The Nissan Rogue sort of flies under the radar as one of, in my opinion, the lower-profile models in Nissan's lineup. It's not as funky as the Juke, as sporty as the Z, or as desirable as the GT-R. In my eyes, the Rogue lives in the Murano's shadow and I often mistake one for the other at a glance.
So you can understand why I was in no rush to hop behind the wheel of the 2013 Nissan Rogue SV that recently found itself parked in the Car Tech garage and why I was totally unprepared to love this little crossover as much as I did.
Power train and performance
Under the Rogue's unassuming hood is an equally unassuming 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that outputs 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. That power flows through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and, ultimately, to the front wheels. At an additional cost, an all-wheel drive (AWD) system is available that still defaults to front-drive under most conditions, but can shift up to 50 percent of the available torque to the rear axle when it detects slippage.
At the end of my testing -- which consisted of a 173-mile freeway loop of the San Francisco Bay Area, a moderately paced cruise of my favorite back roads, and a day of city driving around San Francisco proper -- the trip computer read 23.4 mpg. That falls near the low end of the EPA's estimates of 23 city mpg, 28 highway mpg, and 25 combined mpg, but still within the range.
What most impressed me about my time with the Rogue is just how well Nissan has mastered the CVT. Its engineers seem to have dialed out out almost all of the rubbery rpm-hunting that plagued the earliest generations of the technology. Acceleration is confident and strong, thanks in part to the 2.5-liter engine, but mostly due to the CVT's ability to stay out of the driver's way and give access to economy or power as necessary. The Rogue never felt breathless and never felt unresponsive. Rather than waiting for a gearbox to downshift, I was able to almost directly control the engine rpm with the accelerator pedal. Of course, the sound coming out of the engine gets progressively more grating as the rpm rises, so you won't want to get too lead-footed; and it's not the sort of instant-on torque that will pin you to the seat like you'd get with an electric car. However, the Rogue manages to always be within the meatiest part of its power band, making the most of its engine's abilities.
A Sport mode bumps up the idling and cruising rpm by about 500 revs and causes the CVT to more aggressively seek higher engine speeds, but it's really not necessary or even noticeably sportier than the standard program.
The Rogue's electronic power steering doesn't offer the most feedback in this class, it's nowhere near as communicative as the Mazda CX-5, but the crossover does go where you point it consistently and offers the reasonable complement of good seat-of-the-pants feel. After a few corners, I began to trust the crossover and enjoy a winding road at moderate, but not breakneck, speeds.
However, the Rogue's natural environment isn't on a back road, but on a potholed city street. Here, it managed to soak up all but the harshest bumps without drama while still delivering a controlled ride. Higher-frequency road imperfections, such as expansion joints, rumble strips, and cracks, still transmitted quite a bit of noise into the cabin.
Cabin tech and safety features
The Nissan Rogue SV comes fairly well equipped, boasting a number of standard features, including USB connectivity for MP3 playback from storage devices and iPods, Bluetooth hands-free calling, intelligent keyless entry, push-button start, and a power driver's seat are also standard for SV models, as is a rearview camera.