It's cold out here. Like, 15 below, with blowing snow and darkening skies in the heart of Quebec's Laurentian mountains just north of Montreal. And here we are, sampling Nissan's 2014 Rogue compact wagon.
The second-generation Rogue follows a pattern established by the original 2008 model-year version. Although a Nissan success story, the Rogue is kept at bay by the league-leading Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Chevrolet Equinox.
For 2014, the Rogue has upped its game with more distinctive styling, more comfortable and practical seating arrangements and improved fuel economy. They constitute basic motherhood issues for this segment that absolutely factor into the purchasing decision process.
Visually, the Tennessee-built Rogue swaps out its Murano-like egg-carton grille for one that's a whole lot bolder. It's part of a new front end with added folds and creases for the hood and fenders, an enlarged lower air intake and fancy jewel-like headlight pods ringed with standard LED (Light Emitting Diode) running lights. Added blacked-out rocker and fender-opening trim contribute to the more aggressive design.
At the opposite end, the rear window and side glass are squared-off and the taillights are enlarged and repositioned above the fender line for improved style and visibility.
What isn't visible is the Rogue's all-new platform that's developed with Nissan's cross-ownership partner Renault. The Rogue's dimensions actually vary little from the original architecture, with just a 0.6-inch stretch between the front and rear wheels and similarly small increases in width and body height.
Inside, Nissan increased the Rogue's load capacity by about 20 percent, thanks to a new fold-flat passenger seat. Overall interior volume is increased by about 10 percent.
Nissan now offers a third-row seating option for the Rogue, which makes it the only small ute in its class outside of the Mitsubishi Outlander with the capacity to transport up to seven passengers. Access is secured by sliding the split-folding second-row bench forward up to nine inches, but as with most three-row arrangements it's best to position only smaller folks in the back row for short journeys and surrender any meaningful amount of stowage space while it's in use.
The remaining restyled cabin area is a place of comfort and joy, especially the restyled dash/control panel layout and the NASA-inspired "Zero Gravity" front seats (similar to the ones in the Nissan Altima sedan). They really do the trick on extended trips, especially with the optional progressive quick-heat system that warms the thighs and hips before extending warmth to other body areas.
Returning is a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It's connected to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that now performs more like a traditional automatic in operation and performance. A redesigned belt and pulley system plus a sport-mode switch for the driver sharpens transmission operation and throttle response.
The improved CVT helps bump fuel economy to 26 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway (25/32 for AWD models), compared to 22/28 on previous Rogues (22/26 for AWD).
Various traction and control aids make winter tripping tolerable. The $1,350 all-wheel-drive option - a must-have for snow-bound buyers - redirects engine torque from the front to the rear, or to individual wheels, as necessary. The AWD can also be locked in 50:50 mode (front/back) at speeds below 25 mph.
Options include a power-adjustable driver's panorama sunroof and "Around View Monitor" that shows a bird's-eye view of what's going on around you. Also optional is a leather interior and a navigation system, which of course inflates the Rogue's $23,350 base price (including destination charges), but allows buyers to take the luxury route whether heading to and from work, or heading outdoors for some cold-weather fun.
What you should know: 2014 Nissan Rogue
Type: Four-door, front- all-wheel-drive compact wagon
Engine (hp): 2.5-liter DOHC I4 (170)
Market position: Compact wagons are beginning to rival mid-size sedans for popularity among family-oriented buyers. In this group, the Rogue has been a solid mid-pack sales performer with an eye to moving up in rank.
Points: Definitely a more attractive wagon the second time around; Base four-cylinder engine could use more power, but shines in the fuel-economy department; Improved CVT an improvement, but still no substitute for actual gears; Ever heard of a muffler spoiler? The Rogue has one for aerodynamic purposes; Comfortable, quiet cabin will help seal the deal.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 28/33 (FWD) – Base price (incl. destination) $23,350
Base price: $23,600
Good-looking small wagon excels at fuel efficiency and handy option choices.
Base price: $23,800
A top seller that's loaded with style and a stellar build-quality rep.
Base price: $25,300
Larger and less svelte than its competitors, but still a popular pick.