Test Drive

2018 Nissan Rogue Test Drive Review: Is America’s Best-Selling SUV Really All That?

Nissan made sure the Rogue checked all the right boxes, but it’s the ones left unchecked that’ll haunt long-term owners.

The mighty Nissan Rogue is a force of nature who’s story will be heard by few, and those who listen aren’t likely to care much. Even as a member of the most contentious segment in the industry, the Rogue’s status as a mass-market crossover means the only time it’ll raise a pulse is if it were accelerating straight at you in the wrong lane of traffic. But as its name implies, it roams the streets of America quietly like a ninja, causing so much disruption that it threatens to kill off the sedan entirely.

We weren’t too torn up about skipping a test drive of last year’s Rogue because the model was on the cusp of receiving a facelift, but when Nissan churned out the refreshed version and rang us up for a drive, we agreed and asked for it to be sent to Phoenix, Arizona, where the dreaded heat of summer exacerbated by heat island-creating roads awaited. As a compact crossover, the Rogue slots between the subcompact Rogue Sport and the midsize Murano crossovers. Though it might not look like game-changer, the redesigned Rogue ranks as the fourth best-selling car in America, taking a backseat only to the three pickup truck incumbents, the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and FCA’s Ram.

Unlike America’s army of warring pickup trucks, the Rogue doesn’t come with a large belt buckle grille to advertise its market dominance, though it’s not a subtle machine either. Like Toyota/Lexus, Nissan has added flair to its lineup using bold chrome trim framed by straight lines, a direct contrast to the natural flowing striations that make up the silhouette of the body. Nissan’s over-reliance on this aesthetic means the facelifted Rogue simply appears modern and doesn’t quite land the outlier look designers seemed to be going for. That’s not a dealbreaker though, especially when our loaded SL sits as the top of the Rogue hierarchy with plenty of extras to show for it.

Lesser trims get stuck without such niceties as intelligent cruise control and leather-appointed seats. Pity, especially because the SL trim gives buyers a taste of the luxury life for only a two thousand dollars more than the average sale price of a car in America. Adding to that sentiment are tan leather-appointed seats and quilted leather inserts courtesy of the $250 Platinum Reserve trim option, a $1,820 Premium Package that adds LED lights and a panoramic moonroof—the latter adding another touch of pizzaz to the cabin—but the real hint that Nissan has made strides to make customers happy comes from the $790 Platinum package’s ProPILOT Assist system.

The system uses a forward-facing camera, forward-facing radar, various sensors and a dedicated control module to keep the Rogue centered in its lane with minimal driver input. Meanwhile, the radar-enhanced cruise control adjusts speed to match the car in front (if it’s going slower than the cruise control’s set speed) and even comes to a complete stop in traffic before starting when the flow begins to move again. The system is a godsend on congested Phoenix freeways, keeping driver energy levels from dwindling even with the strain of 100-degree weather while adding an extra layer of confidence that can boost the esteem of the best of drivers.

It’s a bargain too considering that ProPilot’s abilities aren’t far behind those of Cadillac’s $5,000 Super Cruise system or Tesla’s equally expensive Autopilot. Considering what’s included, the Rogue brings plenty of value to the table. Rounding out the options list are floor mats and a first aid kit that come out to $275 as well as a $975 destination charge, bringing our tester’s price tag to $36,520. But is it worth it? That depends on how much you care about driving. Despite the aggressive looks, don’t expect to dominate the roads in the Rogue. Our AWD model is powered by the same 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder the FWD version gets.

At full tilt, it sends 170 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque to a CVT, the Rogue’s only transmission option, before it gets to the wheels. Under full throttle, the Rogue will clear 60 mph from standstill in 9.1 seconds and a quarter mile in 17 seconds at 80 mph. In order to smooth typical CVT nuances, Nissan programmed the transmission to mimic shifts like an automatic gearbox by dropping RPMs once enough torque has been delivered. But that party trick comes late in the acceleration process and is nonexistent during full-throttle getaways. That gives drivers the dreaded rubber band acceleration sensation and droning revs still make it to the cabin due to what feels like a lack of insulation in the engine bay.

Not much road noise makes it past the sheetmetal, but the unsuccessful attempt at making the Rogue more comfortable also comes through in the suspension, which rides stiff and transmits America’s crumbling infrastructure through the cabin via abrupt jolts over freeway expansion joints. In this case, the stiff ride doesn’t translate to a more dynamic feel, with the Rogue exhibiting ample amounts of body roll in the corners. And then there’s the steering. Sure, the Rogue’s 27 mpg average (25 city, 32 highway, 26.5 in CarBuzz’s hands) is a reason to celebrate all the technology this segment has adopted to save fuel, but the electric steering is far too light for an engaging experience.

Not all is lost though. The attractive and well-appointed interior impressed every passenger we brought along for our ride through the desert highways. Further justifying the price tag is a heated steering wheel and heated seats in the front and rear add that are certain to be a welcome luxury for those living in colder climates. Though the Arizona heat tends to bring out aggression, especially on the road, a well-rounded suite of non-intrusive driver aids helps maintain blood pressure levels while the 360-degree camera keeps those shiny 19-inch wheels from kissing the curb in tight parking lots. Though the 7-inch touchscreen that controls the infotainment system is responsive, it looks outdated and could use a lesson or two in ergonomics.

Maybe it was the heat of the Phoenix air that kept the tech from functioning properly, but the need for an infotainment system redo came through clearly when the system restarted itself multiple times during our week with the Rogue, at times forcing us to miss navigation instructions and adding time to our travels. Sport and Eco mode buttons positioned in a hard-to-reach position above the hood release leaver followed the theme of flawed design by making switches between drive modes an activity best reserved for the parking lot. First world problems, sure, but this is one of the hottest-selling cars in the first world and the fact the competition is so stiff means they’re not maladies we can easily excuse.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come along to save the day by adding technological convenience alongside features like the motion and button-activated power liftgate—a boon to busy Americans that enjoy utility and convenience in equal measures. It’s features like these that wow buyers who haven’t been to the dealership in years, but the Rogue's flaws serve to remind that it's wise to shop around. We’d be remiss if we told you the Nissan Rogue isn’t the right car for the modern world—it’s bang-for-buck options list works wonders to bring drivers stuck in the 2000’s into the world of face-scanning iPhones and living rooms that contain Alexa's prying ears.

The Rogue lives up to standards of modernity, sure, but not to the hype that surrounds it. Like the original Volkswagen Beetle, the Rogue is competitive—built to tackle the pressures of modern life, consumer demands and regulatory pressures with ease—but it comes together with edges that could use the sandstone. It's not that normality shouldn't be glorified, but if you're going to go for the Jack-of-all-trades, might as well make sure its skillset overlaps nicely. For the price, plenty of competitors manage that act well enough to merit cries for an encore. The Rogue, on the other hand, earns a hesitant round of applause, but it's not like its sales numbers will reflect that.

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