Nissan remakes Rogue, for the better
It's hard to find much wrong with the 2014 Nissan Rogue.
Nissan addressed so many issues - in a vehicle already selling well enough that buyers apparently weren't doing much complaining - that the automaker deserves applause.
If you're in the market for the likes of a Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Rogue now should move pretty far up your list. It's a full re-do: Chassis, body, interior and even the transmission got major overhauls. Engine's a carryover, though.
Nissan will sell a lower-end version of the previous model as the Rogue Select for buyers especially price sensitive. The redesigned 2014 Rogue is discussed here.
It comes in three versions: base S, mid-grade SV, high-end SL. Each is available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or, for $1,350, all-wheel drive (AWD).
Test Drive's wheel time in a loaded SL AWD ($32,270) made clear that Nissan's upgrades translate to real-world improvements.
A few things remain to irk. Among them:
The four-cylinder engine feels underpowered. It has 15 horsepower less than the four in Honda's rival CR-V, for example, and the Nissan weighs more than the Honda.
Some key buttons, including the power-tailgate switch and the safety-nanny systems override, are tucked low on the dashboard, making them hard to reach or see.
Though the Rogue's 1.5 inches wider than before, and wider than some rivals, it still gives the front-seat occupants no significant room for leaning their outboard legs.
Some of the standout improvements:
Styling. Smoother, less affected. Yes, it also is somewhat less distinctive, resembling something in a Hyundai showroom. But everything appears more developed, mature (not to say old or boring), which gives Rogue a bit more premium persona.
Interior. The high-end test vehicle, of course, had to exude however much premium ooh-la-la Nissan could put into the new Rogue. And it's a lot. No real wood trim from exotic trees or actual super-lightweight carbon fiber, but very nice use of plastics, soft-feel surfaces and pleasing textures.
Bump buddy. Nissan calls it active ride control. Above 25 mph, it uses a tiny amount of braking on front or rear wheels to smooth out the reaction to big bumps.
Rear cargo space. Clever design allows nine ways to deploy two panels to separate types of cargo horizontally and vertically and choose what to cover or separate.
Rear seating. Second row reclines for comfort and slides fore-aft to help tailor the mix between rear seat legroom and way-back storage. Back doors open 77 degrees, usefully wider than the 69 degrees on the previous Rogue.
A two-person third row is newly optional, but that eliminates the nifty cargo layout.
Connectivity/infotainment. Rapid and reliable paring of Test Drive's hip Windows phone (as well as others). The standard NissanConnect setup, among other features, can read texts to you and let you voice-control a short reply from a list.
A Google search function is provided, as is integration that lets you control your phone's Pandora music application from the dash.
CVT. Not our usual anti-CVT rant here. Nissan's tried mightily to take advantage of the CVT's improved mileage and still provide some of a conventional automatic's preferable driving feel, using software it calls D-step.
Accelerate using less than half-throttle and the CVT works as those transmissions always do, varying the drive ratio to keep the engine revved when the programming says it should be. Accelerate harder than half-throttle and it shifts up through specific ratios, more like a conventional automatic.
'We found customers are kind of uncomfortable with' a CVT's typical high-revving engine feel and sound, as if it's stuck in a lower gear, says Rich Phillips, in charge of what the automaker calls 'marketability' of its small cars and crossover SUVs.
'Freeway on-ramps are where we saw a lot of opportunity to improve the sound and feel,' says Steve Power, Nissan powertrain expert.
Also, the CVT ratios are programmed to help slow the vehicle the way an active manual-transmission driver would do by shifting down while approaching a stop sign.
Nissan does other things quite well, and Rogue doesn't change those. For example, the tire pressure instrument shows the actual pressure in each tire, as well as the recommended setting. Most makers cheap out with a single warning light indicating at least one tire is low - you get to figure out which one.
Applause to Nissan for fussing over things that matter. What was once, in our opinion, a ho-hum contender has jumped toward the top of the list among compact SUVs.
ABOUT THE NEW ROGUE
What? Remake of compact crossover SUV, available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) and as five-passenger with two rows of seats or seven-passenger/three row.
When? On sale since Nov. 13.
Where? Made at Smyrna, Tenn.
How much? FWD models start at $23,350, including $860 shipping, for the S trim; $26,090 for the SV and $28,930 for the SL.
AWD is additional $1,350. Optional third-row seat is $1,190 on S, $940 on SV, not available on SL.
Test vehicle: AWD SL with all factory options, $32,270.
What makes it go? 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine rated 170 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 175 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm, mated to CVT (continuously variable-ratio automatic transmission).
How big? About 4 inches shorter than, otherwise similar to, Ford Escape; slightly shorter, wider, taller than previous Rogue. Weighs 3,393 pounds to3,605 pounds.
Passenger space: 105 cubic feet. Cargo space: 9.8 cubic feet behind third row; 32 cu. ft. behind second row; 70 cu. ft. behind first row (other rows folded).
Tows up to 1,000 pounds.
How thirsty? FWD rated 26 mpg in the city, 33 highway, 28 combined city/highway. AWD: 25/32/28.
SL AWD test vehicle registered 17.4 mpg (5.75 gallons per 100 miles) in frisky suburban driving, mostly short trips.
Burns regular, holds 14.5 gallons.
Overall: Looks better, drives better, rides nicer than predecessor. Now a strong contender.
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