Nissan is taking its award-winning and best-selling model, the third-generation Nissan Rogue that was first introduced just last year, and is making a new 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine the default on most trims beginning in 2022.
If this statement shocks you, I encourage you to be open-minded. I was skeptical, too, until I drove it. In the end, it impressed me more than I expected.
This engine uses Nissan’s VC-Turbo technology, which has also been used in engines found elsewhere in the Nissan and Infiniti product line-ups, though its only other application in Canada is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder found in the Infiniti QX50. VC stands for variable compression, which means the compression ratio in the cylinders is automatically adjusted on the fly to suit the driving conditions. When the driver steps on the throttle looking for quick acceleration, the compression ratio lowers to 8:1 and the engine produces more power. When the car is cruising along the highway, the ratio goes higher to 14:1, which helps the engine run more efficiently.
Nissan’s primary motivation for this change is increased fuel efficiency over the current standard engine, a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder that produces 181 hp, and 181 lb-ft of torque peaking at 3,600 rpm, and is rated for a combined fuel consumption of 8.1 L/100 km. This engine is acceptable, if not exceptional, and it will continue to be standard on the base S grade into this new model year. All other grades will get the new engine with its 201 hp, 225 lb-ft of torque that peaks between 2,800 and 4,000 rpm, and – most importantly – an estimated combined fuel rating of 7.6 L/100 km for the SV model, which is best-in-class for a gas-only engine with all-wheel drive.
Note this says gas-only: there are hybrids on the market that achieve better overall fuel efficiency for no less ownership convenience, and the price gap isn’t nearly as wide as one might assume. A Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE starts at $32,950, a Hybrid XLE at $35,950, a Hybrid XSE at $39,340, and a Hybrid Limited at $43,350, all of which average 6.0 L/100 km combined. The Hyundai Tucson Hybrid comes in two trims, Luxury at $38,899 and Ultimate at $41,599, with a combined average of 6.4 L/100 km. Meanwhile, Rogue pricing with the VC-Turbo is in a similar range at $35,598 for SV, $37,598 for SV Premium, $39,998 for SL, and $41,998 for Platinum, roughly $600 to $1,000 more versus last year’s pricing with the four-cylinder.
On the one hand, RAV4 Hybrids are very hard to come by and have months-long wait times, and Tucson Hybrids are only available at higher price points. How to choose, then? Buy the car you prefer, cross-shop feature packaging at your preferred price point, and decide how long you’re willing to wait for the car that’s right for you.
What doesn’t need to be a factor is how well the VC-Turbo engine drives. Power delivery is smooth and satisfying at every point in the rev range, whether getting going from a stop or making a pass on the highway, aided by a new generation of Nissan’s continuously variable transmission making its debut alongside this engine. There is some turbo lag, but it’s not a deal-breaker. More importantly, the typical rattle that three-cylinder engines produce is imperceptible from inside the vehicle thanks to a new engine mounting system with a pair of lower torque rods to isolate engine vibrations. The movement is visible if you’re standing with the hood open while the engine is running, but it doesn’t transfer into the cabin.
Apart from this powertrain addition, the 2022 Rogue gets the new Nissan logo and a new SL grade, which incorporates lower-cost access to 19-inch wheels, wireless Apple CarPlay, an upgraded infotainment system with on-board navigation, leather seats, and tri-zone climate control, while leaving premium features like quilted leather, a digital instrument cluster, head-up display, premium audio system, and a wireless charging pad as Platinum upgrades.
With the Rogue having credentials to lean on like being named AJAC’s Best Mid-size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021 and sales topping 27,000 for its most recent generation, it’s a big risk for Nissan to toy with a formula that’s working. Fortunately, with its offer of increased power and fuel efficiency, this should be a positive addition to an already-strong compact SUV.