2014 Nissan Rogue

NASHVILLE — Compact crossovers are hot. And the burgeoning segment is crowded with new products, many among the best-selling vehicles in North America, so it's with perfect timing that Nissan introduces an all-new Rogue for the 2014 model year. Based on our time with the stylish second-generation crossover in the music city, we think it will stand up quite nicely to such stalwarts as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.

Nissan has essentially rebuilt its compact crossover from the ground up although it retains its basic shape and dimensions. And the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) will be familiar to current Rouge owners. But the 2014 Rogue, for the first time built in Tennessee, rides on a new platform that expands interior space enough to include an optional third-row seat.

While the Rogue retains the same exterior look — even casual observers of the automative landscape won't mistake it for anything other than a Rogue — with subtle styling changes including a cleaner front end appearance with swept-back headlights and a more upscale-appearing grille; more aggressive wheel arches; and redesigned warp-around taillights.

The interior receives a full makeover using upgraded materials with few hard plastics; a refreshingly straight-forward dashboard design with redundant steering wheel controls; the same front seats now used in the Altima designed with "zero-gravity" technology borrowed from NASA to help reduce fatigue on long drives; second-row seats that recline and slide fore and aft a very useable nine inches; and an innovative Divide-N-Hide cargo system that allows for hauling various forms and sizes of stuff at the same time.

All seat backs can be folded forward except the driver's when hauling cargo is the order of the day. Nissan says even an eight-foot ladder can be transported with the front passenger seat folded.

We found the Rogue a pleasant compact crossover during our drive on rural roads around Nashville. It seemed well-planted on all types of pavement with decent feedback from the electric power steering. The 170-horsepower 4-cylinder engine offered enough forward momentum to smartly get us away from stoplights and for the extra urgency needed to pass a slower-moving car on a two-lane blacktop. The CVT seemed more invisible than in the first-generation Rogue. It's the only engine/transmission combination offered in the Rogue.

If the Rogue lives up to EPA estimates, owners will smile over its 33 mpg highway, 26 city and 28 overall rating in front-wheel drive configuration. There's a slight falloff with the available all-wheel drive to 32/25/28.

New driving technologies abound with such optional features as 360-degree view camera, moving object detection, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and forward-collision warning. There's also a suite of what Nissan calls "dynamic technologies." They include:

• Active Trace Control to help improve cornering feel by automatically applying the brakes and smoothing engine torque while accelerating;

• Active Ride Control that smooths out serious road imperfections by applying the brakes and adjusting engine torque to reduce head toss especially for rear-seat passengers;

• Active Engine Braking where the transmission helps slow the Rogue as the driver brakes resulting is less brake effort.

Ask the dealer to demonstrate these features to see what they are all about.

The Rouge comes in three models S, SV and SL with a substantial list of standard features. The third-row seat is available in S and SV, but not in the top-trim SL. But for us that's not an issue because the seating area is cramped and suitable only for the smallest of children. It's noteworthy that Toyota dropped its third-seat option in the new similar-sized RAV4.

Prices start at $23,350 including destination charge for front-wheel drive S and escalate through the lineup to $30,280 for AWD SL.

Interestingly, the outgoing Rogue, which is built in Japan, will continue to be sold as the Rogue Select. There appears to be two reasons for this decision. It gives Nissan a compact crossover in the $20,000 to $23,000 price range — a place that basically no longer exists in the segment — and it continues the sales momentum that has resulted in 137,588 units sold through the first 10 months of the year, a 16.5 percent gain over 2012.

— Jim Meachen