2017 Nissan Rogue Review: Cars.com Family Car of the Year

The deceptively-sized Nissan Rogue combines classic styling with polarizing performance

A rogue is typically defined as a person who deceives or swindles; a miscreant; a scoundrel. And while the Nissan Rogue may not need quite so harsh a description, it is a little deceptive at first glance. It's a compact crossover that competes with the likes of the CR-V and the Forester, but it's not much smaller than its bulkier sibling, the Murano. It's a five-seater FWD crossover and also a seven-passenger AWD SUV. It has an undeniably good-looking body that borrows from Nissan's classic design language, but that sports-car exterior hides engineering under the hood that is lackluster at best. Just when you start to think that you've figured out this idiosyncratic SUV and its bizarre list of offerings, it will turn the tables on you once again.

However, even with a "bigger-on-the-inside" design and the somewhat confusing combination of details that you'll find in, around, and under a Rogue, this well-balanced compact crossover SUV is still the best-selling vehicles that Nissan sells in the US, and is even a top seller across the country among non-pickup vehicles. That could be due to its relatively low starting price; its hefty options list; its admittedly handsome design, or its practical place in the lineup.

Before you go making any decisions about the Nissan Rogue--good or bad--you need to get to know it a little better. Those hoping for a capable people-mover on the cheap will find themselves disappointed, but those writing it off as an underpowered XL hatch might be pretty surprised when they actually take a look at how it moves. Love it or hate it, you can't argue against the numbers: the Nissan Rogue is performing well in a segment that's more than willing to chew up lesser-performance crossovers and spit them back out.

No doubt it's a Nissan

From the V-Motion Grille (a particularly deep v-neck for the new Rogue) to "boomerang" headlights, and the pleasant airiness of the "floating roof" design, it's not hard to see Nissan's classic influence laid on heavily to the Rogue. The "kick up waist line" that starts at the A-pillar and flows back with a slight crimp at the rear window is reminiscent of the Hofmeister Kink made famous by BMW, but it does the job well of giving the crossover a significantly sporty appearance. The Rogue's exterior design may be writing a check that its true performance levels can't cash, but Nissan is more than happy to continue tweaking, pinching, and angling the Rogue toward the "bold aggression" style that's favored lately.

Some claim that the use of their overall V-Motion language is more than a little heavy-handed, but it makes sense to help your compact SUV can stand out in a class that's bringing up more and more competition every year.

The newest model lineup comes in four trim levels, which roughly cover the four main categories that most vehicles currently offer: "Base", "Actually What You Want", "The Sporty/Bold One", and "Ultra-Premium Goodness". Respectively, that would be the Nissan Rogue S, the Rogue SV, the Rogue Midnight Edition, and the Rogue SL. The only trim level that has discernably different exterior styling is the Midnight Edition--a relatively new line that Nissan has been particularly excited about, and that adds a black-on-black array of features and equipment to give the Rogue a dark, mysterious impression. In reality, the differences are black outside mirrors, black roof rails, and black alloy wheels. If you like to think that your spirit animal is a tiger or wolf; that you tell the best stories at parties; and that nobody can truly understand the depth of your soul--but in reality you listen to audiobooks on your commute--the Midnight Edition might be a good fit for your new Rogue.

A well-connected interior

The interior of the Rogue is really what gives it its standing as a maverick among compact SUVs, because it's an extremely versatile option with multiple available configurations, and a cabin that can be well-customized to fit a variety of needs and budgets. As much as base-model SUVs tend to be produced simply to offer a barrel-bottom "Starting At" price, the Rogue S is pretty well-equipped for what you'll pay, with tech features coming standard (smartphone integration, Bluetooth, USB/iPod hookup, rearview camera) and enough comfort features (air conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker sound system, etc.) to make you feel like you're getting a good deal. It's not missing anything that you'd find on a competitor's crossover--but they didn't push too hard to give entry-level drivers any extra goods.

Start to upgrade, however, and you'll see why Nissan can't make enough Rogues to keep up with the demand: the SV trim boosts up gear availability with dual-zone A/C, bigger wheels, more comfortable front seats, and standard NissanConnect. The infotainment system can hook up to your phone to make accessing certain apps easier, but--unlike a lot of its competitors--the Rogue's system is not yet friendly for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The Midnight Edition is actually a package option that can be added onto Rogue SV models, and the only interior changes that you'll see for this blacked-out crossover is a different color for the cloth upholstery.

