NASHVILLE, TENN.?The Nissan Rogue is already filthy and I?ve only driven it five minutes. It was freshly detailed and still has that new-car smell, but outside, it?s covered in water and dirt.
Oh well ? might as well get it dirtier, then. It?s an SUV, after all, intended for everything that off-the-road can throw at it.
Except it really isn?t. Nissan didn?t even suggest an off-road route down here in Tennessee to test the Rogue?s chops. At the hour-long presentation of the cute-ute?s key features before handing me the key, nobody mentioned getting muddy.
They did talk about its new driving-assistance technologies, including the now-commonplace blind-spot and lane-departure warnings.
They talked about its supremely comfortable ?zero-gravity? front bucket seats, which provide more support for the body and even include clever heaters that warm up different areas of the body for quicker application of heat.
And they talked forever about its available smartly-thought-out third-row seat, so it can have seating for seven, and the many different combinations of storage in the back that keep wet and dirty things separate from clean items.
After all, the Rogue is a compact SUV, battling in the marketplace against the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV-4, among many others, and those buyers care more about comfort than capability.
Nissan Canada hopes the 2014 Rogue will be its heavy hitter, perhaps selling 20,000 vehicles this coming year. Maybe even break Nissan into Canada?s Top-10-selling vehicles for the first time in years.
It?ll depend on price, of course, and pricing won?t be announced until next week. Company reps here would say only the price will be ?compelling,? which usually means it will be right in the same bracket as the competition.
It probably won?t be much different from the current $23,978 for the base 2013 Rogue, although the loaded version with its third seat will likely eclipse the $34,398 of the top-of-the-range 2013 SV model.
Not that anyone will pay those prices for a 2013 Rogue, if there?s one to be found on dealer lots when the 2014s arrive in showrooms next month.
If any vehicle can pull Nissan into the big time it yearns for, it?s this thoughtfully redesigned Rogue. It?s been completely revised from the original generation that debuted in 2008.
It is now a little bit larger on the outside and feels a fair bit larger on the inside. Its wheelbase is 15 mm longer and its height pumped up by 30 mm, but reshaped seats and headrests add space to the cabin like Doctor Who?s Tardis. Even the rear passenger doors open more widely than before.
Not everything is new: the engine is basically the same proven 2.5-L four-cylinder motor that makes an adequate 170 hp and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, but it?s hooked up to an improved continuously available transmission that Nissan says is 10 per cent more efficient than before. It?s the same CVT used in the new Altima.
The redesign also helped improve the Rogue?s aerodynamics, so it now cuts through the wind more easily than before. Here again, Nissan claims a 10-per-cent improvement.
It?s not just the smooth shape of the bodywork ? the underneath is channeled for better airflow, and even the muffler has a little spoiler attached to it to better direct the invisible slipstream.
Nissan also added lighter materials where possible to trim gas-guzzling weight, including an aluminum hood and lightweight bumpers, and lighter metals in the engine itself.
The result is an impressive claimed fuel consumption of 7.1 L/100 km in combined driving for the front-wheel-drive version, and 7.3 for the all-wheel-drive version.
I?ll admit, I wasn?t so bothered about fuel consumption as I tooled around the countryside near Nashville ? I just wanted to stay warm and dry, and that meant not getting out of the vehicle.
The little SUV didn?t feel so little, but it handled Tennessee?s twisting roads nimbly and didn?t lag on the interstate. It should feel right at home, of course: it?s built at Nissan?s huge U.S. plant just south of Nashville.
Steering is firmer than usual, which made it a more enjoyable drive on the backroads but not too twitchy in town.
There are three main trim levels, as with the 2013. The SV comes with all the bells and whistles. It includes a lane-departure chime (which I turned off immediately because it was annoying), blind-spot warning, all-round moving object detection (useful in those mall parking lots the Rogue will inhabit) and forward-collision warning.
Lots of warnings and chimes, but no real help in braking or avoidance when disaster strikes. Fortunately, disaster didn?t strike, perhaps thanks to the constant undetectable application of individual brakes by the Rogue?s computer to keep me in line on the wet and sometimes bumpy roads.
So hear it here first: the new Rogue will do very well for Nissan. It may well become its top seller ? it certainly deserves to do so.
It?s full of thoughtful little touches that distinguish it from the competition, and that?s essential: the rear storage separators, for example, that also make sure shopping bags don?t spew on the ground when you open the rear roof-hinged hatch.
But owners of those Toyotas and Hondas and Fords are already in love with their vehicles, so conquest sales will be tough. It all comes down to price, which Nissan will announce Nov. 18. You?d better believe all those dealers are bracing for the news.
Transportation for freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 NISSAN ROGUE
Price: n/a ($24,000-$35,000 est.)
Engine: 2.5 L I4
Power/torque: 170 hp/175 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km (claimed): 7.9 city, 6.0 hwy. (FWD), 8.2, 6.2 (AWD)
Competition: Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5
What?s best: Very comfortable, smart technology, clever storage.
What?s worst: No off-road cred, cramped third row, only adequate power.
What?s interesting: Active Ride Control applies individual brakes automatically to soften bumps in the road.
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