The Nissan Rogue has been the best-selling vehicle for Nissan Canada in the recent past, but its overall sales numbers were not close to those of the segment-leading Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4. That was then, this is now. With the new 2014 Rogue, Nissan has high hopes that it can shrink the gap to its Japanese competition and capture a bigger share of this ultra-competitive segment.
In its latest Canadian-market television ad, the new 2014 Nissan Rogue is driven in a big city where it bashes an army of menacing zombie-like snowmen with the driver finally “rescuing” six passengers that are stranded in another vehicle. It’s very effective in touting both the available all-wheel-drive drivetrain and the new seven-passenger configuration of Nissan’s mid-size crossover, but is the Rogue really a “winter warrior” as the TV ad implies?
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To find out if the Rogue can handle the cold and white stuff, we drove it in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains as well as on the Mecaglisse circuit, a purpose-built 700-acre all-season motorsports facility located in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci featuring three winter driving tracks covered in snow and ice. However, it is important to point out that the Rogues used on the Mecaglisse circuit were equipped with studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7 winter tires, while those used on public roads were running on standard studless winter tires.
The all-wheel-drive system on the Rogue is not permanent but rather “on demand”. Simply put, the front wheels always drive the vehicle and when they begin to slip the all-wheel-drive system kicks in sending torque to the rear wheels as well. It is however possible to press the “lock” button to engage all four wheels for maximum grip when taking off on a slippery surface, but this feature is limited to speeds below 40 kilometers per hour. One of the features of the new Rogue is it’s “Active Trace Control” system that uses vehicle sensors to monitor steering angle as well as throttle position and can apply brake pressure to individual wheels to effectively prevent the vehicle from under-steering in a curve. It proved to be quite effective on the icy track where it was easier to steer the vehicle with the system on than with the system turned off. A clever use of technology that felt unobtrusive.
The one major downside of the new Rogue is that, while the vehicle is all-new, the engine is carried over from the previous generation. That means that the 2.5 liter 170 horsepower four-cylinder has to pull the added weight (49 additional kilos over the previous model) of the now larger and heavier Rogue. This kind of power-to-weight ratio has a negative impact on the fun-to-drive factor as power is simply adequate at best with two people on board. Also, Nissan favors CVT transmissions (Continuously Variable Transmission) in order to meet its fuel efficiency targets and, while it’s true that a CVT is more efficient than an automatic gearbox, it is nowhere near as enjoyable to drive as the engine noise is very present at full-throttle acceleration before the revs settle down as the pulleys in the transmission adjust to increase the vehicle’s speed. Under light-throttle applications, this downside is not as present but you will be reminded of it at every freeway on-ramp or at every passing maneuver on a secondary road when additional power is required. It is clear that the Rogue has not been engineered to please car enthusiasts or so-called “gearheads”. If you fit in that group, check out the Mazda CX-5, which is the benchmark of the segment for driving dynamics.
By tweaking the engine and the CVT, Nissan engineers claim to have improved fuel efficiency by 18 per cent over the previous model and that the new Rogue beats the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4 by a margin varying from 0.4 to 1.0 liters per 100 kilometers, depending on which vehicle you compare it to, with the all-wheel-drive Rogue rated at 8.2 liters per 100 kilometers in city driving and 6.2 on the highway. However, our “real-world” winter driving fuel consumption was much higher with a recorded 10.4 liters per 100 kilometers average on a mix of secondary roads and multi-lane highways.
The Rogue does score major points for it’s roomy cabin. The rear seats can slide forward or back within a nine-inch range of travel so it is easy to achieve good rear-seat legroom and the seatbacks can even be reclined for more comfort. However, the optional third row seats (part of the Family Tech option on the mid-level SV trim) are for occasional use only. But the most striking attribute of the new Rogue is the fact that you feel you are riding aboard a more “premium” vehicle, compared to key competitors like the CR-V and the Rav4. Soft-touch materials abound in the cabin, the front seats are very comfortable, and a panoramic moonroof is standard equipment on mid-level trims and up (SV and SL). It all adds up to create a more upscale and more comfortable environment.
To answer our initial question, yes the Rogue can confidently handle winter driving conditions with ease, even if its part-time all-wheel-drive system is not as sophisticated as the full-time all-wheel-drive setup found on the Subaru Forester. It delivers very well in the areas of comfort, convenience and even luxury in the compact SUV class, but falls short in the area of driving dynamics. However, as most buyers in this segment tend to favor comfort over performance, the new Rogue should do very well for Nissan in Canada. Pricing for the 2014 Rogue starts at 23,498 dollars for the S front-wheel-drive model and climbs to 33,098 dollars for a fully-equipped all-wheel-drive SL model.