Shoppers who are willing to push over the $30K mark, however, get all of the goodies in the Nissan Rogue SL. It denies prospective buyers the option of a third row, but it makes up for that with a huge list of standard and available luxury features, like Bose audio, connected navigation, heated and leather-upholstered seats, a power tailgate, and Nissan's very helpful (or very distracting, depending on opinion) 360-degree camera. A premium package can be added on for an even larger selection of features, but it pushes the price point pretty high for a compact SUV.

Surprising versatility in seating and space

The presence of an available third-row seat means that the Nissan Rogue is a surprisingly affordable and urban-friendly option for families who may need to carry more than three little ones--for a time, that is. While the Rogue is a similar size to the Murano, which only offers one row in the back, it is even shorter; which means that with all three rows up, you're limited in your storage area in the far back and your passengers in the third row will need to keep their knees close. The second row features a nine-inch-long track that lets you move it forward to boost leg room for the row behind, but even then it's not exactly luxurious. If you frequently travel with six or more passengers, a compact SUV is likely not the car for you.

But that doesn't mean the Rogue couldn't be a handy addition for families with one or two kids, who would only occasionally need the total added seating space. The good news? If you don't think you'll be using that third-row seat, you don't have to pay for it. It's an available option on the lineup--that's actually not even available on the highest-level Rogue SL--and the standard five-seater Rogue is going to be cheaper and give you full use of that rear cargo area. When you choose the two-row Rogue, seats fold flat for up to 70 total cubic feet of cargo space, which is incredibly competitive for its class. And, while not the highest cargo rating in the class, Rogue offers a unique Divide-N-Hide Cargo System, which comes standard and allows drivers to customize their rear storage area for privacy, for safety, and for maximum space.

Two rows or three, you'll probably be pleased with the versatility of the seating options for the new Rogue. The EZ Flex Seating System works with the second and third rows to let you split, fold, tilt, and slide seats for optimal spacing. Available on select models, the Rogue can also be equipped with Nissan's Zero Gravity seating in the front--which was actually designed to mimic the loose, comfortable feeling that your body might actually experience in zero-g. Whether that's accurate or not, Zero Gravity seats are engineered to minimize fatigue on longer drives.

All-wheel drive capability

The Rogue is offered as standard with front-wheel drive--which, for most drivers and the average commute, is plenty. But, the market loves all-wheel drive, and it's a major faux pas for a crossover these days to not have AWD even as an option. So, Rogue gets the all-wheel treatment, and people are happy. Nissan isn't necessarily known for its off-roading prowess, nor its extreme all-road capabilities, so if you live far off the beaten path and need something tough and powerful--Rogue may not be the right fit.

But, for the vast majority of today's drivers on today's roads, Rogue's responsive AWD system is perfectly adequate for rain, ice, dirt, gravel, and tight turns.

Basic performance--but practical

Unless you've grown up on a one-cylinder compact car, you're not likely to be wowed by the powertrain in the Nissan Rogue--of which there is one option for engine and transmission. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine can be found across the entire lineup (no V6 or turbo option to be found here), and is good for 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. That's not the most in the class, but surely not the least; a happy medium for compact crossovers. Rogue is offered only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), so shoppers crossing their fingers for an old-school manual will be disappointed.

All six of them.

What the Rogue lacks in horsepower, however, it thankfully makes up for in efficiency. The crossover (in front-wheel-drive configuration) is good for up to 33 mpg on the highway--which is pretty impressive for an SUV of this size that hasn't yet resorted to throwing out equipment to save on fuel expenditure.

More safety features on more models

To keep up with major pushes by brands like Honda and Toyota, Nissan is expanding their standard array of safety and security features. The Rogue S base model now comes standard with a rearview camera, Blind Spot Warning, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert--the last two of which are actually class-exclusive as standard features for a compact SUV. Available features, which you can find on upper-level models, include surround-view camera, blind-spot monitors, a lane-departure warning system, and a forward-collision alert system. While a lot of modern crossovers are boosting their safety standards and offering more features and driver-assist systems, this is still pretty impressive.

And while the newest Rogue was given just four out of five stars by the government, it did lock down a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS when properly equipped. That's about in line with average scores for the market.

What we're left with

The Rogue is an undeniable outsider in the compact crossover world. From the third-row seat, to the character lines, to the grille, to the engine, it's true that the Nissan Rogue is polarizing. People seem to either love it, or hate it.

But, its sales records and its standing as Nissan's best-selling vehicle would seem to suggest that more people are in the camp of the former, than the latter.

Compare the Nissan Rogue vs the Competition