Pretty much every major automaker sells a compact crossover SUV. Some are front-wheel-drive, some all-wheel-drive, a few are rear-wheel-drive. You can get fours – and turbo fours. Diesels – and V-6s. A few even have manual transmissions. Some are “bread and butter” – others prestige-branded.
But one thing there’s not a lot of in this segment is room for more than four or five people.
Two rows of seats is the norm.
Nissan’s just-updated Rogue is one of the few that’s not normal in this respect. You can order it with a third row. Granted, it’s a small (and tight) third row. Suitable for kids only. But it’s there. And isn’t in competitor crossover like the Toyota RAV4 I reviewed last week (see here for that).
Nor in the Honda CR-V, the Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape or the Hyundai Sante Fe Sport.
And nowhere else.
The three-row-available Rogue also squeaks past its two-row-only rivals to the top of the EPA fuel economy rankings, posting a class-best 26 city, 33 highway for the front-wheel-drive model (25 city, 32 with AWD).
I averaged 27.4 MPG during my weeklong test drive. That easily beat my two-seater truck – a Nissan truck, full disclosure – as well as most of the two-row crossovers I’ve tested recently (and all of the physically larger three-row crossovers, such as Kia’s Sorento).
It’s not without flaws, though – among them being a less spacious second row than the roomiest-by-far Mazda CX-5 (which is also sportier-driving compact crossover of the group, courtesy of its available six-speed manual transmission; the little Mazda manages to edge out the Rogue at the pump, too – posting an almost-diesel 35 MPG highway).
Still, that third row’s pretty persuasive – if you’ve gotta have the capability to cart more than four – and would prefer not to move up to something larger (and thirstier and pricier) along the lines of the Sorento, et al.
Let’s have a closer look.
The Rogue is Nissan’s compact crossover, about the same overall size as others in this segment like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, but differing from them in being available with a third row and room for more than five people.
Base price is $22,790 for an S trim with front-wheel-drive. A top-of- the-line SL with all-wheel-drive stickers for $29,630.
The Rogue gets its first major update since the first-generation model came out back in 2008.
Interestingly, the new model is slightly smaller – in terms of overall exterior length – but it has significantly more interior room, most notably second row legroom (and of course, its now-available third row).
Nissan has also peppered the Rogue with a suite of available equipment that includes stuff not commonly found at this price point, including an available Adaptive Suspension system and automatic engine braking.
Third row option endows the Rogue with more passenger-carrying capability than same-sized rivals.
Sportier-handling than RAV4 (and much sportier-looking than dowdy CR-V).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Third row is steerage class-only (and not offered in SL trimmed Rogues).
No optional engine or transmission.
Third row models have a purse-sized “trunk” (just 9 cubic feet behind the last row).
Like the RAV4 and CR-V, the Rogue comes with just one engine/transmission combo, irrespective of trim: a 2.5 liter four developing 170 hp teamed with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic.
The emphasis here is economy – notwithstanding Nissan’s reputation as one of the sportier brands.
Mash the accelerator to the floor and the Rogue can reach 60 MPH in about 9.2-9.4 seconds, depending on the configuration (FWD vs. AWD; the lighter FWD version is the quicker version).
This is certainly adequate for everyday driving – and absolutely competitive with the performance delivered by rivals. However, Nissan isn’t Toyota (or Honda) and it’s possible Nissan buyers – who may be looking for more than tepid acceleration – will be disappointed with the Rogue’s pacific performance.
On the other hand, the Rogue’s mileage is very good. Best in class, actually (if you exclude the two-row-only CX-5).
And it’s best in class with the standard (albeit only) engine: 26 city, 33 highway for the FWD version and 25 city, 32 highway for one with the optional AWD system. The similarly sluggish RAV4 rates 24 city, 31 highway with FWD; 22 city, 29 with AWD. The current (2014) Honda CR-V scores 23 city, 31 with FWD, 22 city, 30 highway with AWD.
