Behind the Wheel

2021 Nissan Rogue Review: Family-friendly functionality gets a dose of comfort, tech

The Nissan Rogue has been completely redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

It's easy to glance across the compact SUV landscape and characterize them all as being perfect for soccer moms. In the field, however, there are few that actually blend together. All have highs and lows as part of the design process that is their company's plan to stand out.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue is no exception to that rule. It was fully redesigned for the 2021 model year, bringing updated looks, an upgraded interior, and more powerful engine to the table. That's not all. The Rogue has stepped out of the bubble-body bubble. Though it still has typical SUV proportions, its nose is beefier and more muted while its backside stands taller and flatter.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan offers the Rogue with a two-tone paint scheme.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is paired with a continuously variable transmission and neither the most fuel efficient nor the most energetic power plant available in a compact SUV. What it is, is capable. There are few times in the Rogue's lifespan where the average buyer is likely to take advantage of the full 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque and think, "You know, I wish this thing was quicker."

Drivers have their choice of Off-Road, Standard, Eco, and Sport drive modes when behind the wheel of an all-wheel drive variant of the SUV. Sport genuinely kicks the experience up a notch and gives the crossover a little more asphalt-eating enthusiasm.

Like the previous-generation Rogue, this one goes right where you want it. The steering is properly weighted and effortless. Parking in a typical store lot is a breeze, as is maneuvering it around traffic.

There's a new-to-Nissan shifter in the Rogue that takes up far less room than the previous generation's did and offers quick and easy maneuverability with accuracy, which is about all you can hope for from a modern shifter yet so many automakers get it so wrong (hello, rotary dial).

2021 Nissan Rogue The shifter in the Rogue is new for 2021.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

A crossover is more about functionality than looks and the Rogue has that covered. From the standard multi-level LED headlights to the wide opening doors (easy in-out for little ones, car seats, and groceries), a split one-touch fold-down rear seat with remote capability, easy-to-wash cargo liner, and Divide-n-Hide divided rear cargo storage system.

It's also about keeping people safe. The Rogue works to do that with its standard Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety technology that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

The company's ProPilot Assist driver assist technology is available and performs just as well as it did on the previous generation Rogue. Though its functionality has become more commonplace on vehicles in years since its debut, the system remains one of the better ones on the market and it truly makes driving long distances a heck of a lot easier on the brain.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan has improved the car's digital footprint with a large infotainment screen, all-digital driver information display, and a head-up display.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

For 2021, the system is available with Navi-Link, a navigation-based component that uses real-time data to help predict traffic ahead and route accordingly. Additionally, the system makes adjustments to allow the driver to remain at ease in changing situations including Speed Limit Assist, and extended auto restart timing.

That technology pairs with the creature comforts that abound in the Rogue. Its seats are of the famously comfortable NASA-inspired Zero Gravity variety. Rear seat passengers can enjoy a recline function as well as available tri-zone climate control. Pull-up sunshades are also available for the second-row windows.

Its cabin is far more premium than what you'll find in the Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape at an trim level, and is most comparable to the Mazda CX-5. Though clearly built to withstand the daily rigors of family life, the Rogue's cabin isn't overpowered by materials built for hardiness rather than aesthetics.

The SUV's new all-digital 12.3-inch driver information screen is easy to read and appealing. The same goes for the full-color 10.8-inch head-up display and 9-inch infotainment touch screen. Nissan has brought back its helpful surround view monitor for this generation.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan has reconfigured the SUV's cargo area for 2021.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

Other technology amenities include wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, USB-A and USB-C charging ports, Google Maps, and Waze.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue doesn't reinvent the wheel. It keeps doing what the Rogue has always done – offer family-friendly functionality that is hard to beat in its class. For that reason, it deserves to be on your test drive list.

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Motul has released a new line of lubricants for "rad" era vehicles.

Photo courtesy of Motul

Motul has been around for 168 years, far longer than automobiles. The new Classic Line of lubricants have been specifically formulated for cars slightly newer, those that are members of the "rad" era. Motul's Classic Line features oils, detergents, and additives that the company has engineered to enhance the performance of older powertrains while offering improved protection.

Each Classic Line lubricant features an additive package with high-zinc (ZDDP) and molybdenum (moly) for reduced friction and increased power. Synthetic base oils and adapted detergent levels of each formulation are suited for metals and gasket materials that are common of the era of vehicle manufacturing. Advanced additives ensure that the lubricants meet or exceed American Petroleum Institute (API) standards.

Motul Eighties 10W30 Motul's Eighties formulation is made for forced induction engine vehicles.Photo courtesy of Motul

The Classic Line's products have high-adhesion properties that are designed to provide excellent cold flow properties to prevent engine wear during start-ups and to coat and protect engine internals and running gear during the periods of prolonged storage that collector vehicles often experience.

Motul Modern Classic Eighties 10W40 meets the needs of forced induction engines while Modern Classic Nineties 10W30 was designed for the demands of high-revving engines with more modern valvetrains. Both Modern Classic oils are the first products to offer high ZDDP and moly for "rad" era collector cars from these two decades.

To get the new 2100 Classic Oil 15W50, Motul revised its 2100 oil to better lubricate and protect naturally aspirated and forced induction engines with flat tappet cams common to the vehicles in the 1970s and beyond.

Motul Classic 10W50 Classic vehicles have different needs and their lubricants have a different formation than Eighties and Nineties branded oils.Photo courtesy of Motul

Classic Oil 20W50 is designed for hot rods, muscle cars, and collector vehicles, and uses additive packages fortified with ~1,800 ppm of ZDDP. According to Motul, this oil provides "improved protection for flat tappet or high-lift cams and high-performance engines with tighter tolerances and older elastomer gaskets; the medium detergent level also makes Classic Oil 20W50 an appropriate break-in oil for newly refurbished engines".

Straight-weight Classic Oil SAE 30 and SAE 50 are mineral monograde engine oils with low detergent levels, blended specifically for gasoline or diesel four-stroke engines generally produced before 1950.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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