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Rogue wave: We test the new-for-2014 Nissan Rogue

Sections: Car Audio, Chassis, Infotainment, Navigation, Uncategorized

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2014 NIssan Rogue Photo Shoot 011

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

Let’s say it at the outset: We like the new exterior and improved technology of the redesigned-for-2014 Nissan Rogue, but there are things we’re not crazy about, too. If most of those things that we’ll get into in this piece don’t bother you, and if you’re shopping versatile crossover SUVs, this could be worth adding to your list of candidates.

The look

I always wanted to like the Nissan Rogue before, but there was something very dated and effeminate about its exterior shape. Even in more macho-friendly colors like black, the Rogue maintained all the design aesthetic of something crossed between a jellybean and a late ’90s Hyundai Santa Fe that had a botched Lifestyle Lift. In its last couple of model years, the Rogue seemed to be stubbornly clinging to the design cues taken from the 2003-2008 Nissan Maxima while the Maxima and most other Nissan models below it had been redesigned with sleeker looks, boomerang head- and taillights, and modernized trim options. That’s probably why, where Nissan crossovers are concerned, I’ve always been hot for the Juke and never the Rogue: The Juke looked a whole lot more modern and fun than the Rogue.

The 2014 Nissan Rogue fixed that problem for me. The new exterior is sharper. It’s as if someone finally remembered to take the Rogue’s body shell out of the oven in a timely manner, sparing it from the melted, rounded look of its dated predecessor. Character lines pop, and combined with the all-new sheet metal especially up front, it makes for a crossover I find a lot more attractive. Finally, the Rogue looks like its sister cars in the Nissan lineup, with the only oddballs now being the Xterra and my beloved cube, not counting the commercial NV200 van.

The feel

2014 Nissan Rogue Photo Shoot 012

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

Inside, the 2014 Nissan Rogue we tested had an updated interior that was miles ahead of the outgoing model in many respects. There is some evidence of cheapened plastics, bust mostly in areas you won’t be touching every time you drive, like the dashboard. That dashboard, however, is much more interesting to behold and is a good match to the 2014 Nissan Rogue’s revitalized exterior surfaces.

I wasn’t as big a fan of the seats as I was the overall interior look-and-feel. The driver’s seat felt very flat, somewhat hard, and provided a lower vantage point than the Rogue’s tall roofline would suggest. I had acres of headroom, and I’m 6 feet, 3 inches tall. I could jack up the seat using its power height adjustment, but doing so would also scoot the seat forward a bit, and by the time I was at the tallest height setting (still with plenty of headroom), I felt like my knees were cramming into the dash. I returned the seat to its lowest setting, then pumped it a couple of clicks to get just a little better line-of-sight out the side windows.

Sitting in the back of the 2014 Nissan Rogue to take photos of the interior proved to me why Nissan set up the front seats to ride so low relative to roof height: so the second row could see over them, theater-style. It’s a trick I’ve seen in minivans, but seldom in SUVs. The second row seats felt every bit as flat and hard as the front seats. Those front seats, by the way, are supposed to be “inspired by” the so-called Zero-Gravity seats in the contemporary Altima, Nissan says. I say they could use more sculpting and/or slightly softer padding.

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With the optional third-row seat in the upright position, cargo space — as well as second-row legroom, if you slide the middle row seat forward so the third row occupants can actually sit back there — is impacted. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

For those who absolutely must have a third row seat, the 2014 Nissan Rogue does offer one as part of the $940 SV Family Pack, as it was listed on our build sheet, but we must say it comes with some caveats: It reduces cargo capacity out back exponentially when in use, it reduces second row legroom somewhat (because the second row must be scooted forward a few clicks on a sliding track to make the rear seat usable at all), and it’s really only useful for short children even when the second row seat is scooted forward a few clicks. After taking photos of the Rogue’s interior, I left the third-row seat stowed the rest of my test week so I could have more room for hauling groceries, newspapers, and the like.

The tech

Our 2014 Nissan Rogue tester came with NissanConnect, the automaker’s infotainment setup that includes a seven-inch full-color QVGA touchscreen as well as a full complement of real, honest-to-blog buttons around the screen’s perimeter. I’ve said before that I like this “best of both worlds” approach to controlling the infotainment features in Nissans, and my experience with the 2014 Nissan Rogue was no exception. Sometimes you don’t want to look down at a screen for even a split second to try to find a digital “button” on said screen, so it’s handy to be able to use tactile, old-school buttons for many of the major functions of the system without needing to look down — that is, once you learn where all the buttons are.

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The star of the 2014 Nissan Rogue’s NissanConnect infotainment technology suite is its AroundView Monitor technology that makes parking a snap. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The system flawlessly read my PNY 16 GB USB stick loaded with my music library, and I was able to call up artists or albums using voice commands with relatively few errors. Audio quality was so-so, with an overboosted quality at higher volume levels. I noticed an unsettling rattle at mid- to high volume levels that seemed to be coming from the passenger side front woofer. Just as I would likely do with the Nissan Versa Note we tested last year, I’d likely reload the speaker holes in the 2014 Nissan Rogue with something a little more potent that might give better sound quality. If you’re not a volume addict like I am, you may be perfectly satisfied with the performance of the stock speakers.

