Car-like comfort in affordable compact
by: Courtesy of Nissan North America 
Sleek lines, peppy acceleration and good handling characterize the 2012 Nissan Rogue.

The Rogue is Nissan's entry in one of the most competitive automotive segments, the affordable compact crossover market. There the Rogue goes up against the current versions of the two vehicles that practically started the market, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Competition includes the newly redesigned Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. Throw in the Mazda CX-7 and the Subaru Forester, and most consumers will have a hard time deciding which one to buy.

So what has Nissan done this year to stand out? Perhaps surprisingly, very little. There are few changes between the 2011 and 2012 versions of the Rogue. Nissan is either very confident about its product - or very foolish for not offering potential buyers some new razzle-dazzle.

Based on a week of test-driving, our answer is, Nissan was very smart to leave the Rogue alone. It does almost everything well and very little wrong. Our test SV All-Wheel-Drive model offered sporty, car-like handling and good traction in wet weather. It also looked good, being modeled along the lines of the company's larger Murano crossover that started the contemporary crossover styling trend.

Some reviewers think Nissan is handicapping itself by only offering one engine/transmission combination in the Rogue, a 2.5-liter in-line four mated to as Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). We agree this could be a shortcoming, especially considering that Kia offers a turbocharged four in the Sportage. But the Rogue's engine produces a respectable 170 horsepower and its CVT is perfectly tuned to the power band, allowing for smooth driving and plenty of available oomph when needed.

The Rogue's interior is also a strong point. Like all Nissan products these days, it is clean and intentionally understated. The controls are simple, logically laid out and easy to use, especially the three large climate control dials across the dash. Materials are a good mix of durable cloth and textured soft plastic. Leather seats are available with the premium SL package.

Like most of its competitors, the Rogue comes standard with front-wheel-drive and offers all-wheel-drive as an option. The only similarly-sized affordable compact crossover that comes standard with AWD is the Subaru Forester, which is slightly larger than the others.

In fact, telling compact and mid-size crossovers apart is a little tricky. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally classified cars by size based on interior space. The classifications range from minisubcompact to large. But the EPA classifies all SUVs as simply weighing less than 10,000 pounds, allowing manufacturers and others to label them by size. In out eye, the Rogue is a little long for a compact, but not long enough for a third row of seats.

After our week on the road together, we only had a few quibbles about the Rogue. Our tester had a low rumble at higher speeds. Some reviewers have complained the CVT is noisy, but we couldn't tell if it was that or simply road noise made by the tires. At any rate, the six-speaker stereo easily drowned out the noise. Beyond that, some taller rear seat passengers might want more leg room, but that's not an uncommon complaint in compact crossovers.

When Nissan first came to America as Datsun on the 1960s, it offered some of the more interesting Japanese cars, including the 2000 roadster, the 240Z sports car and the 510 sedan, commonly known as the 'poor man's BMW.' But the company's cars got less distinctive in the 1970s and 1980s, allowing both Toyota and Honda to establish bigger names for themselves. That began to change in the early 1990s, however, when Nissan overhauled its lineup and offering sleeker, more sophisticated products. Now Nissan is in the news for offering the first mass-produced all-electric car in this country, the Leaf. The rest of the line-up - including the Rogue - is once again competitive, too.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model: 2012 Rogue.

• Manufacturer: Nissan.

• Class: Crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front- and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door hatchback.

• Engines: 2.5-liter (170 hp, 175 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 22/28; 22/26 (as tested).

• Prices: Starting around $21,530 ($27,920 as tested).

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