On The Road Review: Nissan Rogue



One remaining constant during the current economic malaise is American drivers’ appetite for people movers of all sizes.

Compact car sales are sluggish — despite the threats of higher fuel prices — while crossovers, SUVs, wagons and minivans continue to roll along largely undeterred by both sentiments and economics. Add the ongoing up tick in pickup truck sales and it is clear to most objective viewers that Americans much prefer their expected levels of mobility and functionality over small, compromise vehicles.

 

Three high-profile small cars drive this point home. Toyota’s Prius, the darling of the green media, is selling slower than it did last year, the nadir of the auto sales slump. BMW’s Mini Cooper brand is even with last year’s sales despite growth in the whole industry this year. And, Mercedes’ Smart Car, the city car that everyone supposedly would want, is looking at only 35 percent of the volume that it previously enjoyed.

The Smart Car appears to be a one-hit wonder that satisfied initial niche customers, no more. This could prove to be a daunting example of what confronts Chrysler/Fiat when it rolls out its highly touted 500 compact early next year.

Prius sales have ebbed and flowed before, so on balance, this model’s overall sales history will average out to the norm. But the other two small cars, as well as numerous other small car labels, are languishing on dealer lots.

Spend much time on America’s freeways or in our resort destinations this summer and you will note that a lot of people travel in vehicles suited to carrying lots of people and lots of stuff; two-box designs that are versatile. Sporting roof racks, trailer hitches and bike racks, our preferred 21st century wagons need to work hard, play easily and be comfortable for multiple passengers. We may have forsaken some of the full-size versions of these applications, but the need for functionality demands that even compact and midsize crossovers perform the basic tenets of family travel.

Enter the compact class SUV/crossover segment and you’ll see how much this class has changed. Honda’s CR-V remains the best seller, (and best selling SUV overall with sales up 10 percent YTD) followed closely by the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 (sales up 15 percent and 19 percent respectively), with Chevy’s new Equinox zooming up the charts with a notable 53 percent sales gain. This week’s Nissan Rogue is also making some big noise, with a 17 percent sales jump right past Subaru’s popular Forester.

Key to the Rogue’s success is a balanced chassis that makes the small Nissan more enjoyable to drive than some of its rivals. There is no one piece that makes the Rogue clearly stand out, just the combination of parts that work in conjunction with the car to render better steering feel, better bump absorption and better ride compliance and handling, loaded or unloaded. This chassis DNA is evident in many Nissan products, a character defining attribute that is helping overall Nissan sales.

Nissan has also been a leader in using CVT, continuously variable automatic transmissions, in many models. My test Rogue S, however, felt a little lethargic on the low-end, when this is not usually the case. Midrange power was as expected and the car generally met accelerative expectations, so I’ll chalk this experience up to an anomaly. SL trim levels offer steering wheel-mounted manual shift levers that allow specific ‘gear’ selection, which can improve power delivery.

Power for the Rogue comes from a 175-hp 2.5-liter four, an engine used throughout Nissan’s lineup, hence my surprise with the Rogue’s power delivery. EPA mileage projections are 22/27-mpg with standard front-wheel drive, one mile per gallon less with the optional AWD setup.

In base trim, the Rogue’s cabin proved to be roomy and comfortable. Back seat space is ample for two adults, a bit snug for three across seating, which is not unusual for the segment. There are slots and bins for most traveling paraphernalia, however the only beverage slots are on the center console — front and rear — no bottle pockets exist in the doors.

Flip up the rear hatch and the Rogue offers a roomy cargo area with a flat floor stretching to the front seats. Cargo room is listed as only 58 cubic feet. The impression is there is more space.

As good as the Rogue performs on the road, watch for a smaller version set to appear late this fall, called the Juke. Currently sold in Europe, the Juke is a sexy little crossover that is borderline hatchback car/subcompact crossover. Also watch your Nissan dealer for a convertible version of the midsize Murano crossover.

 

Just the Facts: Nissan Rogue

Rogue is a front-drive/all-wheel drive compact class crossover wagon based on the Sentra platform. Pricing starts at just under $21,000 for base S models; add $1,200 for AWD.

Standard items include: curtain side airbags, traction control, anti-skid system, CVT automatic, split folding rear seat, digital media connectivity, 16-wheels, tilt wheel, cruise, keyless entry, power windows, locks, mirrors and A/C.

SL trim adds outside temp display, upgraded stereo, fold-flat front seat, height adjustable driver’s seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, roof rails and trip computer.

Compare to VW Tiguan, Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV and Subaru Forester.

 

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