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Overhauled Nissan Rogue a steal

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Nissan Rogue has little in common with the smugglers, thieves and general scalawags that share its name — except in its 2014 redesign, which is something of a steal.

Starting at $23,350, Nissan's second-best-selling vehicle has been entirely overhauled to offer even more for the money in the increasingly crowded, and competitive, compact SUV space.

It's a feat of accounting trickery for a five-seat crossover to include Bluetooth, streaming audio, a rearview camera, a color audio display and a multitude of behind-the-scenes technologies as standard equipment on a vehicle of this size at this price. But such are the demands in today's more-for-less market.

Thanks, Wal-Mart.

The “more” in the Rogue is spread throughout the vehicle, but it's most apparent in its physicality. The 2014 is noticeably larger from the outside, with its oversized wheel wells and taller roofline. Its interior is even more so. Stretching the wheelbase and lifting its lid makes the Rogue feel even bigger from the inside than it looks from afar.

While an optional third row is available in the Rogue to enable the seating of seven, my test vehicle was outfitted with the usual five, all of which were comfortable. Out-of-town visitors on a recent weekend literally could not stop talking about the amazing view they had from the backseat. Not only were their rear seats somewhat taller than the front, they offered such exceptional leg room that some of them were inspired to reduce the amount of femur space to better hear my front-seat conversation. Doing so was easy with manual levers that can slide the rear seats forward as much as 9 inches.

All the seats in the Rogue, except for the driver's, fold like contortionists, including that of the front passenger. Combined, when collapsed, they open an incredible 70 cubic feet of storage that, Nissan claims, can fit an 8-foot ladder and still close the rear lift gate. Unfortunately, the rear seats do not fold flat with the cargo floor but are, instead, stepped by about 5 inches.

Otherwise, the space is radically configurable, thanks to a rear seat that folds in three pieces, instead of the usual two, and a Drive-N-Hide Cargo system that lets owners slice and dice the interior 18 different ways using a system of removable floor pieces. Even the rear doors open in a more hippo-like fashion than the outgoing model for easier access.

Powered with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that's paired with a more efficient version of Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission, the Rogue's performance will only impress drivers who value fuel economy at the expense of driving enjoyment. Its wimpy character can, however, be improved ever so slightly with the press of a “sport mode” button to the left of the steering wheel.

Aerodynamically optimized with underbody tweaks that won't be noticed by anyone without a jack and coveralls, as well as new front pillars and exterior mirrors that have the added benefit of reducing cabin noise at least at lower speeds, the Rogue's ride quality is adequate for its price.

The road still makes itself apparent, but the SUV's handling is improved with two “active” systems, including trace control that improves cornering by automatically applying the brakes and smoothing engine torque upon acceleration, and an engine braking system that uses the CVT to help slow the car so the driver doesn't have to press the pedal as hard to slow or stop.

Even fully loaded, the Rogue offers an excellent value for drivers whose lifestyles are more robust than their bank accounts.

Susan Carpenter writes for the Orange County Register.

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