Nissan’s Second-Generation Rogue Takes a Step Forward In Styling

This is the best SUV for you if you want a compact crossover trying to make the transformation from frog to prince.

Rogue is redesigned for the first time since Nissan introduced it for model-year 2008. It makes big strides in styling and features, but stands pat under the hood. Nissan does the right thing with this vehicle’s second-generation structure. It extends the wheelbase slightly while actually reducing the length of the body. That gives it athletic proportions the original sorely lacked.

Rogue’s been a solid seller for Nissan, ranking fourth in the hotly contested compact-crossover sales race, behind the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4. The model-year 2014 redesign maintains a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and just one four-cylinder engine linked to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Three trim levels return: base S, volume-selling SV and the top-of-the-line SL. In a bid to expand the brand’s appeal, the S and SV models are available for the first time with a tiny third-row seat, making them the only crossovers in their competitive set that can carry seven passengers.

Incidentally, Nissan continues to import the first-generation Rogue from Japan as the Rogue Select, with a base price under $21,000. It’s sold alongside the new model, which is built at the company’s plant in Tennessee.

The model-year 2014 version looks far better than the old, with stronger definition along the sides, tasteful chrome highlights and body-colored mirrors with LED turn signals. The front end is more assertive and gets trendy LED running lights. Fairly rare in this class, LED headlamps are available on the SL model as part of the optional Premium Package. Crisp new taillamps help give the rear end a sense of width and character the model-year 2013 version lacked.

The cabin is more contemporary, too, and all but the S model have a convenient pushbutton start. The new dashboard gives S and SV models a five-inch screen to display audio and Bluetooth streaming data, and every version comes with a review camera for safer backing up.

Optional on the SV and standard on the SL is a navigation system with a seven-inch screen. Unfortunately, the navigation display is still too small and low res, but it does bring a class-exclusive around-view camera system. This simplifies close-quarters maneuvering by giving you a bird’s-eye-view around your vehicle.

Interior materials are far better than before, but with a fair share of hard plastic surfaces, they don’t quite match class leaders like the Escape and CR-V. A foot-pedal parking brake is more passenger-car than sporty-crossover. And controls for such things as the power liftgate and transmission Sport mode are not easy to see or reach.

Front seat room is good, and while Nissan says the new buckets use its NASA-inspired, zero-gravity design, they’re not quite as supportive as those in the Nissan Altima. The comfortable rear seats are nicely elevated, slide to adjust legroom and come with a functional armrest. If you’re much over six feet, though, headroom might be tight with a panoramic sunroof that’s part of the SL model’s premium option package. And that third row? It’s for ages kindergarten to maybe fifth grade—but at least it does provide seatbelted transportation in a pinch.

Every Rogue comes with a clever system Nissan calls Divide n Hide. Instead of the third-row seat, it gives you 18 adjustable storage variations to make the most of the vehicle’s 70-cubic-foot-cargo volume—which is about average for this class.

The 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque is also about par for a compact crossover—although a few rivals, like the Escape and Subaru Forester, offer turbocharged four-cylinders with lots more power. What’s more, the Jeep Cherokee is available with a V-6.

Rogue, however, does have above-average fuel economy for its competitive set: a laudable 28 mpg city/highway combined with both front- and AWD. Some credit for that fuel economy goes to the continuously variable transmission, which is basically an automatic without set gear ratios.

Nissan was an early champion of continuously variable transmission (CVT), and this feature is becoming increasingly common in lots of vehicle categories. Like most vehicles, this one’s tendency to let the engine rev ahead of the actual vehicle speed takes getting used to and really isn’t the choice for serious drivers.

Anyone, though, can appreciate the machine’s fine road manners. Precise, natural steering complements nicely balanced handling, and the ride quality is among the best in class, especially with the 17-inch wheels and tires that come on S and SV models. The 18s on SLs transmit more impact harshness over bumps.

We’re a little surprised Nissan hasn’t translated potential cost savings associated with building the new Rogue in America into prices that truly threaten the competition. That doesn’t mean it’s overpriced, just that it’s about even with similarly configured rivals.

Most buyers choose the midline SV, which starts around $26,500 with AWD. SVs come with automatic climate control and a connectivity package that includes Bluetooth and apps such as Facebook and Pandora. The $1,400 Premium Package adds navigation, a power liftgate, the around-view monitor and blind-spot and lane-departure warnings. Top-line SL models start at $30,300 with AWD. Equipping an SL with the panoramic moonroof, LED headlights and traffic-warning systems adds another $2,000.

This model-year 2014 version certainly is no longer a frog. Its styling, features and road manners should earn it a place on lots of compact-crossover shopping lists.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]