremarkable in terms of its design and layout, the Rogue’s controls are clearly marked and the ones you’ll use the most are easy to find. The gauges are simple, too, easy to reference with no more than a glance.
Though Nissan employs its zero-gravity seat designs in the Rogue, inspired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the front seats feel undersized to larger adults. They also sit either too low to the floor or too close to the dashboard for true comfort. For me, to benefit from proper thigh support, I needed to sit too low behind the steering wheel. Quick Comfort heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are available.
Second-row passengers get the best seats in the house. They’re mounted well up and off of the floor and offer proper thigh and back support. The view out is terrific, especially with the optional panoramic glass roof, and my kids liked sitting up high with a good view. Air conditioning vents are standard, and a set of USB-A and USB-C charging ports is an option.
Nissan used to offer a third-row seat for the Rogue, but it’s been discontinued.
With SL trim, the Rogue has a dual-zone automatic climate control system. Knobs control the temperature, and the buttons are clearly marked. Seasonable springtime Southern California weather meant our test vehicle faced no cold snaps or heat waves.
The test vehicle had the optional panoramic glass roof, and on sunny days with the cover retracted the cabin got hot, fast. However, by opening the windows and cranking the air conditioning, it cooled off quickly.
Though Nissan has updated the Rogue’s top-shelf infotainment system over the years, it still lags behind modern standards and most of the SUV’s competition. From its small 7-inch recessed touchscreen display to its basic voice recognition technology, it is rapidly aging.
Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a hands-free text-messaging system are standard for all Rogues. The Rogue SL includes navigation with door-to-door directions, meaning that if you park somewhere that isn’t your final destination you’ll continue receiving directions via the Nissan Connect smartphone app.
Speaking of Nissan Connect services, they include Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant skills, as well as remote engine start, remote vehicle lock access, and a Find My Car feature. Safety services include automatic collision notification, emergency calling, roadside assistance, and the ability to set speed, curfew, and boundary limits. You get six free months of Premium and Premium Plus service, and three free years of Select service (smart assistant skills and remote locking).
While using the system, I found it very hard to pinch to zoom on the navigation map with any degree of accuracy. The stereo knobs barely protrude off the surface of the dashboard, making them harder to grasp and turn. And the voice recognition technology is nowhere near where it should be, which means you’ll prefer to use the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring system.
A Bose premium sound system is standard with SL trim, and it produces decent highs and fairly deep bass, making it satisfactory at the price point.
Interior storage space is fairly limited. The glove compartment is large, but there is precious little storage space on or within the center console. Bins in the door panels are not particularly accommodating.
The Rogue’s useful Divide-N-Hide cargo organizer is useful, but the plastic covers for the underfloor storage area create a lumpy load floor. Behind the back seat, the Rogue offers 39 cu.-ft. of cargo space, and 70 cu.-ft. with back seat folded down, making it one of the roomier compact crossovers. A hands-free power tailgate is available.
Every 2020 Nissan Rogue has the company’s Safety Shield 360 collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), They include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic front and rear braking, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights.
Additionally, Nissan equips this SUV with Rear Door Alert, which notifies the driver when a child, pet, or something important might be in the back seat. The SUV's Easy Fill Tire Alert system is also helpful, making it easier to maintain proper tire pressure. A 360-degree surround-view camera system is an option.
In use, the ADAS is helpful if not ideal. For example, the blind spot warning light is mounted on the interior pillar trim rather than on the mirror. On bright sunny days, the warning light is dim, though it flashes brightly accompanied by an audible warning if the driver attempts an unsafe lane change.
The test vehicle had Nissan’s Level 2 semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist technology, which pairs adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assist. In use, it isn’t particularly smooth in terms of distance maintenance, and I found myself fighting the steering too frequently to make this a fatigue-reducing feature. Let go of the steering wheel and ignore the warnings to retake control, and the Rogue eventually brakes hard and suddenly for a moment to encourage driver participation.
In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Rogue earns commendable safety ratings. However, an Acceptable rating in the passenger’s side small overlap frontal-impact test and an Acceptable rating for the headlights included only with SL trim and the Premium package prevent the SUV from earning a 2020 Top Safety Pick nod.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2020 Rogue an overall rating of 4 stars, thanks to an unimpressive 3-star rating for driver’s side protection in a frontal impact crash.
If you're not expecting much in terms of outright performance, the Rogue's 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) supply reasonable acceleration in typical driving scenarios. A Sport mode helps, but not much.
Request more power, such as when merging onto a freeway or attempting a pass of slower vehicles, and the Rogue proves rather loud and sluggish. During testing, with ProPilot Assist engaged, the SUV lost nearly 10 mph of velocity as it started up a mountain grade. Eventually, the CVT got its act together and began accelerating to return the Rogue to the desired speed.
Rogue owners do not rate the engine and transmission highly, and it’s easy to understand why.
Rogue owners are also unhappy with the fuel economy, and testing demonstrates the problem.
Officially, the EPA says a Rogue with front-wheel drive should get 26 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. On the testing loop, modified due to COVID-19 restrictions and featuring more highway driving than is typical, the SUV mustered just 24.9 mpg.
Nothing about driving the Rogue is particularly pleasurable, but the SUV’s Intelligent Trace Control (brake-induced torque vectoring) and Active Ride Control (brake-induced suspension control) work well to provide a semblance of sophistication. The ride and handling are good, if not engaging.
Despite its 19-inch wheels and tires, cornering limits are fairly low. Heavy, wooden steering and plenty of road noise dull the potential for dynamism, too. Over pitted pavement, the sound making its way into the cabin is like machine-gun fire.
Collectively, these traits make the Rogue boring to drive, though owners of this SUV disagree given how high the driving dynamics rate with them.
Typically, any given vehicle has one or two compelling traits that make them irresistible to buyers seeking those qualities.
In the 2020 Nissan Rogue’s case, they are the standard Safety Shield 360 and available ProPilot Assist ADAS as well as the roomy cargo area and Divide-N-Hide storage system. Good looks help to make the Rogue’s case, too.
Nevertheless, the redesigned 2021 Rogue can’t get here fast enough.
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