Nissan is one of those manufacturers whose product range has diversified over time such that the range of cars that they sell in Western Europe is almost completely different to what is sold in North America. Whilst adapting your product to suit local markets is generally a Good Thing, the costs of doing so do take their toll as some of the essential economies of global scale are lost. During recent years, Nissan have moved to make sure that although what you see may be different, there is more in the way of shared platform and componentry under the skin, and indeed as the Nissan-Renault relationship strengthens, then much of that sharing will be with models branded by the French marque as well as the Japanese one. So, the Rogue, a compact crossover based on the familiar Sentra sedan, and aimed at following the success of the earlier and larger Murano, that was premiered at the 2007 Detroit Show, going on sale later that year as a 2008 model, can be thought of as an American equivalent of the Qashqai. Both are based on Nissan’s C-platform, so this means they also have links to a long list of other cars including the Sunny and the XTrail, and a number of Renaults from the Megane and Fluence to the Kangoo and the Koleos. Smaller than the Murano, it is an important car for Nissan US, as it is their second best-selling model after the Altima, with over 140,000 units finding homes in 2012. It’s been one of those cars on my list to sample for ages, but there’s always been something else that has cropped up which has meant I’ve not got around to it, until now, when a freshly washed 2013 model was moved into place in the Gold Choice area at Hertz’ LAX facility just as I wandered along to see what was available. As I had reserved a mid-sized saloon, this was the best available no charge upgrade, so I took it.
All Rogues come with Nissan’s familiar 2.5 litre engine which also sees service in the Altima and Sentra sedans. In this application, it puts out 170 bhp. Front wheel drive is standard, but four wheel drive is optional, and a small AWD badge on the lower right of the tailgate gave me a clue that this was fitted to my test car. It seems to be a permanent feature, as there was no obvious way of switching to front wheel drive. Like most other US market Nissans, the Rogue has a CVT automatic transmission. A conventional automatic and a manual box are not offered. The engine is quite refined, and it pulls well, and although the transmission is generally smooth and seems well connected to the action of the throttle most of the time, there were occasions when it clearly had to think a bit before finding an appropriate ratio, making the Rogue seem a bit hesitant. Where it struggled the most were on things like a reverse hill start, where you need quite a lot of revs to ensure that you head backwards. On the move, though, the engine/transmission pairing was fine, and the theory that you are always in the “right” ratio, so noise levels are moderated held largely true. Although the trip computer suggested a range of only 220 miles when I collected the Rogue, the fuel gauge went down only slowly, and was still reading half full at the end of my test, 281 miles later. I put 10 3 gallons of Mr Shell’s finest 87 octane Regular in it, which put the needle back to full, and this computes to 272..2 mpg US, or 32.6 mpg Imperial, a respectable figure for this type of car.
If I were to characterise the rest of the driving characteristics, then I would describe them as “pleasant but slightly unmemorable”. The steering feel is well judged (Toyota, please take note, this is how it should be done, not your feel-less vague-ness that you persist with). The Rogue goes around bends quite happily, with minimal body roll, and whilst I am sure that the latest Escape and CX5 are more fun to push hard on twisty roads, this was not a bad device to take up on the canyon roads. When you need the brakes, they should not let you down, either, with a nicely progressive feel to the pedal. There is a foot operated parking brake. The ride was also pretty good, coping with the variety of surfaces to which the test car was subjected. Nor did I have any problems with visibility, although the kicked up third side windows do mean that there is quite a solid pillar at the back. When I thought a bit more about my soubriquet, I decided that perhaps I had damned the Rogue with faint praise. The point is that it drives far more like a car than most of its small SUV competitors, so it is tempting to assess it as a car. When you recall that it is actually at alternative to something like the Toyota RAV4, and oxymoron of an SUV if ever there was on as each generation has had any remaining vestige of “Sport” well and truly anaesthetised out of it, then the praise for what the Rogue achieves should actually increase.
