Let’s face it: Compact sport utilities generate as much excitement as a DMV appointment line. It is a highly functional yet aesthetically challenged suite of vehicles — the overalls of the automotive world. But it is also massive, shifting some 1.8 million units last year, with growth of 6.5 percent expected next year. Hence, it is bloodily contested — won on a foundation of value, efficiency, storage and other utilitarian metrics. And by those measures, Nissan’s all-new Rogue offers a nicely improved contender.
Rogue boasts best-in-segment trunk space, better than the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, et al. If you utilize the second row and max out room, however, the Honda and Toyota squeeze past. But what gives the edge to the Rogue in this department is its unique Divide N’ Hide system. Like Ram pickup trucks’ RamBox in-bed storage, it’s one of those clever advancements that figures out how to do more with the same space as everyone else. Divide N’ Hide is a simple 2-piece cargo organizer and hidden floor storage that keeps items separate using one easily cleaned lower level. So dirty socks from your weekend camping trip stay separated from your organic broccoli. Ingenious.
There’s also an added thoughtfulness for back-seat passengers, something curiously absent in many competitors, especially when one considers it’s most likely your children sequestered back there. The back seats feature nine inches of travel, allowing generous personal space to the Taylor Swift fans in your life. There’s also second-row air vents, a simple consideration the RAV4 and CR-V don’t offer.
Its 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder is inherited from the last-gen Rogue, but the engine-continuously variable transmission pair has been improved to bump fuel efficiency by 18 percent to 33 highway mpg (better than all but the Mazda CX-5). The engine won’t wow you, but nor will any other CUV. And AWD is available at any trim level for an additional $1,350 (prices range between $23,350 and $32,270).
Design-wise the Rogue stands fairly equal to its biggest competitors, although Nissan has made an effort to inject a bit of testosterone into the fairly neutered segment by way of more muscular wheel arches and sharpened, angular headlights (LED optional). There’s available third-row/7-passenger seating in S and SV trim levels, but not in the highest SV level to avoid possible cannibalization of the Pathfinder. But Nissan shouldn’t worry too much, as the third row is so utterly constrictive that unless you’re Gandalf carpooling a merry band of Hobbits it’s unlikely you’d ever take them up on that option.
Interior-wise the quality of soft-touch materials, chrome finishers, LED map reading lights and low gloss 10” display lean a higher grade towards the Rogue — especially in higher leather-wrapped trim levels where it can feel almost luxurious. But in lower trims you’re dealing with subjective preference, really.
Where you’re not dealing with subjective advantage is in dual technology systems Nissan calls Active Trace Control and Active Ride Control. ATC is essentially a kindler, gentler stability control. Whereas stability control is normally used as a last ditch safety system to protect the vehicle at the limits, ATC kicks in earlier and more judiciously. It applies a small amount of brake to the wheels simply to lend the driver more confidence, allowing the Rogue to turn into a corner with less understeer.
Another piece of software dubbed Active Ride Control operates on large bumps to eliminate any second-order modulation. ARC senses you’re hitting a bump and decreases the pitch of the initial bump — plus how quickly the bounce of the car decays after that bump — by tempering brakes and transmission. We did a couple laps in a Honda CR-V followed by the Rogue, and honestly it was hard to sense any difference. Then the Nissan rep suggested I ride in the second row, and we went through the same sequence of bumps again — first at 15 mph, second at 20, and the last at 25 mph. The difference in the second row was striking: The Rogue seemed to barely pitch up on the ascent, and then after the bump flattened out almost instantly. The CR-V, on the other hand, almost smacked my head on the headliner and then continued to rattle me around for a moment after the bump passed. It was neat technology, and another example of how the Rogue puts an added emphasis on rear-seated passengers.
Whether these features are enough for the Rogue to overtake its better selling Toyota and Honda competitors is debatable, but they give it a talking point. The improved interior quality and exterior styling should also help. It’s important to note, however, that Jeep will soon be entering the battleground after being absent from the segment for years with their controversial Cherokee; it’s sure to take a big bite out of all three companies’ shares. For the Rogue, being more considerate should lead to being more considered.