2011 Nissan Rogue SV AWD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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After wowing North American car buyers with the stylish Murano mid-sized crossover in 2002, Nissan gave compact crossover buyers their own healthy serving of style in 2008 when the smaller Rogue went on sale. Three years later the first-generation Rogue is still going strong, with a mild facelift that includes a slightly redesigned front fascia and grille, chrome side moldings and rear spoiler.

The changes are subtle and the Rogue remains a stylish, pleasant-looking machine. After spending a week with an Ultramarine Blue all-wheel drive model, I can say that pleasant is a very apt overall description of this compact crossover.

Climb aboard and you'll find supportive, comfortable seats, which in my SV trim tester were heated and were upholstered in black and grey cloth. The good stuff continues as you look forward over the dash, which has simple, easy-to-read jewel-like instruments and an uncluttered centre stack featuring a nice-sounding AM/FM/CD audio system. For 2011, all Rogues get Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel mounted audio controls and an intuitive iPod interface, which is a pleasant surprise (though only the SV and SL get a USB connection, while the base S model makes do with only an auxiliary jack). There's a reasonably spacious split-folding rear seat, and decent if not outstanding luggage space (big enough, it turns out, to fit an enormous deflated sail race mark and the No.1 genoa from a 36-foot sailboat, but not big enough to fit a spinnaker on top of it all).

No matter what trim level you select, all the expected basic conveniences are accounted for in the Rogue, including power windows and door locks, air conditioning, cruise control, outside temperature display, trip computer, 12-power outlets and so on. There are also some unexpected conveniences, like handy cargo hooks not only in the luggage compartment, but also on the passenger's seatback where the driver can easily reach it (so for the first time ever I was able to stop for milk and not have the jug crashing around in one of the footwells on the way home!)

My one serious complaint would be regarding the view to the rear, where the Rogue's swoopy aft lines conspire to create some nasty blind spots, but overall the interior of the Rogue really is a very, uh ... pleasant place to spend time.

On the road, the Rogue is remarkably smooth riding and quiet. Much of this has to do with the admirably well-damped suspension, which provides just the right balance of comfort and reasonably agile handling. But no small part of it is due to the Rogue's CVT (continuously variable transmission), which takes a little getting used to but is arguably the way of the future for automatics. Nissan has committed wholeheartedly to the CVT concept, and has developed a well-proven transmission.

In operation, the CVT doesn't shift through individual gears like a conventional automatic, so there's no lurching or changes in momentum as the transmission shifts. Indeed there are no shifts - push the accelerator and the engine revs climb as high as needed to provide the required amount of power, and then remain there until the Rogue gets up to the desired speed. Under light to moderate acceleration with the audio system on, the result is quite sublime as the Rogue accelerates seamlessly and almost noiselessly up to speed.

Turn the audio off and the effect isn't quite so sublime, because the low drone of the engine can be monotonous sounding, a bit like listening to record-setting sax player Kenny G sustain an E-flat note for 45 minutes. And when you really mash the pedal, the engine revs up rather noisily to about 5,000 rpm and just stays there as the car catches up. It can feel vaguely dysfunctional at times, and not really as dynamic as a fixed-ratio transmission, but then I suppose if we'd all grown up with CVTs we'd probably find the lurching shifts and fluctuating engine speeds associated with traditional automatics positively bizarre.

At any rate, Nissan is clearly betting that you'll grow to appreciate the smoothness and steadiness of the CVT, because there's no other transmission offered with the Rogue, and unlike some CVTs there's no "manual mode" with programmed pseudo-gears to row through (though there is a low-ratio mode to provide increased engine braking and hold the engine revs higher). You'll certainly appreciate the fuel economy benefits: The CVT keeps the engine working at optimal efficiency so the Rogue gets plenty of power and brisk acceleration out of its 170-horsepower, 2.5L four-cylinder engine while delivering good fuel economy for this size vehicle (city/hwy ratings for the AWD version are 9.3 / 7.7 L/100km).

The suggested retail price for a Nissan Rogue in SV AWD trim is $28,548 (plus $1,560 destination charges) and this includes some nice extra features like alloy wheels, a backup camera, luggage cover and the USB audio input with colour audio display. My test car also had a $1,950 Premium Package that added things like a glass moonroof, mood lighting, bigger alloy wheels and a 6-speaker audio upgrade. But even the base FWD S trim Rogue offers a nice suite of convenience features, all the expected safety equipment  (six airbags, active head restraints, tire pressure monitoring, antilock brakes, traction control and stability control), and plenty of room for four or five passengers, all for a suggested price of $23,648. A decent price for a pleasant and stylish little compact crossover.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, SUV, Nissan, 2011, Rogue, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

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