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brand strategy

2014 Nissan Rogue

Why, Nissan Canada president Christian Meunier wonders aloud, can't his Rogue take on the big boys in compact crossover vehicles? Why not?

Well, up until this latest 2014 remake of the most important model in Nissan Canada's lineup, the Rogue was an underpowered, undersized, uninteresting little rig, one competing in a world filled with stylish Ford Escapes and proven-reliable, made-in-Canada Toyota RAV4s and Honda CR-Vs.

The Escape, in fact, is the best-selling compact SUV in Canada and for good reasons: multiple power train offerings in a fun-to-drive, high-tech wagon sold through a dealer network almost three times the size of Nissan Canada's. If not the Escape, Hyundai has the right-priced and reliable Santa Fe, Chevy the made-in Canada Equinox, Jeep the rugged Wrangler and Mazda the smartly engineered CX-5. Consumers have so much choice here.

But the Rogue? The Rogue ranks eighth in its class, by sales. Meunier wants to be No. 2, or No. 3 – No. 4 at worst. That means unseating either the CR-V, the RAV4 or the Santa Fe. Good luck with that. Honda and Toyota have the means and the will to battle you and your Rogue anywhere you like, Meunier, including in the trenches overflowing with rich and buyer-friendly sales sweeteners.

In other words, the Rogue will not and cannot discount its way to sales leadership in a smoking-hot class of wagons. Not versus car companies with deeper pockets and the will to empty them.

The key to success, then, is the new Rogue's design – "a complete departure" – and in advertising it with "impact." What's that? What are ads with impact? Nissan is done shuffling out boring, formulaic commercials: 1) show the car; 2) show the price; 3) then plug the discount. Ugh. Those kind of ads are awful, says Meunier.

"We need to be on the [purchasing] radar and to do that, we need to be on the road," he adds. That means getting attention so that Nissan can move the metal. Put Nissans in the hands of Canadian drivers and more Canadians will take notice.

(In the above photo, the 2013 Rogue is on the left, the 2014 on the right)

Rather than describe good ads, Meunier punches up the "Winter Warrior" TV spot being used to launch the 2014 Rogue. It was shot in Toronto last December and the message is simple: This Rogue is engineered with an all-wheel-drive system capable of running over the worst winter weather – cunningly depicted in the form of evil snowmen who are blasted to bits by the new Rogue. It's been a hit: more than one million views on YouTube, and counting. The truth is, the '14 Rogue has as much in common with the 2013 model as the 2014 Vancouver Canucks do with the 2011 Stanley Cup final team – in reverse. That is, this new Rogue is good and the 2011 Canucks were brilliant. The latest 2014 Canucks are depressingly dull, as was the outgoing 2013 Rogue. Get it?

Of course, Meunier doesn't exactly embrace that point of view. After all, Rogue sales were up 18 per cent last year, he says, and 40 per cent of Rogue owners repurchased another last year. Nissan's flagship has been pleasing buyers since at least 2008, with sales up 44 per cent in that time. If you're one of those who liked the old Rogue, you'll be gobsmacked by the new one. For starters, prices are down a bit: $23,408-$33,098 versus 2013 pricing, $23,978-$34,398. The design inside and out is terrific. The exterior has some shape to it and details like LED daytime running lights and wraparound taillights really dress up things.

The cabin is nice, roomy versus the competition, and you can get a new Rogue with three rows of seating. The gauges, instruments and information display – a five-inch display, in fact – have white illumination and are clear.

If you want high-tech oddments, it has them. Connectivity? There's NissanConnect; it will hook you up with apps from Facebook to Google. And the drive is comfy and enjoyable for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is a new high-tech system called Active Ride Control. What? This uses engine power and brake pressure to tamp down the kind of bouncing up and down that can happen on bad roads. It works, too. The Rogue also has a best-in-class fuel economy story (8.2 litres/100 km city, 6.2 highway for all-wheel drive) thanks to the efficient combination of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable transmission. That's good, but in a segment peppered with available V-6 engines, the Rogue's four-banger is the only choice. It's not overly powerful at 170 horsepower. Load up with six people and their gear, and the Rogue will not feel all that sporty.

Still, the all-wheel drive system is smart and effective on ice and snow. On top of that, something called active trace control assists with cornering on dry pavement by gently engaging the inner or outer brakes to keep you between the lines during turns. It's slick.

Is all this enough to boost the Rogue to No. 2, 3, or 4 – enough to make the hard-driving Meunier a happy car company president? The top four look too solid for that, for now. But No. 5? Possible. Even that move up the charts won't be easy, though.

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