I've got nothing but respect for people who look forward to spending a Saturday testing out crossovers that cost more than 20 grand; the segment has more players than a baseball team, and most blend hopelessly together. Should you take on the challenge, somewhere between Starbucks and sundown you'll likely check out a Nissan Rogue. I suspect it will not rise above the crossover pack.
The Rogue is average across the board, but its major downside is that you can hardly see out of this thing.
The five-seat Rogue has been around since the 2008 model year, and for 2011 it gets new bumpers and a revised grille. The Rogue comes in S, SV and Krom (pronounced "chrome") trims. All three offer front- or all-wheel drive.
The Rogue's styling had been a bit anonymous, but a few exterior changes -- more creases up front, extra chrome along the doors and grille -- add some character. The silhouette remains the same, but it looks less bulbous now. The Krom edition adds more aggressive bumpers, a new grille, 18-inch alloy wheels and center-mounted dual tailpipes. Like its name, it's a bit much for me.
Save a crummy headliner, the cabin materials are actually quite good for this class. There's padding where it's needed, and panels all the way down to knee level have a decent, consistent finish. Storage areas abound, with a spacious center console and a mammoth glove compartment.
Unfortunately, the overall design is plain: vast stretches of nothing, too much dull gray plastic, a steering wheel and automatic gearshift that look like they were styled by a toy company. Other interiors, from the Chevy Equinox to the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, have inventive dashboards and eye-catching controls. The Rogue leaves no powerful impressions.
A navigation system, backup camera and USB/iPod integration are new for 2011. The navigation system has a small, 5.0-inch display. Based off an SD card, it's not as robust or quick to respond as many hard-drive-based systems, but it gets the job done. As part of a $1,700 package on the SV that also includes a moonroof and other features, it's also relatively affordable.
The front seats offer better thigh and lateral support than do most crossovers, but the center console pins your knees and hips in. It gives the crossover a more carlike cockpit, which some shoppers may appreciate. If you don't care for it, competitors like the Honda CR-V leave more space.
SV models have a power driver's seat, but Nissan doesn't offer a telescoping steering wheel, which is becoming the norm in this segment.
The backseat has a comfortably high seating position but short lower cushions, so adults back there may notice a barstool effect: high enough seating, but too little thigh support. Headroom is good, but amenities are sparse. The Rogue offers neither rear reading lights nor a center armrest. Many competitors include both.
A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard, and it provides a maximum 57.9 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seats up, there's 28.9 cubic feet of space. Both figures generally trail the competition -- the CR-V and Toyota RAV4 both have more than 70 cubic feet of maximum volume -- but the Rogue is one of the few small crossovers that also have a fold-forward front passenger seat. Included on the SV, the seat enables the Rogue to accommodate narrow cargo (a ladder, for example) that's more than 8.5 feet long, Nissan says.
The Rogue's sight lines are its biggest problem. With bulky D-pillars, fixed rear head restraints and an undersized rear window, it ranked as the worst of 10 small crossovers -- eight of which are still on the market -- for blind-spot visibility in a comparison test two years ago. Large side mirrors might make up for some of that, but the Rogue's are merely adequate -- and the view out the front could use some work, too. The Rogue has more glass than the swept-back Sportage and Tucson, but its windshield and side windows are still on the short side. Nissan could learn a thing or two from the Subaru Forester or RAV4. Climb into either of those, and you'll notice a world of difference.
The Rogue typifies the small-crossover driving experience. Its steering wheel turns with a light touch at low speeds and tracks reasonably well on the highway, and the sole drivetrain -- a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission -- offers adequate power. Accelerate out of a corner, and the transmission isn't particularly quick to kick up the engine revs, as some of Nissan's other CVTs are. Once it does, however, the Rogue scoots back up to speed well enough.
Our test cars exhibited some road noise but little wind noise. Ride quality is fine overall -- certainly better than the choppy Sportage and Tucson. If outright comfort is your goal, however, the Ford Escape and non-Sport RAV4 do a better job.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The pedal ought to provide more linearity; press it down, and the first inch or so of travel brings only slight deceleration.
Combined EPA mileage for the front-wheel-drive Rogue is 25 mpg. All-wheel drive drops that to 24 mpg. Those figures put the Rogue in the same company as the Equinox, Sportage and Tucson -- all at the higher end of the class.
Safety, features and pricing
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Rogue earned the top score, Good, in front, side and rear impacts. The crossover earned just an Acceptable score in roof-strength tests, which approximate rollover protection. The Rogue has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration using its revised 2011 standards. Standard features include the usual range of front, side-impact and curtain airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.
Reliability for the Rogue has been above average. Standard features on the $21,210 Rogue S include the usual power accessories, an automatic transmission, air conditioning, cruise control and a USB/iPod-compatible CD stereo. Step up to the Krom or SV, and you can get a power driver's seat, automatic climate control, heated leather seats, a navigation system and a moonroof. All-wheel drive is optional on any trim for an affordable $1,250. Check all the options, and an all-wheel-drive Rogue SV -- which, despite having a lower price than the Krom, offers more lavish options -- tops out around $29,000.
Some shoppers will be put off by the Rogue's poor sight lines, but I suspect the majority will respond to the crossover with a collective shrug. When similar money can buy a handsome interior, a vast cargo area or engaging performance, the Rogue's unremarkable nature leaves it behind.
At last winter's $29,000 SUV shootout, editors from Cars.com, USA Today and PBS' "MotorWeek" noted how average the Rogue was. But when the evaluations were tallied up, the Nissan landed seventh out of nine. Average, it seems, is not good enough.
Starting MSRP 21,210 -- $25,680
EPA Fuel Economy:
Highway: 26 -- 28
170-hp, 2.5-liter I-4 (regular gas)
2-speed CVT w/OD
New or Notable
* Updated styling
* New navigation system
* Four-cylinder and CVT automatic
* Front- or all-wheel drive
* Available Krom edition
What We Like
* Large storage areas
* Front-seat comfort
* Inexpensive navigation option
* Available fold-flat passenger seat
* Affordable AWD option
What We Don't
* Rear visibility
* Uninspired cabin styling
* Short backseat cushions
* Road noise
* Grabby brakes
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