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2013 Nissan Rogue SV AWD: Upgrades enhance feel of compact crossover

SV model includes desirable SL package options


by: NISSAN MOTOR CORPORATION, USA - The Nissan Rogue's distinctive styling is unchanged going into its final production year.Nissan has already announced that it will replace its aging Rogue compact crossover with an all new model next year. That helps explain why there are no significant changes to the 2013 Rogue, placing it at a disadvantage in the highly-competitive market segment.

The Rogue debuted in 2007 and still has its strong points, including the nimble, car-like ride provided by its last-generation Sentra-based chassis. But the single engine and transmission choice is likely to limit its appeal — although the performance is pretty good, even in the heavier all-wheel-drive models.

The only drivetrain in the 2013 Rogue is a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission. A few years ago, that would have been a reason to write the Rogue off. As the name implies, a CVT is like a conventional automatic transmission, but without the shift points. Manufacturers like them because they help increase fuel mileage. But when they were first introduced, CVTs were sluggish and noisy during heavy acceleration. Offering one only with a four cylinder engine sometimes meant a slow and annoyingly loud vehicle.

Nissan has solved these problems in the Rogue. Our test vehicle was quick off the line, even faster in the Sport mode that could be set by a button on the console. There was a low drone when accelerating, but it was not invasive and could have been made by the engine and exhaust as much as the CVT. In fact, the tires generated more road noise than the CVT on anything but smooth pavement.

As before, handling continues to be one of the Rogue's strengths. It was always fun to drive, especially in town. Like all crossovers and SUVs, the driver sits higher than in a car, making the Rogue drive like a good-handing compact car with great visibility. That was also the same in freeway driving, where the Rogue felt stable at all speeds.

Beyond that, however, there is little to recommend the Rogue over the newer generation of compact crossovers, such as the all-new Ford Explorer, which offers three engine choices, including two that are turbocharged. The new Subaru XV Crosstrek has also entered the market, although it is essentially a redesigned Impreza with higher ride height, like the old Outback versions of the Legacy wagons.

The once provocative rounded styling of the Rogue is now looking a little dated, especially since the sloping rear quarter panels restrict visibility. The interior is so clean it borders on sterile. Leg room is limited in the back seats, and the cargo space is not as large as some competitors.

Our test vehicle was an SV model loaded up with practically every option, including AWD and the SL package, which includes 18-inch aluminum wheels, a Bose audio system, heated power leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a navigation system with rear and "around view" cameras. Although the options gave the Rogue a more grown up feel, they also pushed the price up to over $30,000, which is a lot for a five-year-old compact crossover, considering that well-equipped newer ones cost about the same.

The Rogue is also losing the technology race. The rear view and "around view" cameras are a good idea. Both images are seen on a split screen at the same time, helping drivers squeeze in and out of tight parking spaces. But the screen is only 5 inches diagonally, which is pretty hard to see at a glance.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the Rogue, except that it is growing old in a market niche where new and improved models are being introduced every year. Nissan knows this, which is why they are replacing it in 2014. If you can get a good deal, go for it. Otherwise, consider waiting until next year.

Facts and figures (all models)

Model tested: 2013 Rogue.

Manufacturer: Nissan.

Class: Compact crossover.

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

Style: Five door liftback.

Engines: 2.5-liter inline 4 (170 hp, 175 lbs-ft).

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission.

EPA estimated city/highway/average mileage 22/27/24.

Price: Beginning at approximately $24,000 ($30,965 as tested).