The Ford Escape – with its standard 2.5 liter, 168 hp engine – rates 22 city, 31 highway. And as mentioned in my recent review of the RAV4, the Ford cannot be ordered with AWD with the base 2.5 liter engine. You have to buy the next-up 1.6 liter (turbocharged) four and then buy AWD.
Acceleration with this engine is also about the same as the Rogue delivers – and the Ford’s fuel economy is no better : 23 city, 33 highway. But the price is significantly higher: $27,300 to start (for the FWD version). Base price-wise, the Rogue is $4,510 less to start than the Escape with its MPG-comparable (and AWD-available) drivetrain.
Speaking of AWD:
The Rogue’s optional system has a bit more capability than some of its rivals – including the RAV4. In addition to a driver-selectable “lock” button that routes more engine power to the rear wheels, there is also Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist – two features that will come in handy on snow days.
You can also order run-flat tires, a very unusual feature in this segment. It is included with the third row seating package (which eliminates the otherwise-standard spare tire, for the sake of cargo capacity).
The Rogue – like the RAV4, like the CR-V – is all about everyday A to B transpo, with a bit more in the way of family-friendly utility, courtesy of the third row it offers that its competitors don’t.
Its main weakness – as I see it – is that it doesn’t deliver the performance goods a Nissan ought to.
At least, not in a straight line.
Its ok for a Toyota to be boring – Muppet protests to the contrary notwithstanding. Hondas, too. People buy these brands because they consider them good buys, because they have a rep for being dependable and reliable, low depreciation . . . all that Consumer Reports stuff. But people who shop Nissans want something in addition to those things.
Some verve, some spice.
For something to happen when they mash the gas pedal.
But in the Rogue, not much happens.
The 2.5 liter engine is pure boilerplate. 170 hp tasked with pulling about 3,400 lbs. of vehicle is not going to rock your world.
The Xtronic CVT automatic tries. In Sport mode, it blips angrily under WOT through seven stepped “shifts” (this is programmed in to mimic a conventional automatic; CVTs are gearless and so do not actually shift – either up or down). It makes gnarly sounds, too. But while the tachometer is dancing, the Rogue’s not moving much.
At highway speeds above 70 MPH, this small crossover is winded, with very little reserve power on tap to execute quick passes of struggling semis and left lane-hogging Clovers. At 80-ish (which is the speed, legal or not, that highway traffic is running in many parts of the U.S.) the Rogue is all-but-out-of-breath. Now, this is equally true for the others in this class – at least, the others in this class with their standard engines. (With its optional turbo 2.0 four, the Escape is downright quick and both the Jeep Cherokee and the Kia Sorento – which is really closer to mid-sized – are available with very strong V-6 engines).
But – again – those aren’t Nissans.
What this unit needs to credibly hoist the Jolly Roger is another 20 hp – or whatever it takes to get it out of the nines – and solidly into the mid-high eights. Better yet, the sevens.
Handling, on the other hand, is a definite notch up from the RAV4 and the current CR-V. The ride is firmer, too. And Nissan offers driving/handling enhancements such as Active Engine Braking – which does the same thing you’d do yourself in a car with a manual transmission when descending a grade (i.e., downshift to a lower gear to avoid having to ride the brakes) automatically – using the CVT transmission. There’s also an available Active Ride Control system – a feature few crossovers in this price range offer. It helps dampen road irregularities such as potholes and bumps.
And – happy day! – you can turn the traction control off.
Anytime you like.
In the RAV4 I reviewed last week, the traction control can only be turned all the way off if you first completely stop the vehicle. If you push the button for off while the vehicle is moving, the car’s electronics leave it at least partially on. For “safety.” Gag me.
Nissan doesn’t do that to you. And the Rogue will also not try to parent you in another way. If you elect not to “buckle up,” no buzzers will erupt in cacophonous outrage. A little red light will illuminate, nothing more.
