With a name like Rogue, it's got to be non-conformist; Right? After all, Merriam Webster's long-respected dictionary defines rouge as a 'mischievous person or scoundrel.'
Truth be told, Nissan's 2013 compact crossover remains surprisingly pleasant, pedestrian and comfortable; a conformist rather than an implied deviant.
In an exceedingly popular and crowded compact 'cute-ute' segment, Nissan's entry has a leg up on its competition. The exterior design leans heavily towards the family resemblance of the larger, exceedingly handsome Murano crossover. When Nissan unveiled Murano in 2003, heads turned in homage to its intrepid styling which also adorned Nissan's upscale Infiniti division's mid-size FX crossovers. The smooth, rounded, ready-to-pounce attitude has served Nissan and Infiniti well during the ensuing decade. Rogue takes this DNA to a smaller, compact package.
While Rogue doesn't excel in any one performance facet or category (fuel economy, cargo room, price, horsepower), this five-seater does many things right while offering a smooth, car-like ride and Chicago-friendly all-wheel-drive option in all trims. Interest remains strong, with Rogue sales numbers up 20 percent in the first three quarters of 2012 when compared with the same period in 2011.
For the 2013 model year, Rogue changes little from 2012. Rogue's trim level designates and option arrays are thankfully simple in a segment that tends to overcomplicate the process. Two trims and full-loaded option (S, SV and SV with SL package) are available with one 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (delivering a functional 170 horses) and one transmission, Nissan's well test "Xtronic" Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). No six-speed manual is available. Nissan experimented with a specialty "Krom" trim in select compact models for a couple of years (2010, 2011) with tinted windows and dark alloy wheels, but discontinued the effort in 2012.
Nissan's advanced CVT effortlessly and automatically cycles through an infinite range of forward gear ratios rather than settling for five or six planetary forward gears. As with a traditional six-speed automatic, drivers have no foot clutches to push.
The S trim offers one "Special Edition" trim package (fog lights, 4.3-inch touch screen, steering wheel audio controls and XM Satellite Radio). The SV tempts buyers with a "Premium Edition" (5.0-inch in dash navigation screen, moon roof, XM Satellite Radio and upgraded Bose 7-speaker audio). The SV with SL package comes with all worldly extras included.
While Asian rivals Toyota and Honda have offered compact crossovers since the 1990s, Nissan arrived fashionably late to the dance; taking time to glean the competition and carve out a niche. Toyota's RAV4 and Honda's CR-V have already undergone at least three generational makeovers since their debuts. Arriving in the 2008 model year, the five-door Rogue continues clocking mileage with a first-generation effort, undergoing a mid-cycle refresh in 2011. With Nissan's compact Sentra sedan receiving a next-generation maker over in the 2013 model year, expect Rogue to undergo its own redesign soon since it shares the same compact Sentra platform. Nissan also has plans to move Rogue production from Japan to Smyrna, Tennessee outside Nashville where Sentra calls home.
Nissan supplied a top-notch Rogue for testing, an all-wheel-drive SV trim with available SL package. Base price for a SV with all-wheel drive checks in at $26,050. The SL package ($3,900) includes leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, Navigation system with five-inch color touch screen and power sliding moon roof. After adding in $190 dealer floor mats and $825 destination charge, the bottom line ended at $30,965. The lowest-priced Rogue, a front-drive S checks in at $22,310.
Inside, the two-tone, intuitive interior contributes to a driver friendly environ. Front doors smartly include good sized 45-degree grab bars for easy opening and closing. While power window and lock functions are built into the driver's door, power outside mirror controls are on the far left dash. The instrument panel includes two circular analog gauges with small, half-moon inserts along the bottoms (fuel and temperature displays). A digital information display window resides in between. Four circular air vents intersperse along the top dash which gently slops downward. Single-zone ventilation utilizes three easy-to-grab dials. The best place to stash and house portable electronics is within the confines of the deep storage bin between bucket seats. It's where a USB port and 12-volt outlet reside. A second outlet is found on the central dash below the temperature dials. The foot operated parking brake eliminates the need for a hand-operated style between the buckets, and opens up the region for dual cup holders. Rogue would be wise to add additional storage areas during the second-generation redo.
The three-spoke steering wheel is home to cruise control functions. While the wheel manually tilts, no telescoping maneuvering is available. Rather than an ignition cylinder and key, our tester purred to life with a twist of a steering column knob (as long as the key fob is nearby).
While row two seatbacks fold down with a 60/40 split, seats don't slide forward or back. Thankfully, Nissan built Rogue as a five passenger vehicle passing on an optional third row, which never seems to fit quite right in a compact-sized product. Cloth seating is standard in S and SV with our SV/SL tester the one with leatherette seats. Drivers enjoy a seating position elevated a bit higher than most compact sedans or coupes.
The 170 horses under the hood is average at best for most four-cylinders in the segment. Honda's segment leading 2013-four-cylinder CR-V cranks out 185 horses. While Rogue opts for one naturally aspirated gasoline engine, a handful of compact crossovers offer a six-cylinder option, including RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox and Mitsubishi's Outlander. A growing number of four-cylinder rivals offer a turbocharged, direct-injections, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan. A select few offer a gas-electric hybrid powertrain including the Ford Escape.
When coupled with all-wheel drive, mileage checks in at 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Add one mile more for each category when opting for standard front-wheel drive. While acceptable, most newly designed crossovers with four bangers and automatic transmissions break the 30 mile highway barrier (the 2013 Honda CR-V at 31 mpg highway, the 2013 Chevy Equinox 32 mpg highway) . Regular, 87-octante fuel fills the 15.9-gallon tank.
The continuously variable transmission offers a silky smooth, non-bucking shift experience, but expect a whinny growl if starting out on an incline with the accelerator pushed into action. Narrow side windows create blind spots so be careful when backing out or changing lanes. Body sway is minimal around tight curves while handling rates above average.
Rogue looks striking thanks to a roof line that tops out above the center B pillar and gently angles downward towards the hatch region all the while side windows are narrowing rearward with the static cargo area glass sporting a tri-angular shape. The rear hatch, with diminutive half-moon glass and generous sheet metal, includes a standard wiper. When opened, those six-foot two inches and shorter have ample headroom. A rear spoiler and single exhaust comes standard in all trims. While its larger compatriot Murano utilizes vertically curved tail lights, Rogue opts for a wrapped horizontally design. Below the flat cargo floor is a temporary spare tire.
At a glance:2013 Nissan Rogue
Price as tested: $30,965
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
City/Highway fuel estimates: 22 city/27 highway
Length: 183.3 inches
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,479 pounds
Assembly: Kyushu, Japan