2012 Nissan Rogue: Name Projects its Essence

Njuguna Kabugi | 6/7/2012, 3:01 p.m.

Assigning a car model's name is a serious endeavor. Automakers seek names that not only complement the vehicle's physical design but also add to projecting the car's perceived essence. Think of Ford's brilliant marketing that melds automotive prowess with equine overtones to evoke thoughts of freedom and the open road for generations of drivers in the Mustang? What about the aptly named Porsche Carrera [Spanish for "race"] or the Dodge Viper by Chrysler and Cobra names that Ford on occasion attaches to sports cars to imbue curvaceous and venomous images to roadsters?

The Nissan Rogue, however, though named to evoke the aura of toughness and lawlessness is just a pretender - a sheep in wolf's clothing that profiles way above its pay grade in the name league. Unlike its Nissan sibling the Pathfinder, the Rogue is not suited for off road driving. Nor will it race down the road with the flashiness of the Nissan Maxima or the Z sports car.

But what the Rogue does really well, and has earned it hordes of admirers in the revised 2012 edition, is to provide a good balance of value and performance amid the growing proliferation of compact crossover utility vehicles. It is a decent alternative to vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, and Hyundai Tucson.

First introduced for 2008, the Rogue sports a front end that more closely matches other Nissan cars. With a unit-body based on an automobile chassis and optional all-wheel drive, the Rogue offers up-high seating, space for five and luggage space that exceeds most mid-size cars.

In eight days of driving around the D.C. area, we found much to like about the Rogue and a few things that could use improvement. With its advanced Xtronic CVT [Continuously Variable Transmission], Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), 4-wheel disc brakes with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Rogue is well equipped for its class. It balances Nissan-style driving enjoyment with the versatility provided by numerous storage and ultra-functionality features, including an oversized glove compartment and a large center console. Rogue also offers six standard air bags.

The vehicle's 5.0-inch color touch screen Navigation System display was a little tiny compared to others in its class. However, I loved the XM NavTraffic Real-Time Traffic Information. On several occasions, to my surprise, the system proved more accurate in providing traffic alerts than local radio heavyweights WAMU and WTOP.

The Rogue's interior cabin is a bit frugal compared with the Hyundai Tucson which is the value leader in this class. The sun visors call for a serious upgrade; they do not slide on their support rods to effectively block sun from the side.

The Around View Monitor feature, which utilizes four small superwide-angle cameras - mounted on the front, side and rear of the vehicle - to provide a virtual 360 degrees view of objects around the vehicle, was a welcome addition while parking in downtown D.C.'s tight garages.

The Rogue gets its power from a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It delivers the power through a continuously-variable automatic transmission to either the front wheels or all-four wheels. The test car had the all-wheel drive option. Though Nissan credits the test vehicle's improved gas mileage [22 mpg City/26 mpg Highway] on the CVT system, I found the oddities of this transmission a bit unsettling. While CVT helped to keep the engine in its efficient range, rubber-band-like responsiveness convinced me that Nissan needs to spend a little more time tweaking this transmission. When accelerating to merge in faster moving highway traffic, the transmission would sometimes emit a coarse drone; sounding like it was slipping or meandering through the rev range. At other times, it sounded as if the engine was roaring away but not increasing the vehicle's speed.

If you have not bought a new car lately, especially a compact SUV, the pricing on the Rogue may shock you. The tested car had a sticker just north of $30,000. But given the features and safety equipment packed in these vehicles, the prices seem fair. After all, what is standard equipment today was only available to the very elite models just a few years ago.