The interior of the Rogue conforms very much to Nissan house style and those familiar with the brand will recognise some of the components from other models. As the design dates back to 207. it eschews the latest trend for over-stylised form defeating function which afflicts many of its more recent competitors, but it is nicely presented, and the quality of the fit and finish is good. On my test car, the dashboard was black, as was the seat trim, but thanks to a relatively large glass area, and the good levels of light outside, it did not feel at all gloomy or oppressive. There are two large chrome ringed dials, which are presented under a hooded cowl. The large speedo and rev counter contain fuel gauge and water temperature inset at their base. All are easy to read. There is a trip computer display in one of these dials, too, with a limited set of info available, which is cycled through by pressing the small button that protrudes to the side of the dial, which is not easy to do on the move. Stock Nissan column stalks operate indicators and lights from the left and wipers on the right. The centre of the dash contains the audio unit, which is a fairly old tech looking unit, with lots of small buttons to operate it. There are no repeater functions on the steering wheel, and it lacked XM Satellite capability, though there was a USB and an AUX connection lower down on the dash. Below this unit are three simple rotary dials for the air conditioning system. There is a diff lock switch on the lower left of the dash, and there is a Sport button on the centre console behind the gearlever, and that is about it. Refreshingly simple, unlike the button-manic interior of the latest Ford Escape.
Seat adjustment is all manual, with the backrest set in a series of steps by a lever on the side of the seat. The steering column goes up and down but not in and out. Even so, I quickly obtained the ideal driving position, and at all times it felt as if I was driving an ordinary car rather than a taller SUV-type machine. I see this as a Good Thing, but others may feel disappointed by this.
There is ample space in the rear for up to three occupants. They get generous amounts of headroom thanks to the fact that the Rogue is taller than a traditional family hatchback, and even when the front seats are set well back, there is enough legroom. The Rogue is wide enough that three would fit across it without feeling unduly cramped. Unlike some rivals, though, the rear seats are fixed in position, so they neither slide back and forth and nor can you change the angle of inclination of the backrest. Although not as large as in some of its rivals, the boot area is a decent size and it is nice and regular in shape. It can be extended by dropping down the asymmetrically split rear seat backrests, and when you do so, you get a flat loading bay. As with most US market Nissans, the glove box is astonishingly deep from front to back, although it is not quite as wide as the opening lid might lead you to suspect. There are also modest door bins, and a small stowage area under the centre armrest.
As well as the choice of front or four wheel drive, Nissan offer you two trim levels: S and SV. The test car was the former, and it covers all the basics and nothing more. The standard specification includes 16″ steel wheels, keyless entry, folding side mirrors, cruise control, a tilt (but non-telescoping) steering wheel, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a trip computer and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod interface. There is a Special Edition package available for the Rogue S, which adds 16″alloy wheels, foglights, rear privacy glass, a 4.3″ display audio screen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, an upgraded six-speaker sound system with a USB/iPod interface, steering wheel audio controls and satellite radio. Most of those features are standard on the Rogue SV. In addition, it gains 17″ alloy wheels, roof rails, keyless ignition/entry, upgraded upholstery, a six-way power driver seat (with power lumbar adjustment) and a fold-down front passenger seat. The SV also offers two optional packages. The Premium Edition bundles automatic headlights, a sunroof, automatic climate control, a navigation system with real-time traffic updates and an upgraded Bose audio system. The SL package goes further, adding 18″ alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlights, foglights, heated side mirrors, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 360-degree camera view, a navigation system with a 5″ touchscreen display and an eight-speaker Bose audio system with a subwoofer. An AWD S model as tested lists at $21,610, and the top spec AWD SV with SL package comes in at $27,950, which makes the Rogue decent value for money.
As part of their globalisation strategy, Nissan have announced that the replacement for the Rogue will be a lightly adapted version of the car known as XTrail in the rest of the world that was premiered at the 2013 Frankfurt Show. Indeed, earlier in this trip I came across a duo of these new models, one in full camo, and the other fully revealed, that were undergoing what I would guess were final shake down tests, on the roads of Arizona north of Phoenix, in advance of a planned November 2013 US on sale date. Since then, Nissan have also announced that the Rogue model that I tested will remain on sale, to be called Rogue Select. This is a move which is designed to ensure that sales are not lost as production of the new car – which I suspect will be more expensive – builds up. It’s not the first time that a maker has done this (think successive generations of Chevy Malibu Classic), and when they do, you can be sure that the rental fleets will be one of the largest purchasers of the old model. That means that you can expect to see Rogues like this one on rental car fleets for some time to come. If you do, and one is allocated to you, my experience suggests there is no cause for alarm. For sure, it is not flashy and overstylised like the Ford Escape, and it may lack the very latest in add on gizmos, but it is an honest unpretentious machine which will get the job done really quite well.