The Nissan Rogue has been one of those "sleeper" cars that people don't seem to notice or talk about, but somehow manages to do quite well in various reviews and car tests.
For example, the Nissan Rogue was voted the best new SUV/CUV under $35,000 sold in Canada, when introduced for 2008. Euro styling, great fuel economy and an extra roomy interior made it stand out in a very popular market segment that continues to grow and grow.
Since then, good consumer reliability and crash safety ratings have helped make Rogue a solid new vehicle purchase, especially for those smart shoppers who only invest in a vehicle with a proven track-record. And for the 2012 model year, Nissan has added a new top-level SL trim with all options, including leather, for just $34,274.
A favourite of mine, Nissan's brilliant Around View Monitor system also comes within this SL package. The ultimate parking aid, it provides live camera views from above, side and back of the Rogue at the push of a button. The overhead (bird's eye) view is a computer generated image created by four small superwide-angle cameras that give a 360Â° view of objects all around the Rogue.
All Rogue models come with the same 2.5litre, four-cylinder engine matched with a (CVT) automatic transmission. The base S and mid-level SV trim levels are available in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive and the SL is only available with allwheel-drive.
The 2.5-litre engine is a double-overhead-camshaft arrangement with continuously variable valve control and it can produce up to 170 hp and 175 lb.-ft. of torque. It's tuned to provide good torque in the low-tomid rpm range and quick initial response from a standing start. It's also easy on fuel and, as you might expect, the lighter frontdrive versions are the most economical.
The Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) has adaptive logic control that adjusts gear ratios to different driving situations and driver demands. A new sport mode switch has also been added and it instantly changes the ratio selection to with a more aggressive pattern.
The AWD system can send up to 100 per cent of drive to either the front or rear wheels if required. It's interlinked with the Rogue's electronic stability control system and it can also be locked (another button) in 50/50 distribution, which is very useful on snow covered or slippery road surfaces.
The default drive setting sends all power to the front wheels and under normal driving conditions this offers best fuel economy.
Rogue's rear suspension is somewhat unique in this class. It's an independent multi-link system that includes aluminum-alloy upper links and shock absorbers with rebound springs. Its design also allows more (versus a strut type rear suspension) cargo space in the rear.
There's a lot of good competition in the compact utility market, with the recently revised Honda CR-V and new Ford Escape leading the charge. Rogue leans more to its SUV roots than some of its newer competitors, as it offers good ground clearance and a lockable four wheel drive system.
Style: A good looking vehicle from day one, the French connection in the Rogue's design gives it a distinctive look that stands out among its two-box competitors. Exterior changes to the 2012 Rogue are certainly modest, but do include a new chrome licence plate finisher and a rear spoiler.
Rogue is built on Nissan's "C" platform (shared with Sentra) and uses high-strength steel extensively to reduce body weight. It has a long 2,690 mm wheelbase and the body also features extra large doors with wide openings that make getting in or out of a Rogue an easier task.
Inside: The interior lacks the flair of the exterior and although on the plain side it is pleasant enough and very practical. Lots of good storage spots, including an extra-large glove box and central console storage bin.
The cabin can seat five, but a third adult occupant in the centre back seat would probably find it a tight fit. There are also lots of handy little trays, bins and other spots to stow stuff and the rear cargo area provides 818 litres of space. The 60/40 split rear seatback increases this to 1,639 litres when folded down, but doesn't provide a fully flat cargo floor.
Bluetooth hands-free phone, iPod and audio connectivity are standard. Even a base Rogue comes with cruise control. My test SL came with automatic climate control, Nissan Intelligent Key, a Bose audio system and black leather upholstery with sexy red stitching.
Secure: Standard safety features in Rogue include the usual front, side and side-curtain air bags, plus active head restraints on the front seats. There's also a rollover sensor that can activate the roof-mounted curtain air bags.
The Rogue got an impressive overall fourstar rating from the more stringent new U.S. SaferCar crash test program. It earned four-star ratings in the frontal and roll-over tests and a five-star rating on side impact.
Drive: The driver sits tall in a seat that offers good forward sight lines, which is one of the reasons more and more buyers are choosing this type of vehicle. While the Rogue's back window looks big enough (from the outside), the driver's view, via the rear-view mirror, was disappointingly restrictive. That said, the around-view camera more than compensates for this drawback.
Lots of adjustment features help the driver find a good seating position, including seat cushion height, however the steering wheel (column) did not have a telescopic feature. Loved the round air vents in the dash, as they were simple to use and provided a wide range of directional control.
Pressing on the gas pedal produces an immediate initial reaction from the Rogue's big four-cylinder engine. It's a quiet, torque rich engine at low to midrange engine speeds, but the (CVT) transmission may not be to everyone's liking.
A CVT doesn't operate with that familiar stepped gear change linearity that a conventional automatic provides. Its well-intentioned efforts to always keep the engine in an optimal power/ fuel economy speed range also results in a constant speed "drone" that some find undesirable. It is, however, a more efficient transmission than a conventional automatic.
Rogue has a light, agile driving feel with precise steering characteristics and a taut yet supple suspension. It provides a more engaging car-like driving experience than you generally expect or get in a utility vehicle.
Sum-up: The value packed, tried and tested Nissan Rogue is a versatile, fuel efficient compact utility vehicle that's both easy on the eyes and the wallet.
Specifications - 2012
Trim levels: S, SV & SL Sticker Price: $23,778 to $34,278
Power: 2.5-litre I4, 170 horsepower.
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel consumption (2WD): 9.0/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway)
Fuel consumption (AWD): 9.6/7.7 L/100 km (city/highway)
Basic Warranty: Three years / 60,000 kilometres
Powertrain Warranty: Five years / 100,000 kilometres
Rust Warranty: Five years / unlimited kilometres
Ford Escape: $21,499 to $37,499
Honda CR-V: $25,990 to $35,090
Hyundai Tucson: $19,999 to $34,349
Kia Sportage: $21,995 to $36,995
Mazda CX-5: $22,995 to $32,495
Toyota RAV4: $24,865 to $37,300
Volkswagen Tiguan: $27,875 to $38,375
On the web
Consumer site: www. nissan.ca