2023 Compact SUV Challenge: It’s a Repeat Win for the Nissan Rogue

Repeating its winning ways from our last compact SUV comparison test in 2021, the Nissan Rogue has successfully defended its title in our 2023 Compact SUV Challenge. It’s an astonishing feat in a class that has seen vast improvements among competitors, especially with the Rogue’s switch to a new, smaller engine.

2023 Compact SUV Challenge
Results | Winner | How We Tested

But win again it has, beating out a raft of impressive contenders like the redesigned Kia Sportage, the Hyundai Tucson, a heavily refreshed Ford Escape, an all-new entry in the Mazda CX-50 and a recently redone Honda CR-V. A formidable group indeed, and it speaks to the strength of the Rogue’s last redesign that a nearly 3-year-old design bested several fresher competitors. We wondered whether the Rogue’s switch to a three-cylinder engine might prove to be a deal breaker in its quest to keep its title, but it turns out that wasn’t the case at all.

How the Rogue Won — Again

For this Challenge, three judges scored 11 subjective categories, with these scores joining six objective categories for a total of 17 categories and 855 possible points. Judges scored things like comfort, quietness and the usability of the electronic systems and controls, while the objective tests rated things like as-tested value, cargo volume, real-world fuel economy and safety features. Last time, the Rogue won by doing a number of things well and not doing anything poorly; that proved to be a winning formula this time around, too.

The Rogue’s strengths resulted in five outright or shared first-place category finishes: driver-assist tech, in-cabin storage, quietness, vehicle user interface (how drivers interact with the controls, including the multimedia system) and visibility.

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Furthermore, it finished second or tied for second in seven more categories: braking, child-safety seat fitment, front-seat comfort, interior quality, real-world fuel economy, rear-seat comfort and safety features. It didn’t finish last or near the bottom in any category, proving consistently well regarded by our judges and performing well in our objective tests.

The areas where the Rogue shone in 2021 are still strengths today — most notably, how easy the thing is to just get in and use. The multimedia system doesn’t require any familiarization period; it just works, it’s easy to use, and it offers you a variety of ways to connect your personal devices either through USB-A or USB-C ports or wirelessly. Even nearly two years after our last Challenge, the Rogue still has a wireless-connection advantage over some competitors; the Hyundai and Kia, despite both having more advanced optional multimedia systems, come with wired-only Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with these systems (the Rogue has wireless CarPlay and wired Android Auto).

We also appreciated Nissan not putting all of the Rogue’s controls into its touchscreen — the interior features lots of hard buttons, which just work more quickly, more easily, more reliably and with less driver distraction than any touchscreen control system we’ve yet encountered. This was also the only vehicle in the test with tri-zone climate control and rear sunshades, some extra perks that were nice to see.

The interior itself received lots of praise, too, for its top-notch perceived quality, available space, versatility of the cargo area and the amount of in-cabin storage that it offers. Everyone found a comfortable driving position in the Rogue, and the interior has plenty of space for passengers and cargo. Materials quality was also lauded, with our judges genuinely impressed with the Rogue’s upholstery, color schemes and interior design. The interior looks fantastic, especially in our tester’s two-tone color scheme.

But what about the biggest change between the Rogue we had in 2021 and the one we tested this time: the new engine? All Rogues are now powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine pumping out 201 horsepower and 225 pounds-feet of torque. That’s a pretty power-dense little engine, and it shows with the astonishing peppiness the Rogue has when driving around town. It wasn’t the most powerful engine in our test, but it wasn’t the least powerful, either, and it’s tuned to provide a lot of torque and good acceleration where people typically want it: stop-and-go driving. As a bonus, it also got the second-best fuel economy on our 300-plus-mile real-world fuel economy route, coming in at 29.3 mpg in mostly highway driving through some pretty nasty, windy conditions.

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2023 Nissan Rogue SL
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Nobody’s Perfect, Including Our Winner

Where could the Rogue do better? The cargo area is a bit on the small side, especially when judged against the comparably cavernous cargo areas of the CR-V, Tucson and Sportage, and its backseat doesn’t slide like the Escape’s. And just like the last example we tested, the ride quality didn’t win much praise; it’s still stiff and bouncy, just like many other vehicles in this class that opt for lower-profile tires on big wheels in the name of style. But that general trend toward stiff ride quality hasn’t stopped other vehicles in the class from finding success, and we did notice that when you load the Rogue down with four full-sized adults, things smooth out considerably — almost as if it were some kind of pickup truck.

And as good as the new three-cylinder powertrain is around town, it runs out of steam completely when traveling at higher highway speeds and calls upon it for some passing power. The continuously variable automatic transmission “shifts” down, and the little three-banger screams its heart out, but it’s more sound than fury at that point, as it’s already given you all it’s got. Make sure there’s a lot of room for passing that semitruck on a two-lane highway and plan well ahead.

These complaints are relatively minor, and none of them detract from the inherent success of the Rogue and its impressive win over newer competitors. It serves as an excellent compact SUV, representing a solid-driving, fuel-efficient, high-value family vehicle that deserves a spot on anyone’s shopping list if they’re hunting for a new vehicle in this highly competitive class. To read more about this comparison, including impressions from the judges on each of the SUVs and where they placed in the test, see the full results of our 2023 Compact SUV Challenge.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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