Nissan, introduced to American buyers in the late 1960s as Datsun, is now the country’s fourth most popular automotive brand, according to the latest sales charts. The compact class Rogue has led this surge, as it is currently the nation’s top-selling SUV/crossover and the number four selling nameplate here behind only the F-150/Silverado/Ram pickup juggernaut.
With compact class crossovers all the rage for every automaker, we have seen multiple brands chasing the top-seller position over the past decade — each new introduction superseding a previous leader with better features, sharper styling or more gimmicks. Driving distinctions between rivals are relatively minor, leaving styling and content playing larger roles in determining why buyers gravitate to one model over another.
Currently, the Rogue plays a couple of cards to trump the competition — more expressive styling, the longest model in the segment (185 inches), plus well-equipped interiors that appeal to buyers across the three offered trim levels, S, SV and top SL. There are also three “package” levels to add components: Premium, Platinum and Platinum Reserve. Sounds more like good Scotch than car trim, but such is the marketing emphasis these days.
The Rogue is also available with a hybrid powertrain. Front drive is standard, AWD ($1,350) is available (with locking capabilities for low-speed use) while Nissan’s emphasis for CVT — continuously variable transmissions — is represented across the lineup. An anomaly for the compact class, the Rogue offers an optional third-row seat for growing families, a space that is replaced by dual-level storage when not purchased.
Our loaded SL, in a fetching Monarch Orange shade of look-at-me paint, got the usual treatment — heavy highway pace, followed by excited rural road travel across western Maine to New Hampshire and Vermont and back, plus commuter duty. It went golfing, shopping and bug-catching and generally proved why it is a top seller.
SL trim offers three selectable driving modes — standard, sport and Eco, which is meant to capture the elevated EPA estimates of 25/32/27 mpg. With weight near the highest in the segment, and horsepower near the lowest, 170 from the 2.5-liter four, plus the inherent efficiencies designed in the CVT’s “gearing,” the Rogue’s standard setting did not prove to be the hot-ticket for crisp acceleration when summoned. In fact, a lot of moaning occurred as the throttle tickled the firewall in search of passing power. Clicking on the Sport button, buried low and left on the sloping dash out of your line of sight, created more enthusiasm from the powertrain and made for more relaxed driving, albeit at the expense of fuel economy. Eight hundred miles returned 27.2 mpg — right at the EPA combined rating.
Recent crossover introductions have featured the rapid shift to smaller, turbocharged engines. The Rogue has the largest four-cylinder engine in the segment, but one of the lowest horsepower ratings. I would expect that Nissan will address this with the next edition of Rogue, as the company has several innovative engines debuting in new Infiniti and Nissan models in the coming year.
Relaxed motoring would define the Rogue’s chassis as well, as the decidedly light steering feel and soft body roll in turns are hallmarks of a design meant for comfort, not for speed. Suspension action, however, relays sharp bumps into the cabin, while highway motoring is quieter than several rivals and the Rogue tracks well over uneven interstates. The upgraded Bose audio system gets very high marks — another Nissan hallmark — while the auto-climate system blew cool air even with A/C turned off.
Under the power liftgate, the storage options give the Rogue another edge over rivals, although the sliding and folding second-row seatbacks do not lie completely flat. Max cargo room, however, is a healthy 70 cubic feet.
New this year is Apple and Android compatibility plus standard forward collision warning and braking system. Optional is Nissan’s new ProPilot system, which provides steering guidance that helps to keep the vehicle centered in its lane. ProPilot is not hands-free driving, but complements the dynamic cruise system for more relaxed highway travel.
The Rogue’s cabin is nicely finished, offers comfortable seating and packs easy-to-use features and controls into the center panel. The button panel left of the dash is too low, and a stretch to reach, while the tilt-telescoping steering wheel actually needs more reach for tall drivers.
Pricing starts at $24,420 — right in the heart of the segment. A manual transmission Forester (with AWD) begins at $22,795, while the Toyota RAV 4 starts at $24,045. Our sample SL stickered for $36,915 with the full gamut of optional electronics, plus panoramic roof, LED lighting, heated leather seating and the latest safety features.