Nissan Rogue Crash Tests Underscore the Risk of Being an Early Buyer of an All-New Car

A two-star crash rating and a subsequent fix put the first buyers of this SUV at a disadvantage

2021 Nissan Rogue crash test
Shows results from the original NHTSA crash test.
NHTSA

The new 2021 Nissan Rogue SUV now gets four out of five stars in front crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but some of the first Rogues that arrived on dealer lots initially earned a much lower score.

Although Nissan has a fix planned to improve the crashworthiness of those early vehicles, the difference is an example of why car buyers should wait before buying a totally new or redesigned model. It also highlights the importance of crash test programs in the first place.

Earlier this year, the Rogue earned just two stars out of five for front passenger crash protection, and three stars out of five for front crash protection overall. These results stand out because nearly all vehicles tested in recent years have earned at least four out of five stars in these categories.

The disappointing results only apply to 2021 Rogue SUVs assembled at Nissan’s Kyushu, Japan, factory before Jan. 28, 2021. After that date, the automaker updated the Rogue’s passenger airbag module, software, and front passenger seat belt, Nissan spokesperson Dan Passe told CR. All Rogues—regardless of their build date—assembled at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn, plant also received the newer safety setup, which earns four stars for both front passenger crash protection and overall front crash protection.

Owners of early Kyushu-built Rogues will be able to get their vehicles updated with the newer airbag, seat belt, and software free of charge, but supply shortages mean they might not be able to do so until August or even September, says Passe. “This timing remains subject to change based on component availability as Nissan continues to work diligently with our suppliers,” he told CR in an e-mail.

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Issues like these are not uncommon when a vehicle is new or totally redesigned. “Our reliability surveys show those early models tend to have more problems, whether mechanical or electrical, and sometimes even safety issues,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s auto test program. The need to update a vehicle’s design because of a disappointing crash test score isn’t unique to any one automaker. In recent years, Ford, Hyundai, Fiat, Toyota, and Volkswagen have all made updates to vehicles outside of major redesigns to improve their scores.

You can find out if the Rogue you own or plan to buy is one of the low-rated models by looking at the label affixed to the driver-side center pillar, visible when the door is open. It will show the build date and the vehicle identification number. If the VIN begins with J, it was built in Kyushu. If it was built in Tennessee, it will start with a 5.

NHTSA crash test for 2021 Nissan Rogue
Updated 2021 Nissan Rogue SUV crash test by NHTSA, showing improved performance.

Photo: NHTSA Photo: NHTSA

NHTSA’s star ratings are part of a consumer information program that highlights a vehicle's crashworthiness, with tests that go above and beyond minimum standards that all vehicles must meet for sale. Because the early build Rogues meet minimum federal safety standards, they aren’t subject to a recall. Instead, Nissan is updating the vehicles as part of a voluntary service campaign, which automakers sometimes do to fix a problem that isn't recall-worthy.

In contrast with NHTSA’s ratings, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is funded by the insurance industry, awarded the new Rogue its Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the very beginning. It’s a ranking that’s issued only to vehicles that get top scores for crashworthiness, front crash prevention, and headlight performance. IIHS' tests involved Rogues made in Japan and in the U.S.

According to Joe Young, director of media relations for IIHS, it’s not surprising that IIHS and NHTSA came to different conclusions. “Because IIHS’s three frontal tests and NHTSA’s frontal test focus on different aspects of crashworthiness, it’s not uncommon for a vehicle to perform well in one test and less well in another,” he says.

Young says the two sets of tests are designed to complement each other: NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) tests focus more on injury prevention and the effectiveness of restraints such as seat belts and airbags, while the IIHS tests prioritize the vehicle’s structural integrity and occupant protection. The two tests occur at different speeds and use different barriers and dummies.

The Rogue’s two different scores are a real-world example of why Consumer Reports uses NHTSA and IIHS crash tests to help determine our Overall Score.

2021 Nissan Rogue crash test

NHTSA NHTSA

Editor's Note: This article was updated June 24, 2021, with the results from the latest NHTSA crash test and statement from Nissan.


Head shot photo of CRO Cars CIA editor Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.