Is the Rogue the Heavyweight Contender Nissan Says It Is?

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2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

“Standing in the Palatial Ruby Red corner, weighing in at 3,627 pounds and shouldering an armada of practicality, efficiency, and style is the Nissaaaaaaaannnnnn… Rogue! Across the ring, in the blue corner, standing at a hundred-head strong and weighing a bazillion tons, is… the competition! These automotive monstrosities specialize in everything from 4×4 grappling and spider-like agility, to turbocharged, practical hauling, with plenty of ground and pound to spare!”

Bruce Buffer-style voiceovers aside, there’s no love lost between automakers when it comes to capturing new car sales, and in the incredibly competitive crossover segment, the proverbial gloves have well and truly come off. It’s a knockdown, drag-out slug fest in this utilitarian, performance-driven, all-encompassing small SUV category, and going seemingly against the world, Nissan seems to have one hell of a contender on its hands.

The recently refreshed Rogue is crushing it in the sales department, and with 33,149 units sold in February, it’s Nissan’s best-selling vehicle in America. So in order to see just what this up-and-comer is about, we recently took charge of an all-wheel drive SL version, and compared it to the heavyweights in its class.

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

There’s a lot to like in the updated Nissan Rogue SL, because at $35,475 fully-loaded, it comes with all-wheel drive and a plethora of other attractive attributes. But no matter how you read the tale of the tape, it’s still fairly pricey for its segment, especially when some of the competition offers better standard safety features, and cheaper, quicker turbocharged models.

But where the Rogue comes up short in one round, it lands big punches in others. If there’s one thing that could put it ahead on points when the score cards are read, it’s that it’s a great daily driver. Efficient, stylish, spacious, well put together, and even a little fun, it’s a crossover that isn’t afraid to kick a little ass and take a beating at the same time.

Exterior

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The redesigned Rogue came out swinging, with sharply styled lines, LED running lights, and classy alloy wheels landing punch after punch. It’s modern looking, rides high enough to take on small 4×4 excursions, has a motion activated liftgate, features some useful lighting assistance technologies, and comes with an integrated roof rack that doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. All told this is a very attractive automobile, and Nissan’s sales numbers prove that plenty of buyers agree.

Exterior pros and cons

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ Beautifully restyled lines bring a more aggressive look that’s appealing to both male and female buyers, thanks to tasteful splashes of chrome, LED running lights, and upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels.

+ Power heated mirrors, a motion activated liftgate, automatic LED headlights, and an integrated roof rack add purpose to all that curb appeal.

+ The Rogue has a ride height that’s good for bumping down muddy trails in search of a good fishing spot while not being so tall that little ones can’t easily climb inside.

– No power-folding mirrors for clearing obstacles off-road and the rear appears incomplete without a sporty pair of exhaust finishers.

Powertrain

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

It may have won the first round, but the Rogue exits the second round in a draw. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder may be able to deliver respectable fuel gains once paired with Nissan’s trusty Xtronic CVT transmission, but it’s far from being an industry leader in either fun or functionality. On the bright side, off-road fans get things like a locking center differential, hill descent control, and front and rear brake-lock differentials.

Powertrain pros and cons

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ An EPA average of 27 miles per gallon is respectable, and not having a turbo eliminates extra maintenance headaches down the line.

+ Nissan’s Xtronic all-wheel drive setup features locking differentials for surefooted slow going and even has downhill descent control.

+ Sport mode bumps the tachometer for more notable throttle responses and Eco mode does a decent job of leaning things out for languid highway cruising.

– CVT is noisy and simulated sport shifts feel anything but sporty.

– The 2.5-liter engine only produces 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, well below what other crossovers in the segment offer.

– Despite being so large, the Rogue can only can tow up to 1,000 pounds.

Interior

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Bruised and battered, the Nissan Rogue refuses to fold, striking back with an interior that’s just as attractive and well put together as it is utilitarian. Buyers can easily reconfigure the rear tray and hidden storage to fit even more hiking supplies, massive water canteens can be stowed in door panels, and adjusting the 40/20/40 rear bench allows everyone’s skis or golf bags to fit inside.

Interior pros and cons

+ Excellent seats in both rows with power driver adjustability up front, the sharply styled steering wheel is D-cut and sporty feeling, and the backseat offers plenty of space for full size adults.