Navigation was present and easy to use in the 2014 Nissan Rogue, as were XM radio, an AUX port, a CD player, and a full app suite under the NissanConnect banner. I never could get the listed apps — which included Facebook, Pandora, and an online search app — to work with my phone. That’s likely a pitfall of my cheap Android 4.0 phone, to be honest.

The real star of the technology features in the 2014 Nissan Rogue is, just as I said with the Versa Note, the AroundView Monitor. An array of cameras placed on all sides of the Rogue makes it possible for the infotainment unit to display an amalgam of all those camera feeds to provide a pretty close approximation to what your car would look like from above during parking and backing maneuvers.

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I tried syncing my el cheapo Android smartphone to the NissanConnect apps, which by default included Facebook and Pandora, but got this message every time. Probably my phone’s fault more than the Nissan Rogue’s. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The drive

It was no surprise to me that the 2014 Nissan Rogue seemed tuned more for comfort than for speed. Its acceleration is respectable for its class getting you up to highway speed as fast as most anything else that can haul seven passengers. Providing motivation is the 170 horsepower QR series 2.5-liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated gasoline engine paired to a next-generation Xtronic CVT driving the front wheels.

The CVT provided a bone of contention for me. Previous Nissan CVTs I’ve experienced — including the one in my family’s Nissan cube — will act a lot like a very civilized version of the automatic transmissions found on many ATVs. You press the gas pedal, and the engine revs to an RPM that provides the best mix of power, acceleration, and fuel economy. Then, it just stays at that RPM until either you back out of the throttle or you reach that RPM’s terminal velocity.

The 2014 Nissan Rogue’s CVT would act like that under lighter throttle pressures, but under heavy throttle, the CVT quixotically tries to mimic a traditional torque converter automatic gearbox by providing simulated “shift points” that cause the RPMs to momentarily dip before coming back to the same level they were at before the simulated shift. I didn’t like this behavior. I’d much rather have a manual transmission option in the Rogue, but this is Nissan we’re talking about. Their heavy investment into CVTs means manuals are on the way out in non-enthusiast-oriented models.

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The 2014 Nissan Rogue is powered by a 2.5-liter QR-series four-cylinder engine and an Xtronic CVT that pretends to be a regular automatic gearbox under heavy acceleration — a quality of which I was no fan. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Steering feel is pretty numb, but that’s par for the course in this class, really. The Rogue’s suite of traction control technology served to keep it firmly planted on terra firma, however, with Active Trace Control. The Active Trace Control system can apply brakes individually, helping to keep the vehicle on the cornering line as you intended even if the curve throws you some variables you didn’t necessarily plan — a bump or some loose gravel, perhaps.

As driving experience goes in crossover utilities of its kind, the 2014 Nissan Rogue isn’t bad, but you’re not likely to have dreams of taking it to the track or the Tail of the Dragon, either.

The cost

Our 2014 Nissan Rogue was a midrange SV trim rang the cash register at an MSRP of $27,865. That’s a pretty decent value compared against its competition at Toyota, where a Rav4 similarly equipped will set you back nearly $3,000 more, but comes with an additional $1,300 in equipment not available in the Rogue SV trim, according to TrueDelta. The same TrueDelta calculator scores the 2014 Nissan Rogue and the 2014 Honda CR-V a lot closer in MSRP, but the Rogue wins out by having $1,240 worth of features absent in the Honda.

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We saw an indicated 28 MPG by week’s end. This photo was taken on day two of our test, when our fuel economy was slightly worse. But only slightly. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

In terms of fuel economy, the Nissan Rogue we tested carried an EPA sticker of 26 MPG city, 33 MPG highway, 28 MPG combined. In our week of driving the 2014 Nissan Rogue to and from work and the grocery store, we pretty much nailed the combined score on the nose, ending the week with a dashboard trip computer-calculated 28 MPG. That’s not bad, but maybe a little hard to get excited about.

The analysis

The compact and midsize crossovers against which the 2014 Nissan Rogue competes are a lot like the compact and midsize sedan segments. Every model sold with few exceptions is perfectly capable of reliably schlepping you, your kids, your dog, and your belongings around on your daily errands. All have their strengths and weaknesses.

We’d call technology a strength of the 2014 Nissan Rogue. AroundView is still awesome, navigation and infotainment functions are easy to use, and traction control nannies help ensure a safe ride from point A to point B every single day, even when the unexpected happens. Nissan even managed to sneak in some touches commonly found on more-upmarket crossovers, including a power liftgate closing mechanism and the aforementioned (and cramped) third-row seat. Meanwhile, Nissan standard-fare tech features continue to be highly useful, like its Intelligent Key that allows you to enter the car at the press of a tiny button on the exterior door handle as long as the key fob is somewhere on your person. We hear there’s a Bose sound system available for the car that may even correct some of the sound quality criticisms we leveled above. Being of the aftermarket bent as we are around here, however, we’d probably try cramming in a Rockford Fosgate or some such speaker setup in an SV package 2014 Nissan Rogue.

In summary, we’ll put it this way: The 2014 Nissan Rogue didn’t set our hearts aflutter, but it did get the job done with a minimum of hassle and a fair amount of pleasure while looking good at the same time. Based on how many new 2014 Nissan Rogues I already see plodding the streets around my small hometown, population roughly 4,000 on a good business day, I think it checks a lot of the right boxes for a lot of the right people.

Disclosure: Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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