Thursday, August 1, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Nissan Rogue S AWD

I swear that it is not my intention to be hard on the folks at Nissan. My last few reviews and posts have all put Nissan in a less than positive light, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the company that dared to defy convention and introduce the likes of the GT-R to the United States. However, while the GT-R is an incredible piece of engineering, most of the rest of the Nissan line-up leaves something to be desired in one way or another. My most recent experience with a Nissan product was during my trip back to the Washington D.C. area and was cut short by an ill-timed bit of misfortune.

Upon arriving at the rental counter to pick up my car, I was presented with a fairly fresh 2013 Nissan Rogue S AWD. Looking at the odometer, it registered just over 13000 miles, but I figured that this should be a fairly uneventful trip. Talk about being spectacularly wrong...

Before setting off, I took the opportunity to survey my surroundings, and while it was not nearly as vomit inducing as some of the other recent Nissan products I had driven, it was still a very drab and characterless place to be. The center console was still made of the miserably cheap toy plastics, the mouse-fur lining the seats wafted up a musty eau de body odor, and the orange glow cast by the instrument cluster resembled the eyes of an evil Halloween pumpkin. At least the seats were fairly comfortable and the door panels actually exhibited some give, making them more comfortable than the slabs of concrete they could have been.

Throwing my stuff in the rather spacious rear cargo area, I proceeded to get on the road, recognizing that I was pretty exhausted from the red-eye flight and that breakfast was in order. Poking around the interior, I quickly discovered that Nissan failed to include a USB port of any kind in this car at this trim level, meaning I would need to locate a place to eat that would allow me to plug in and top-off the charge on my phone before beginning my day. Taking a slightly more circuitous route out of the airport, I got settled with the Rogue's steering, which while light and a tad over-boosted, does actually seem to provide some feedback, though certainly not enough to start hustling this CUV through any fast corners. Modest power from the 2.5-L inline four routes to the ground via a CVT transmission and a fairly unsophisticated mechanical AWD setup. Perhaps it was my exhaustion, but the CVT application in the Rogue seems to fit the character of the car well. Not once did I feel like the engine was caught flat-footed and not once did the rubber-banding effect typical of CVTs rear its ugly head.

Pulling onto the Dulles Greenway and headed towards DC, I set the cruise control, turned on the morning news, and relaxed a bit. Well, as much as one could relax with the nuclear orange dash lighting casting a harsh glow in the cabin. One thing I will say, however, is that I fully understand why the Rogue is popular as a grocery-getter. The ride is comfortable and fairly controlled for the tallish body structure (it sort of reminds me of a Versa on stilts) and there is a ton of cargo space. Add in the fact that the motor seems to sip frugally at its fuel supply, for folks looking for a transportation appliance and not wanting to spend a ton of money, this fits the bill pretty well.

Getting closer to the city, I turned towards the GW Parkway and used the opportunity to push the trucklet a bit on some of the off-ramps. Grip is limited, as is expected in a vehicle of this sort, and the push from the front end pretty much kills any possibility of fun. Chugging along the streets of Alexandria, the Rogue tamps down pavement imperfections well, smooths out pot holes with its squishy suspension, and maintains generally pleasant road manners as I found a place to enjoy the breakfast I had picked up from The Bottom Dollar Dog, a little roadside stand that serves a mean waffle. Ending up by the Alexandria waterfront, I parked the Rogue and took advantage of the spacious interior to enjoy my meal while listening to the remainder of the morning news.

From here, however, is where things start to go wrong. After scarfing down my peanut butter cup waffle, I used the fact that it was still early in the day to tour around Alexandria a bit longer and snap some photos. After one particular stop, the Rogue's dash shone brightly with a check engine light. After less than 100 miles that morning, the car had decided that it would not play nice. I called the rental company and took the car back to them promptly to swap it out.

And maybe it is just my bad luck with Nissan products or maybe it is karma. Whatever the case, my experience in Nissan cars over the last few years have all been far from positive and really have made me struggle a bit with the idea that Nissan is making a strong recovery. The investment from Renault seems to be very prevalent within the Infiniti brand, where the last few years have seen tremendous improvements, but the Nissan products continue to settle as the grit in the bottom of the car buying pool, especially in terms of interior material quality and design.

While my time with the Rogue drew to a close with a whimper as I limped it back to the rental agency, but brief time with it did highlight why some people like such appliances as their daily drivers. The Rogue, while it does not stand out in an positive way, does provide comfort, convenience, cargo space, and the option of AWD. It sips fuel, making it easy on the wallet, and uses parts that, from their tactile feel and appearance, should be pretty cheap to replace. As I stated before, all-in-all, it is exactly what you want in an appliance. For those of us who want a little bit more out of our daily drives, it simply does not even register because there is no shortage of better choices out there these days.