The Nissan Rogue is no cad, but it is much sexier in its shapely new bodywork that debuted last year for the second-generation model.
This compact-class crossover was a dowdy but functional car when it debuted in 2007, but after last year’s makeover it is now Nissan’s best-selling small crossover. With nearly 15,000 sales in December, it outsells the larger Pathfinder and midsize Murano — combined.
The redesign opened what had been a small rear window that hindered visibility and greatly improved the appearance and quality of interior materials, though there is still some work to do.
Sold in three trim levels in front- or all-wheel-drive models, starting prices range from $23,650 to $30,490 for the top-line SL AWD. All models use a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. The front-drive SL tester was $31,130 with the Premium package, $1,990, which added a panoramic moonroof, LED headlights (very effective with a bright light wide reach to the right), blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning and moving object detection.
Rogue is an overachiever and a very handy small vehicle. Though it competes in the compact class of crossovers, (including the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5) its interior dimensions put into the EPA’s midsize category. It is one of the few that still offers a third-row pair of seats ($1,190 Family package). They are small but usable and fold out of the way when not needed.
The cabin is an open environment with easy access to everything. Slide behind the wheel, reach to close the door and there is a grab handle right where it’s needed. The seat belt connects without digging for the receptacle. My iPhone connected with Bluetooth on the first try, and there are convenient places to prop the phone while driving or to connect to a charging port or USB.
Sightlines are, at last, clear over the shoulder and out the back. The side mirrors have large housings, which could pose a minor blockage for some drivers.
Front headroom is tall at 41.6 inches without the big moonroof or 39.5 inches with it. All doors open wide, easing access. I don’t really understand Nissan’s NASA-designed “zero gravity” front seats, but they are very supportive and comfortable for a mainstream compact-class car. Front legroom is long at 43 inches with good elbowroom for the big and tall. Huge visors slide and have large covered and lighted mirrors. The front passenger seat has no height adjustment, but with its tall position, none was needed, unlike some other imports in this size and price range.
A rearview camera is standard on all models, with an around-view camera on upper trims. It is a feature you don’t know you need, until you see the overhead view of the car in a parking spot or garage. It means you can see how poorly you’ve parked before you have to get back in and make it right.
Interior materials are mostly appealing, including the woven fabric headliner, but the dashboard top on driver’s left where it joined the base of the windshield had a 3-inch-long but narrow gap. (Nissan said the gap wasn’t normal.) The SL has leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats. The plastics have a satin finish to the grain, which was just a hue off in color and texture from dashboard to the door panels. That’s not such a big deal in a vehicle meant to take family abuse.
The back seat area has generous space with almost 38 inches of legroom, good footroom and seatbacks that recline about 3 inches. Even the center position is reasonably comfortable, though narrow. The bench rides tall (but with good headroom), which makes an inviting cruise zone made even more enjoyable by the panoramic moonroof.
The second row folds easily for a nearly flat cargo floor with about 5 1/2 feet of length. The cargo opening is bike-loading friendly at 42 inches wide by 37 inches tall. The two-level cargo system — “Divide-N-Hide” — made me go “Wow,” at how cleverly the sturdy panels could be repositioned. It is a standard feature in the two-row models, which Nissan says has 18 adjustable variations. There also is out-of-sight storage and a lower deck to handle taller items.
The performance is eager enough around town but acceleration for freeway merging can be challenged and somewhat loud. Fuel economy on 87 octane is 26 mpg city, 33 highway and 28 mpg combined for FWD and 25/32/28 AWD.
Ride quality is quite refined and the chassis feels very strong, which helps the suspension work more smoothly. The cabin seems well soundproofed (including lined rear fender wells and optional cargo-floor mats), but noise at freeway speeds is abundant coming through the side glass.
At $31,000, the test car was a bonanza of features wrapped in new styling that makes it look more expensive than it is. And with its ingenuity of engineering to give more function in a smaller space, there’s no wonder why it’s a best-seller..
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage