On the Road Review: Nissan Rogue SV

Nissan is the oft-forgotten Asian brand in the U.S. market, after Toyota and Honda.

In reality, Nissan is doing well and working hard to reach 10 percent of the domestic auto new car market — a lofty goal given that Nissan and Infiniti accounted for only 7.8 percent of U.S. car sales last year. But still, you have to have goals and Nissan should be lauded for striving to catch Honda, the brand just ahead of it on the sales charts.

Nissan will obviously need to make a larger impact in several segments. The midsize Altima sells very well here, number three selling car during the last year, but few other products make the impact of the Altima. This new Rogue, a redesigned 2015 model, will surely help, as the Rogue is a credible player, now, and it is in one of the hottest classes — compact crossovers.

Nissan has a broad presentation of vehicles to sell here, from the niche Leaf electric and the sporty 370Z and GT-R, to the Altima, Maxima and the Rogue. The brand will need more Sentra and Versa compact car sales to reach its goals, plus more Pathfinder and Murano midsize crossover sales, as well as a much-larger sales base from the Titan full-size pickup (all new this fall) and the compact Frontier pickup. It wouldn’t hurt to refocus on the Xterra, with Jeep sales going through the roof, while the NV-series vans and the full-size Armanda SUV could be market contenders with more marketing support and greater design efforts.

Yet the Rogue’s sudden prowess in the compact crossover class — sales up 37,000 units last year, more than the Titan, Xterra and Quest minivan combined — illustrate how automakers must be prepared for the latest trends. The new Rogue is the right vehicle for the right time; don’t sit on your hands Nissan and let it stagnate in the market past the inevitable changes that will descend upon the industry.

For many years, the Rogue was in the middle pack of crossover wagons that buyers considered in the marketplace. With several strategic revisions, this new Rogue enters the dialogue as one of the top entries. The ride is markedly improved, the interior is a serious upgrade in content and context, plus the little wagon’s styling is more dramatic and less staid.

The slightly longer Chevy Equinox is the acknowledged ride leader in this segment, aided a great deal by its dimensions, yet the latest Rogue is a close second. There is some body lean when pressed hard in the turns, yet the chassis responds well to undulating terrain and helps the driver feel confident. While following many other vehicles during the Rogue’s visit, it was clear that I was enjoying a much smoother ride than the occupants ahead of me — in cars or crossovers.

At first, the Rogue’s seat did not match my body. Having stepped out of a GMC Canyon pickup that had a surprising amount of comfort and support (more about this in a minute), the Rogue’s bottom cushion is nonadjustable and I felt like I was sliding forward, out of the seat. The seat powers up and down, yet the bottom cushion does not change angle; only the seatback does. There is power lumbar, as well as excellent heaters, in this cloth perch, and leather is an option. By the end of our days together, 800 miles, the Rogue’s seat had fortunately become a nonissue.

The rest of the interior has received an upgrade as well. Two-tone textures and soft-touch surfaces pleasantly interact with occupants. The ergonomics are generally good, with big doors that open wide providing ample access front and rear. Rear seating is spacious; there is ample leg and headroom, plus the seat moves, reclines, and splits to fold 40/20/40. Under the rear load floor are two divided compartments to augment storage, or, the hiding of articles prying eyes should not see.

Two beefs with the front payout. Dual-zone climate, easy to use switches and controls, plus good sight lines are countered by too many buttons low to the left side of the steering wheel and sloping away from the driver. In our midlevel SV trimmed Rogue, no fewer than eight operational buttons are located here. They require that you lean left, study which of the black buttons that you want to activate — safety systems, rear cargo door, locking 4WD button, etc., and then bend forward and push with your left hand while driving. Not the best arrangement.

Nissan does this a lot, with Infiniti too. Given that the Rogue’s CVT shift lever needlessly took up about 40 percent of a very functional console, could we find space to move some of the more frequently activated switches now under the dash into this area? Absolutely love that Nissan offers these components in the Rogue — especially the locking 4WD, a valuable electronic aid that few rivals see fit to offer. It just would be nice to see these buttons more readily accessible.

Our recent GMC Canyon pickup had a 200-hp 2.5-liter four cylinder engine. Our sample Rogue had a 170-hp 2.5-liter four teamed with a CVT transmission — a Nissan favorite. Both of these four-cylinder motors provided ample power for their respective vehicles; smooth, efficient power. It was not that long ago, when V-6 engines struggled to make that much horsepower.

The heavier GMC returned high-teens for mileage, maybe eking out a low 20s figure. The Rogue, weighing 3,600 pounds and driven just as vigorously, returned about a 25-mile-per-gallon average, with a rural road high around 30 mpg. With warmer temps and smoother travel over better terrain, the Rogue seems poised to meet the highway fuel economy estimates; 25/32/28 mpg in SV trim here with the AWD.

Interestingly, the Rogue ($28,290 as shown, $23,000 to start), a five-passenger wagon (there is a third row model too), is about $2,000 less than our recent GMC yet it has many more features. The GMC had manual outside mirrors and a basic radio; the Rogue has heated power mirrors with turn signals, Sirius satellite radio with navigation and traffic link. The Rogue also has blind-spot detection, moving object detection, lane-departure warning, heated front seats, and around view monitor. While the GMC can tow more, and carry larger items in its pickup bed, the Rogue has a covered compartment with a power liftgate and a rear seating area that handles three real adults. The Canyon’s rear jump seats are suitable for kids that you don’t like.

These comments explain what, you ask? On the surface, I thought that the GMC seems priced too high for what it offers; there was a lot of good stuff in the Canyon, but the omissions seemed value-insensitive.

The Rogue, on the other hand, seemed to be value-intense. The premium cabin (switch gripes aside) is a really nice upgrade. The heated seats, the Sirius radio, the upgraded surfaces and surroundings all added to a pleasant, user-friendly driving experience. From the key-less access and locking, to the power liftgate and privacy glass, the Rogue kept making points and climbing up my mental pecking order for this class.

It is the Rogue baby, and it’s back and taking names.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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