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2011 Nissan Rogue (Nissan)
2011 Nissan Rogue (Nissan)

2011 Nissan Rogue S AWD

Unheralded Rogue feels the squeeze Add to ...

The Nissan Rogue is something of an overlooked gem in the world of compact SUVs. Unlike the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Rogue for some sad reason just hasn't captured the buyer's imagination in a mass-market way.

The marketing certainly has been weak and the Nissan brand remains something of an out-of-focus blur in the eyes of too many consumers. Just what does Nissan stand for, anyway? Toyota has built its reputation on bullet-proof reliability, despite the recent recall woes. Honda has been about engine technology, fuel economy, quality and safety. But what's Nissan about?

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The unfocused nature of the Nissan brand is part of the reason why Nissan has spent the last couple of months blowing out the last of its 2010 Rogue compact SUVs. Zero per cent financing, $3,000 in factory-to-dealer sales sweeteners - the 2010 Rogue has been a deal. A good deal.

But don't expect Nissan to slap similar money on the 2011 Rogue. Nissan has given the Rogue its first mini-makeover since joining the auto maker's lineup in 2008 and that means this ride has to sell on its merits as a useful little family hauler, rather than a sweet bargain.

The changes include an edgy upgrade to the sheet metal and a long list of new comfort and convenience features. The revamped front fascia and grille treatment look more aggressive. But only a sharp eye will spot the new front/rear spoilers and the extra helping of bright-work accent bits.

Prices have gone up slightly, too. The base S all-wheel-drive model lists for $26,448, versus $25,998 in 2010. The base front-drive Rogue starts at $23,648. Yes, the pricing is right. Consider: the starter AWD version of the CR-V goes for $28,290, while the base RAV4 AWD lists for $27,230. And the Rogue is well equipped, even if you go cheap.

The engine is 2.5-litre, four-cylinder (170 hp, versus 180 hp for the CR-V and 179 hp for the RAV4). The only Rogue gearbox is a continuously variable transmission, which in theory should deliver superior fuel economy, but doesn't. Both the CR-V and RAV4 get better city fuel economy from their four-bangers.

Nissan equips the Rogue with the full roster of safety features, from a solid antiskid system to traction control, four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and airbags all around (front, side and overhead). Still, the 2010 Rogue was not a Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (though good in front and side crash tests).

The exterior look here is interesting enough, but it's the cabin that stands out most. While not overly roomy (both the CR-V and RAV4 have bigger interiors), the Rogue is a driver-friendly ride with a sharp look. The driver seat is notable because it's height adjustable. The instruments, with white illumination and dressed up with silver gauge surround rings, are totally readable.

Alas, rear leg space is tight compared to the RAV4, and the comparable CR-V or RAV4 each has significantly more cargo space with the second-row seats both up and down. Nissan has done well with storage compartments and you'll appreciate them. Cubbies and the like are spread all around the Rogue's cabin, and the glove box is big.

Small but useful standard features include a trip computer integrated with a readout for average fuel consumption, average speed, elapsed time and outside temperature. Mobile phone users can use the Bluetooth hands-free phone system, standard. Cruise control and steering wheel controls are also standard on all Rogues. For hauling cargo, the usual and expected rear 60/40-split/fold bench seat is standard.

But many people might not be able to get over the one simple fact: the Rogue's cabin feels tighter than rivals from Toyota and Honda, as well as the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain. Kia's newly renovated Sportage and the recently updated Hyundai Tucson feel about equal in size. Same for the Ford Escape, which for the record might be the best deal in the segment. The Escape is also the oldest compact SUV design and should be a bargain.

Of course, the Rogue is on the smallish side for a very simple reason: it's a global vehicle and thus it represents compromise. The Rogue here is sold elsewhere as the Nissan Qashqai (cash-key) and the Renault Koleos. All three crossovers are the product of the Nissan-Renault Alliance, and thus share a single global car platform and were engineered to meet government rules and consumer tastes all over the world. Too many compromises, perhaps?

Yes, this is a smart little wagon for young buyers starting a family, or any buyer who is active, has stuff to haul around and want a decently fuel-efficient, modern-looking ride. But if it were bigger, it might be a hotter product.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2011 Nissan Rogue S AWD

Type: Compact SUV/crossover

Price: $26,448 ($1,560 freight)

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 170 hp/175 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.3 city/7.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander, Jeep Patriot, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain

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