That is pretty roguish . . . these days.
Cosmetically, the Rogue is conventionally crossover; the general shape is not radically different from the others in this class. But there are some thoughtful design touches – including standard LED headlights (the others in this class either don’t offer them or they cost extra) and doors that open wider (77 degrees) to make the most of the available opening. Sight lines are good, in particular, your rearward view. Nissan has managed to comply with the anti-whiplash (tall headrest) mandate without blinding your view of what’s behind you. A large rear glass section that’s not angled too severely really helps here.
Although the ’14 Rogue is an inch shorter overall than before (182.3 inches vs. 183.3 inches for the 2013 model) it rides on a slightly longer wheelbase (106.5 inches vs. 105.9 previously). This helped Nissan carve out the new model’s more spacious interior.
In addition to offering a third row, the ’14’s second row is also roomier than previously, boasting 37.9 inches of legroom vs. 35.3 for the old unit. That’s a big improvement – and more important, it’s competitive with two-row-only crossovers like the RAV4 (37.2 inches in the second row), the Ford Escape (36.8 inches) and the current Honda CR-V (38.3 inches). The Mazda CX-5 outdoes them all – with a class-best 39.3 inches of second row legroom – but Mazda was only able to do this by crimping the much smaller CX’s cargo capacity: 34.1 cubic feet behind the second row and 64.8 overall.
The Nissan’s got 39.3 cubes behind the second row and 70 cubes with the seats folded flat. This is more than the Ford Escape (34.3 cubes behind the second row and 68.1 cubes overall) and only slightly less than the class-leading Toyota RAV4, which has 38.4 cubic feet of real estate behind its second row and 73.4 cubes overall.
Keep in mind that none of these Rogue rivals offer a third row.
The Nissan’s third row also folds flat – an important consideration. And the front passenger seat (and second row seats) can also be folded forward – a helpful thing, if you’re trying to haul a surfboard home.
The Rogue’s cargo area also has more than just space. The two-tiered Divide-N-Hide storage system has a lower compartment hidden underneath the cargo floor (pull up the rearmost cover up to access) with user-configurable shelves that can be positioned in several ways, to accommodate cargo of various sizes.
The one fly in the soup is it’s not available with the third row layout – and if you go that way, you’ll find that cargo space behind the last row drops from the two-row’s 39.3 cubes to just 9 cubes.
Headroom up front is exceptionally good: 41.6 inches vs. 39.8 in the RAV4 and 39.9 in the CR-V and Escape. If you’re a taller driver, you will notice – and appreciate – this.
The glovebox is huge – and the controls for everyday functions such as the air conditioning/temperature settings and fan speed are simple, immediately comprehensible rotary knobs rather than “multi-function” buttons.
As in other current Nissans, you can order the Rogue with a 360 degree surround-view camera system – bundled in this case with moving object detection. Nissan also offers an oversize panorama glass sunroof as a stand-alone option (not “bundled” with other stuff you may not want or need). All trims – including the base S – come with a 5-inch flat screen in the center console (with upgraded functionality in the higher trims). The top-of-the-line SL trim gets a larger seven inch LCD screen – bundled with GPS and a nine-speaker Bose stereo.
The Jeep Cherokee offers more off-road capability and the Ford Escape more on-road performance – assuming you’re willing (and able) to move up the roster and buy their optional engines/equipment. You could get a third row in the Kia Sorento – as well as a poweful V-6 engine.
The RAV is the more sensible choice – second place on that score goes to the CR-V.
But the Rogue is the only compact crossover in this price range that has a third row option – and it is somewhat roguish, at least in terms of how it looks and tries to drive. All it needs is more engine. Even if it’s just an optional engine. Something more than 170 hp.
But because Nissan buyers expect more than sufficient.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I hear Meatloaf rattling around in my head…. ’cause two out of three ain’t bad!
Throw it in the Woods?