Thumbs Up: Drives like a sedan, but with the functionality of a crossover.
Thumbs Down: Only transmission choice is a CVT
Buy This Car If: You want a compact crossover with a comfortable ride and distinct style.
It hasn’t even been a year since we last reviewed the Nissan Rogue crossover, and to be honest, not much has changed since then. Park the two side by side, and you won’t see any differences; look inside, and nothing has changed from last year, either. In fact, you’d need to comb through Nissan’s press release on the launch of the 2012 Rogue to find any changes between the two models.
In the case of the Rogue, which was refreshed for the 2011 model year, that’s not a bad thing. Like some of its better-known competitors (the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, for example), the Nissan Rogue manages to fit quite a bit of content into a reasonably priced compact crossover. It’s available in versions to suit almost any family’s needs, including both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive platforms. Like its other Japanese rivals, the Rogue isn’t an appropriate choice for off-road adventures; however, equipped with AWD and fitted with winter tires, the Rogue is more than capable of getting you safely through the worst that winter can deliver.
New for 2012 is a Special Edition package for base trim Rogue S models. The package includes steering wheel mounted audio controls, a reverse camera, a 4.3-inch audio display, USB input, satellite radio, fog lights, privacy glass and 16-inch alloy wheels. Opting for the SL trim package (available on upscale SV models only) now includes Nissan’s paranoia-inducing “Around View” monitor, which gives a birds-eye, real-time view of your Rogue and its surroundings. Useful for navigating in close quarters, the view is oddly reminiscent of the view from a laser-guided bomb, just before it obliterates a target.
Also new for 2012 is a “Sport” button for the continuously variable transmission (CVT). To be honest, we’re not really sure what the button does, since CVTs (in theory, anyway) provide near-linear acceleration that optimizes performance based on an engine’s output. In practice, however, we find all CVT’s to be be harsh and buzzy, and accelerating with purpose in a CVT-equipped vehicle is never a pleasant experience. That said, no automaker has put as much effort into the development and refinement of its CVTs as Nissan, who builds the least-worst CVTs on the market.
Inside, the Nissan Rogue offers comfortable but soft seating. That’s fine for the type of around-town errands most Rogues will be used for, but on a long road trip a firmer seating surface would be preferred. Our SL Package-equipped Rogue came with leather seats, heated up front for winter comfort and mounted high, SUV-style, for a commanding view of the road. We’d have liked the ability to lower the passenger seat just a bit, since taller passengers occasionally hit their head on the door frame getting in.
Rear seats offer both reasonable headroom and decent legroom, especially given the Rogue’s compact size. Rear seat backs are fixed and we’d prefer to see reclining seat backs for rear passengers. While we’re adding to our Rogue wish list, we’d also like rear seat backs that fold flat. Rear seats in place, the Rogue still offers a decent amount of carrying capacity in the hatch, but its sloping roof means the Rogue doesn’t have quite as much carrying capacity as some competitors (the Honda CR-V, for example).
The dash feels more upscale than the Rogue’s mass-market price would indicate. Yes, there’s some hard plastic, but the bulk of the dash is wrapped in coarse-grained, soft-touch vinyl. While the dash upper uses primarily black materials, Nissan works in enough variances in shapes and textures to keep things interesting. The dash lower is trimmed in light-colored plastic to match the carpeting, and aluminum-colored trim adorns the shifter, door grab handles, steering wheel and vents.
The Rogue (thankfully) forgoes any attempts at flashy instrumentation, which is becoming more and more common among automakers. Drivers get a tachometer with an embedded temperature gauge, an LCD driver information display and a speedometer with an embedded fuel gauge. In short, that’s everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Powering the Rogue is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 170 horsepower and 175 pound feet of torque. That may not sound like much, but the Rogue only weighs around 3,300 pounds in front wheel drive configuration, which means that acceleration is more than adequate for the compact crossover segment. The Rogue delivers reasonable fuel economy, too, with an EPA rating of 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. In a mix of city and highway driving, we saw an average of 25.2 mpg.
On the road, the Rogue drives more like a sedan than a crossover or SUV. Most drivers will like the elevated seating position, as it gives a commanding view of the road ahead. Thanks to a four-wheel independent suspension and a surprising weight distribution of 53-percent front and 47-percent rear, the Rogue handles better than you expect it will. Despite its relatively high center of gravity, even sudden lane changes and other evasive maneuvers are accomplished with very little drama. While the Rogue can’t offer up the same entertainment value as even a sporty sedan, it’s confidence-inspiring road manners make a good choice for a compact family vehicle.
Nissan supplied the vehicle for our road test and evaluation. Our 2012 Nissan Rogue SV FWD had a base sticker price of $24,780, including a destination charge of $810. Options included the $135 Splash Guards, the $60 Rear Bumper Protector, the $190 Floor Mats and Rear Cargo Protector, the $225 Illuminated Kick Plates and the $3,900 SL Package (leather seating, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation system, Bose premium audio, Around View Monitor, auto dimming rearview mirror, Xenon headlights with auto on/off, power moonroof, automatic climate control, fog lights), for a total sticker price of $29,290.
For comparison, a similarly equipped Honda CR-V EX-L with navigation would sticker for $29,355, while a comparable Toyota RAV4 Limited would list at $29,565.