+ Utilitarian touches include a fully reconfigurable, stack-able cargo hold, a 40/20/40 split rear bench, and cupholders in the doors are perfectly placed and sized for large water canteens.

+ Loaded SL versions get heated, quilted tan leather touches, a panoramic sunroof, and memory settings for the driver’s seat and mirrors.

– A third row can only be had on lesser trim models, center console space still falls short of what Honda’s CR-V offers, and rear visibility is lacking.

– Small missteps include a rubber tray toward the bottom of the center stack that is permanently affixed, an immovable dust and grime magnet like no other. We also noted some cheap plastics being used in door panels, on shifter stalks, and for forming various buttons.

Tech and safety

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This round of the CUV fight will likely be called as a draw, because as helpful as Nissan’s “Safety Shield” suite is, it comes at a somewhat steep price and can’t be had on lower trim models. Not all buyers can afford a loaded SL model with all the fixings, so for as nifty and safety focused as our Rogue was, we found that some of the competition offers more for far less.

Tech and safety pros and cons

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ Nissan’s unique Around View monitoring system shows wheel angles and 360-degree viewpoints for safer parking and off-roading.

+ Everything from intelligent cruise control and hill start assist, to forward emergency braking and pedestrian detection can be found, along with a huge sweep of safety features.

+ Tech favorites include a full SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link setup, a potent Bose audio system, a 7-inch touchscreen, and a driver display that is both helpful and attractive.

– Only one USB port in the entire cabin, mapping is not pinch-to-zoom sensitive, touchscreen responses lag, certain graphics are too small to read, and the driver display is not all-encompassing.

The drive

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

With the engine engaged and the open road unfolding ahead of you, the Nissan Rogue uses its fighting tactics to gain advantage once more. Agile to the point where some would actually deem it “sporty,” yet supple enough for everyone to agree that it’s comfortable, the Rogue’s independent front and multilink rear suspension offers a very nice driving experience.

While ride firmness does get a slight boost from the Platinum Package’s 19-inch alloy wheels and tightly ribbed tires, driving performance is a cushioned affair that prefers ease of use over agility. The steering may not be super sharp in the feedback department, but neither is it muddled feeling, a feeling that’s echoed by the equally soft suspension. Meanwhile, the brake pedal provides reassuring amounts of feedback without being jerky, and both Sport and Eco modes allow the CUV to either zip or sip down the interstate.

Unfortunately, while the 2.5-liter motor in the Rogue returns respectable fuel savings, its 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque just doesn’t translate well to real world driving. It may sound plentiful to the average commuter, but with the competition offering more power and much more engaging transmissions with similar efficiency ratings, this powertrain combo feels like it’s missing its mark.

For all of its caterwauling (which it does, a lot), the CVT transmission in the Rogue does have its perks. Nissan’s Xtronic all-wheel drive system remains quite capable when traction becomes a concern, and we found the AWD lock to be a great help when searching for grip at low speeds. Meanwhile, back inside, comfort and driver confidence remain high thanks to Safety Shield tech, Around View camera monitoring, and a well-insulated cabin that’s accented with both heated steering and seats.

Wrap up and review

2017 Nissan Rogue SL (AWD) | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Outside of the Rogue’s anemic CVT and its incessant droning, the biggest issue we found with this CUV is whether it’s worth the money. Unlike other vehicles in the segment, the Rogue does have a third row option for little children, but you can’t get the extra bench in the top end SL model for some reason. This means buyers have to choose between a less expensive version with extra seating, or all the high class tech, safety, and comfort features reserved for the top dog SL.

We found the 2017 Rogue SL to be a crossover with a good layout that lands big hits with its attractive interior and exterior updates. But what truly makes it a heavy hitter is it combination of plush ride, tech safety suite, and reconfigurable storage hold. Buyers will love how comfortable all that quilted tan leather feels too, and we admire the Rogue’s balanced blend of off-road enthusiasm and fuel-efficiency.

But at nearly $36,000 after Premium, Platinum, and Reserve packages have been added, the Rogue SL remains one of the more expensive CUV options in the segment. It’s a really good vehicle that requires compromise, whereas heavyweights like the Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, and others don’t pull their punches at all, offering a bit more for far less.

In the CUV title fight, the judges will more than likely call this one a draw. The Rogue’s engineers will go back to training once again in the hopes of producing an undisputed champion sooner rather than later. The current crossover certainly has the direction and the drive, but it just doesn’t have what it takes to wear the title belt just yet.

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