Over the next few months, car manufacturers will be rolling out cutting edge 2016 models. It just so happens that my growing family (like many other families) is in the market for a compact SUV. Compact SUVs (a.k.a. crossovers or CUVs) have a great balance of interior space, styling, technology, gas mileage and reasonable price tags. So, as these beauties are released to the public, I’ll be reviewing 7 different compact SUVs that sticker for around $26,000 (including destination/ handling): The CR-V EX, Rogue SV, Rav4 LE, Tucson Eco, Equinox LS, CX-5 Touring and Escape SE. For that price, you get a mid-level trim with an ambitious list of standard equipment, minus a few bells and whistles. After I’ve reviewed all the models individually, I’ll post a thorough comparison and ultimately purchase the winning SUV!
First up to bat is the 2015 Nissan Rogue SV. “Wait… I thought you said 2016?” Well, I lied. But in my defense, the Nissan Rogue recently underwent a complete redesign, and changes coming this year will be minimal and mostly apply to the SL trim. I could wait for the “new” model that adds an optional panini-maker and the exterior paint choice of Terminator Genisys Silver Metallic (missed cross-marketing opportunity!), but I’d rather get the ball rolling right now. After the Rogue, I’ll review the all-new 2016 Hyundai Tucson which recently hit dealer lots. The other five SUVs will follow shortly thereafter.
Overall, the Rogue’s exterior design is definitely a strength, reminiscent of more expensive luxury-brand SUVs.
In terms of aesthetics, the current generation Nissan Rogue is leaps and bounds better than the outgoing 2013 model. The body panels are more muscular, sculpted and sophisticated. The tail lights are more modern. The headlights (a visual Achilles’ heel of the previous generation) are infinitely better and more aggressive with features like automatic on/off and upscale daytime-running LED strips (no fancy headlight projectors though). The SV, like most other entries at this price point, comes with attractive 17″ alloy wheels (the ones shown below, not the kinetic 18s shown in our cover image).
Unfortunately, fog lights and projector lamps are not standard until you get up to the SL trim, but the SV does get integrated side mirror turn signals. If you want roof rails for extra cargo space, they are standard. But, I actually prefer no rails for a sleeker look. Not to mention, the wind resistance of hauling cargo on your roof will murder your gas mileage. Overall, the Rogue’s exterior design is definitely a strength, reminiscent of more expensive luxury-brand SUVs.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The Nissan Rogue is one of the largest SUVs in this group, and it shows when you climb inside. Obviously, one can distort the numbers to serve any argument they’d like to make. But, in the Rogue’s case, the most telling number is the cargo volume with all the seats upright. This is your everyday cargo room, and the Rogue takes the cake with almost 40 cubic feet. Even better, it can be adjusted and subdivided for additional flexibility. The rear bench can fold 40/20/40 (more flexible than the standard 60/40 split), and it also slides forward and backward and reclines! The Rogue was the only vehicle in its class to offer a 3rd row seat, but that was a short lived venture. The 3rd row sounded good in theory, but it was unusably small and dealers couldn’t convince customers to drop almost a grand for the upgrade.
In terms of your everyday cargo room, with the seats upright, the Rogue takes the cake with almost 40 cubic feet.
The driver’s seat is powered and fully adjustable, including lumbar, but the passenger seat is manual (typical for this price point). Unfortunately, the power liftgate is only standard on the top-level SL trim, as are heated seats, navigation, and leather-wrapped anything. No standard moonroof either. The SV does come with dual-zone climate control which is very rare for this comparison. My temperature-sensitive wife appreciates that feature! The SV’s “intilligent” proximity key with push button start is a great feature too. Being able to never take the key out of your pocket is very convenient. Also, as with all Nissans, the “easy fill” system helps when you’re putting air in the tires.
As a whole, the interior is decent. The front seats are comfortable and anywhere your elbows touch there is soft faux leather. My biggest complaint is that the quality of plastic is seriously lacking. It’s almost everywhere too: The dash, the steering wheel, the console, the rear cup holders, the cargo area… (It can be seen below, surrounding the start/stop button.) The climate control system has intuitive controls, but the audio controls (which flank the central display) feel cheap and their placement is haphazard and non-ergonomic. The infotainment system itself is adequate with modern tech, a good user interface and a 5″ non-touch screen. Meanwhile, the steering wheel audio controls are solid and intuitively placed. Moving to the back, car seats will fit easily and the previously mentioned sliding capability is just icing on the cake. (That’s my second cake idiom if you’re keeping track at home.) I would prefer for the back seat to be more supportive, it feels a little too much like a bench.
There are a couple other quirks that might not bother anyone but me. First of all, Nissan has placed a cup holder bulge in the door near the driver’s feet. This might not sound bad, but it’s the same in my Nissan Leaf. Let me tell you, I am really sick of hitting that bulge with my shoes almost every day. (Other than that, I love my Leaf.) Another minor detail: There’s no recess on the door to pull with your fingers, store loose change, put your phone, etc. There’s a vertical bar you can grab, but the first time I climbed in the Rogue and reached out to shut the door, this missing recess was off-putting.
Most participants in this comparison are IIHS “Top Safety Picks” with good crash scores across the board, including the Nissan Rogue. The separation comes primarily in the form of crash avoidance technology. Unfortunately, on many of these SUVs, the avoidance tech comes in expensive optional packages. In the Rogue’s case, “Lane Departure Warning,” “Blind Spot Warning,” “Around View Monitor” and “Moving Object Detection” come lumped in with the navigation system ($1,590). Rear view cameras are standard throughout this comparison, which is great. But, they’re not all created equal. The Nissan unit has good resolution and dynamic guidelines that adjust as the steering wheel turns. The Rogue SV also comes standard with traction control and a boatload of airbags.
The naturally aspirated 2.5L 4-cylinder engine is the weakest link in the Rogue’s resume’, a carryover from the old Rogue. It has the least power in the group (170 hp) and, although it has one of the lightest curb weights, the Rogue’s acceleration leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, the powertrain does have an above average MPG rating (26 city/33 hwy). Though, if you have to floor it frequently, I bet you can kiss those MPGs goodbye.
(+) Modern and upscale exterior design.
(+) Cargo space is abundant and very flexible.
(-) The powertrain is outdated and underpowered.
(-) Nice soft armrests don’t offset the cheap plastic and odd quirks.
The ride on the Rogue is comfortable yet unmemorable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just depends what’s important to you. You won’t be surprised by any tight handling and you also won’t be surprised by any uneven pavement. Kind of like referees, the good ones go largely unnoticed while the bad ones draw attention and ire. The Rogue’s suspension is like a good referee that’s just going about its business without upsetting anyone. However, if you want to sacrifice a little comfort for some added excitement, the Nissan Rogue probably isn’t for you.
The Nissan Rogue is one of the better values in this group of compact SUVs. With a Total MSRP of $25,575 (up $100 from 2015), it’s over $1,000 less expensive than the CR-V EX. For that appealing price, the Rogue gives you attractive exterior styling, interior flexibility, dual climate control and lots of cargo space. However, that comes with the trade off of a subpar powertrain, average-quality interior finishes and a couple missing standard features. Overall, the Rogue is a strong initial contender. Check back on Dad Kingdom to see how it compares against the rest of the field!