We were positive the snazzy SUV coming up behind us on a rural road outside Nashville was an expensive luxury SUV. The boomerang-shaped LED lights shimmering off the front end looked striking, but it took us a beat to realize what it was.
It wasn't some high-dollar sport-ute, but rather the same vehicle we were driving: the redesigned, and now built-in-Tennessee, 2014 Nissan Rogue. More than just a new face, this new compact crossover has been upgraded from top to bottom.
With an all-new body, clever interior packaging and some pretty superb fuel mileage claims, the new Rogue will offer an honest challenge to the segment-leading Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The fact that the Rogue looks so good on the outside is just another reason to take a second look.
A French and Japanese Collaboration
Although this second-gen Rogue is all-new, dimensionally it's very similar to the old version. The 106.5-inch wheelbase is only 0.6 inch longer than the outgoing model, while overall length is actually 1 inch shorter. Width is up by 1.5 inches while height has increased slightly, too.
While the original Rogue was based on a platform shared with Nissan's Sentra sedan, the new Rogue uses a structure called the Common Module Family (CMF), an architecture developed with its corporate partner Renault. "We took the best of Nissan and Renault's C segments and melded them together," said Carla Bailo, senior vice president of R&D at Nissan Americas.
Besides shared efficiencies at play here, clever interior packaging allowed Nissan to offer a third-row option for the new Rogue, something its archrivals from Honda and Toyota don't have.
Taro Ueda, vice president of Nissan Design America, said the key word for the Rogue's new styling was "Biokinetic Synchronicity." That's two words, but who's counting. Strange Japanese-isms aside, Ueda said they needed to bring the Rogue more in line with Nissan's new brand identity, so now it looks like a mini Pathfinder.
How It Gets 33 MPG on the Highway
But while the 2014 Nissan Rogue has a fancy new Euro-esque architecture and svelte body, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood produces the same 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque as the previous version. It still isn't direct-injected and it's still mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Sounds familiar, but there is some new stuff going on under the hood. The compression ratio was raised from 9.6:1 to 10.0, while the engine now features both intake and exhaust variable valve timing. The new-generation Xtronic CVT, just as with the new Altima, was made considerably more efficient. Nissan engineers also incorporated "direct-step" logic to simulate shifts at higher rpm, per customer feedback.
Put it all together and Nissan says the Rogue's fuel economy has been raised by 18 percent despite its larger size and extra 100 pounds of weight. Official estimates for the front-drive Rogue are 28 combined/26 city/33 highway, while the all-wheel-drive version should deliver 25 city/32 highway. This puts the new Rogue at the same level as the class-leading 2014 Mazda CX-5.
Does It Drive as Well As It Looks?
Driving around the not-so-mean streets of Nashville, the Rogue's MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension provided a quiet and comfortable ride. Good sound-deadening and hum-free all-season tires on 17-inch alloy wheels kept road noise to perfectly acceptable levels while smoothing bumps nicely (slightly less so with the standard 18s on the top-level SL).
Point the heftily weighted electric steering toward the open road, peg the right pedal and you're suddenly reminded it has a CVT. At half throttle and above the transmission winds the four-cylinder out incessantly, which only serves to highlight that the engine can get slightly thrashy at high revs. Of course, the benefit to this high-rpm running is that the Rogue is no slouch in acceleration. For now all Nissan would tell us is that they expect it to be "a tick quicker than the previous Rogue." We hit 60 mph in 8.6 seconds with the last Rogue we tested.
But the CVT's preferred modus operandi is to bring the revs as low as possible for fuel economy purposes. It lugs the engine so much at lower speeds that some bad vibrations make their way into the cabin. Pressing the Sport button raises the revs slightly, but you'll forsake the mileage benefits.
New for 2014, all Rogues come with what Nissan calls Active Trace Control and Active Ride Control. The trace control (which can be turned off) automatically applies brakes to various wheels in an effort to keep the Rogue on the intended line you're taking. Basically the system attempts to curb understeer both on corner entry and exit, which is especially helpful in wet conditions. We fiddled with it on a wet skid pad and while it's not dramatic, you notice the difference when it's not on.
The purpose of the ride control system is to reduce the Rogue's body motions. It adds throttle and/or brakes depending on the situation to minimize bobbing over big bumps. It only comes into play at speeds above 25 mph and, as with the trace control, most owners will never know it's there.
The Upgraded Interior Won't Go Unnoticed
It's hard not to be impressed with the 2014 Nissan Rogue's fabulous new interior. With a high degree of soft-touch materials, it has a notably upmarket look and feel. We particularly appreciated the well-padded door and center armrests, although the center console cupholders allow water bottles to just flop around.
There are large, easy-to-read analog gauges, straightforward climate controls and even the base S front-drive model ($23,350 with $860 destination, $24,340 for the S AWD) comes with a 5-inch display screen, a back-up camera and Bluetooth. In the case of the Premium package-equipped SV AWD we spent most of our time driving ($27,860), it had a 7-inch touchscreen with navigation, power tailgate, blind spot and lane departure warning, moving object detection and Nissan's Around View Monitor.
The NASA-inspired "zero gravity" front seats are superb and the 40/20/40-split rear seats have padding in all the right places. Even the middle seat is livable. Other improvements include a folding center armrest, 9 inches of fore/aft seat travel plus reclining seatbacks, though the behind-the-shoulder lever position is awkward to reach when sitting. The rear doors now open a whopping 77 degrees, which makes hopping in and out a breeze.
Is the Third Row Worth It?
Only the S and SV models have the option of a third row. It's called the Family package ($1,190 S, $940 SV) and it also adds run-flat tires since there's less room for a spare. Why no third row for the top-level SL? Nissan says it already has a $30,000-plus three-row crossover, called the Pathfinder.
Nissan openly admits the cramped third row is just an "occasional seat" best suited for children, but this describes most third-row accommodations in vehicles of this size. Of course, cargo room suffers with that third row in place as there's only 9.4 cubic feet available. Fold both rows down and the Rogue opens up to offer 70 cubic feet of total space.
Stick with the two-row Rogue and you get the benefit of Nissan's new Divide-N-Hide cargo system. This rather ingenious two-piece cargo compartmentalization offers 18 configurations. It allows you to separate out wet and dirty boots and clothes, hold groceries in place and even offers a three-tiered shelving system, if you include the underfloor storage.
The Bottom Line
If you like the idea of a sporty compact SUV, the 2014 Nissan Rogue isn't for you. Try the 2014 Ford Escape instead.
The Rogue is all about no-fuss transportation from A to B, and it delivers on that promise as well as anything in the class. In the process it offers flawless usability, competitive mileage numbers and a first-rate interior. In other words, it does all the things a compact crossover should. Oh, and it doesn't look half-bad either.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.