Nashville, Tennessee - Nissan is not the enthusiast brand that it used to be. Just a few years ago you could get a Sentra SE-R sport compact or even an Altima V-6 sedan with a manual transmission, but now the recent redesigns of Nissan's core models (which make up 70 percent of the brand's U.S. sales) favor mass appeal over driving excitement.
The Nissan Rogue compact crossover, introduced in 2007, was always in a strange middle ground between the old, quirky Nissan and the new, mainstream Nissan. It never possessed any enthusiast appeal, but it was also flawed from a consumer perspective with its subpar interior and uncompetitive fuel economy. Who knew, then, that the Rogue would become Nissan's second best-selling model for the last several years? The Rogue's annual sales numbers have more than doubled since its introduction in 2007, with 2013 shaping up to be its best year yet.
That's why the redesigned 2014 Nissan Rogue is so important. If the flawed, dated 2013 Rogue continues to sell well in a competitive segment, then this new one has the potential to make big waves. As Nissan's Rogue product planning director, Ken Kcomt puts it, "The outgoing Rogue has been a big success, but we're really shooting for a knockout with this new one."
The current sales knockouts in this class are the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape. In the same vein as the preceding core model redesigns, the 2014 Nissan Rogue directly targets these best-sellers in its attempt to tick all the right boxes for consumers. On paper, nearly everything about this crossover -- from its 33-mpg highway fuel economy to its roomier, updated interior -- matches up with the class leaders. But can it deliver on these promises in the real world? We drove the 2014 Rogue in Nissan North America's hometown of Nashville to find out.
Improvement where it counts
The most drastic area of improvement in the 2014 Nissan Rogue is the interior. The new cabin is practically a copy of the Altima's, right down to the shape of the steering wheel and the "zero-gravity" seats. That's a good thing. It is light-years ahead of the outgoing Rogue's dark, bland, and cheap interior. This new Rogue, whether in base S, mid-level SV, or range-topping SL trim, is airy and modern inside, especially when equipped with the panoramic glass roof.
We're also thankful for the Rogue's simple ergonomics. Compared with the Escape's overcomplicated MyFord Touch system, the Nissan's infotainment interface -- with real buttons and knobs, no less -- is refreshingly accessible and easy-to-use. This simplicity doesn't diminish its function, though, as even the base Rogue S offers standard Bluetooth streaming audio and an iPod interface, and the optional upgraded Nissan Connect system adds navigation, XM Traffic, hands-free texting, Pandora integration, and app support for your smartphone. Nissan's handy AroundView Monitor, which stitches together images from various cameras to create a full 360-degree view, is available on the Rogue as well.
Nissan is calling the 2014 Rogue "all-new," as a new Renault-Nissan modular platform forms its underpinnings. It definitely looks new on the outside, with a clean front end and inoffensive, contoured lines that take inspiration from the larger Pathfinder. While Nissan Design America's vice president, Taro Ueda, told us that he's most proud of the rear three quarters view, we think the oddly jacked-up rear end is the Rogue's most awkward angle. Still, the Rogue's overall design at least looks fresh in a segment that isn't exactly known for its design panache.
Drives better than you'd expect
Under the surface, the 2014 Rogue doesn't change much. Save for some mild tweaks for the sake of fuel economy, the 2.5-liter, 170-hp four-cylinder shared with the Altima is essentially carryover, as is Nissan's ubiquitous CVT. Even the suspension setup is the same strut front and multi-link rear, and overall wheelbase, length, and width are all within an inch of the previous Rogue.
Although it hasn't actually grown much, the Rogue feels big from behind the wheel, like it's now straddling the line between a compact and a midsize crossover. It's far from ponderous, though, thanks to the controlled body motions, well-weighted steering, and nicely tuned brake feel. On our route's smooth, winding roads through rural Tennessee, the ride was composed and surprisingly firm, lending the Rogue a buttoned-down demeanor that's better than we expected given the flabbier dynamics of the Nissan Altima and Sentra sedans.
Unfortunately, the unrefined powertrain lets down the polished chassis. Nissan's extensive experience with CVTs means that this transmission is well-calibrated to make the most of the engine's 170 horsepower, but the coarse 2.5-liter four-cylinder still produces an unpleasant racket under hard acceleration. Thankfully, fuel economy has improved significantly to an estimated 26/33 mpg city/highway for front-wheel-drive models, making it somewhat easier to stomach the engine's moaning and groaning. We got an impressive 30 mpg on our combined drive route.
The 2014 Nissan Rogue doesn't just feel bigger, it is bigger in nearly every interior dimension despite its unchanged exterior footprint. Rear-seat legroom, hip room, and headroom are all up, and maximum cargo space of 70 cubic feet with all seats folded is up a whopping 12.1 cubic feet from the previous Rogue. There's a standard "Divide & Hide" cargo configurability system, which allows for various shelving possibilities and compartmentalized storage in the rear cargo area. Certain configurations of Divide & Hide create a raised false cargo floor that matches the height of the folded rear seatbacks. Divide & Hide is a nifty feature, but we'd rather have the lower, flatter cargo floors afforded by the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 and their clever seats that fold both the seat cushion and the backrest flat into the floor.
This roomier interior leaves space for an optional third-row seat, which Nissan says is for "occasional use." We say this is an overstatement, as the ridiculously cramped sixth and seventh seats are more like jump seats barely even large enough for kids. This third row is an especially questionable addition when you consider that all of the Rogue's key competitors have only five seats as of the Toyota RAV4's 2013 redesign. The third row is an $1190 option on S and SV models, and the top SL trim is two-row only. Nissan points shoppers looking for a $31,000 three-row crossover toward the larger Pathfinder instead; we think it best to avoid the seven-seat Rogue altogether and get yourself a midsize crossover if you really need the extra capacity.
As good as it needs to be
The third-row seat is about the only aspect of the 2014 Nissan Rogue that doesn't follow the formula of the class leaders that Nissan has otherwise targeted so accurately. According to one Rogue engineer, Nissan's primary benchmarking targets were based on sales success, unsurprising considering the new model's combination of price, fuel economy, and feature content.
We think Nissan will have no problem reaching production capacity at the Rogue's new home at the brand's Smyrna, Tennessee plant. In fact, Nissan is hoping that the Rogue will fly off dealer lots so quickly that they'll have to add another shift as they did with the Altima last year.
If you're not ready to pony up the extra cash over last year's model for the 2014 Rogue, Nissan will continue to offer the old model as the budget-priced Rogue Select. Even though the rental fleet special will start under $20,000, the redesigned Rogue is the better value, with a base price of $23,350 still undercutting the CR-V, the RAV4, and the Escape. Nissan's unabashed aim for the mainstream may not excite enthusiasts like us, but it's hard to fault this strategy given the overall competence of cars like the 2014 Rogue. It's exactly as good as it needs to be -- no more, no less -- and who can argue with that?
2014 Nissan Rogue
|As Tested:||$25,090 (SV FWD)/ $32,270 (SL AWD)|
|Engine:||2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|Horsepower:||170 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque:||175 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm|
|Drive:||Front- or all-wheel-|
|L x W x H:||182.3 in x 72.4 in x 66.3 in|
|Headroom:||41.6 in/38.5 in|
|Legroom F/R:||43.0 in/37.9 in|
|Cargo capacity (seats up/down):||32.0/70.0 cu ft|
|Curb Weight:||3,393-3,605 lb|
|EPA Rating (city/highway):||FWD 26/33 mpg / AWD 25/32 mpg|