At its launch in 2008, the then-new Nissan Rogue didn’t really capture our attention. Obviously, it had the attention of Nissan dealers and Nissan/Datsun loyalists, but didn’t seem – to our eyes – to have brought enough to a CUV/SUV game long dominated by Honda’s CR-V, Toyota’s RAV4 and Ford’s Escape. With a relatively anonymous shape, indifferent detailing and a modest four connected to the bane-of-most-journalists CVT transmission, it was easy to miss – and even easier to dismiss. Of course, to the credit of Nissan and its dealers they sold a helluva lot of them. And of more import to this review, the 2014 Nissan Rogue is dramatically different – and vastly improved.
One quick look (altho you’ll have plenty of time; the Rogue’s acceleration is notably lackluster…) is all you’ll need to discern the difference between last year’s wallflower and today’s – in relative terms – Cinderella. Adapting some, if not all, of the Altima’s expressive design language, the Rogue’s new appearance is decidedly attractive and almost upscale. You won’t confuse it with anything other than a compact crossover, but it follows the evolutionary path of most new platforms: longer (wheelbase), wider and taller. And whereas its predecessor rolled on 17-inch alloys, our test SL offered 18-inchers, shod with generously proportioned 225/65 all-season tires.
Inside, the differences are even easier to discern. The non-descript plastic and surface treatment of the earlier Rogue is replaced by improved materials molded into a remarkably attractive shape. The 3-spoke steering wheel frames a clean and legible IP, the nav/infotainment is about as intuitive as these things get, and the console provides two well-placed cupholders and generous storage. What Nissan describes as ‘Quick Comfort’ seating was leather-covered in our test example, and – again – enjoyed an appearance and functionality well north of the Rogue’s price point. Room for both front seat occupants and rear seat passengers is comfortable, and while our 2-row test vehicle gave us no indication of how third-row passengers might fare, we can guess: It’s a compact CUV, forgawdsake. If you have more than five passengers do everyone a favor – call a cab!
In back, what Nissan describes as its ‘class-exclusive’ Divide-N-Hide – which sounds a lot like our political/socioeconomic class struggle – “single-handedly” reinvents capability. With an adjustable set of shelves and dividers you can utilize a variety of configurations for a variety of loads. We don’t think we’d use it for smuggling pharmaceuticals across a border, but it’s a great way to put shoes in the bottom and your hat box(?) on top. Regrettably, we found the plastic ‘wing’ used to support the cargo cover intruded into the load space, restricting the width of those objects you hoped to stow. By the numbers, the Rogue’s stowage area is over 39 cubic feet with the rear seat up, and some 70 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. And that, Dear Readers, is a buttload of storage in an attractively styled compact CUV.
Under the Rogue’s hood is Nissan’s tried-and-true 2.5 liter DOHC four. With but 170 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, this isn’t the crossover for Muscle Beach. What it does provide is adequate acceleration, a relaxed cruising capability at highway speeds, and reasonable efficiency. In a mix of freeway and stop-and-go driving we averaged just over 26 miles per gallon, matching the EPA estimate of 26 City for our front-wheel drive example. Our right foot isn’t the world’s most gentle, but then, neither were we driving our Rogue with an overweight wife and three overweight kids.
If we were pleased by the Nissan’s general ‘roadability’, we were less than pleased by the noises it makes getting to highway speeds. Between 20 and 40 miles per hour, with even the suggestion of putting metal to the pedal, the engine/trans makes this decidedly unpleasant groan; so unpleasant that if it were sexual you’d stop having sex. We don’t typically have an issue with Nissan’s family of CVTs, but if the groan is an outgrowth of that we’d respectfully ask Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn for a conventional automatic. Now.
The Rogue’s platform, with struts up front and an independent multi-link in the rear, is everything you’d expect it to be. We found the feel ‘substantial’, although not as Germanic as Honda’s CR-V or as tossable as Toyota’s RAV4. For sensible families with a sensible approach to motoring, it will provide everything you’re looking for except, perhaps, inspiration. For that, you can always buy a used ‘Z’…
Just as size in this category tends to creep up, so does its pricing. While a base Rogue ‘S’ with front-wheel drive can be purchased for just over $23K, our test SL started at $29K (with destination). Add our tester’s Premium Package (featuring panoramic moonroof, LED headlights, Forward Collision Warning and ‘Safety Shield’ technologies) pushed the total MSRP to just over $31K. Not too long ago $30 Large would get you a Lexus, and while we admire the Rogue’s near-luxury content, we wish it didn’t come with a near-luxury price tag.
At the end of a week and some 600 miles, the Rogue proved impressive. Not only is it a significant improvement over the 1st gen, it appears fully competitive with most of what’s out there in the compact CUV segment. With the Altima’s available V6 under the hood, and hooked to a conventional auto box and performance-oriented all-wheel drive, you could chase Audis, while leaving Hondas and Toyotas in your vehicular dust. Now that would be a Rogue!