Given the opportunity for a quick spin, a 40-mile round-trip up and down the California coast in the 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid, I took turns enjoying the ocean view and monitoring the instrument cluster to see how engine and electric motor interact in Nissan's newest hybrid offering.
Although the speedometer displayed a green icon that meant the car was ready to drive via electricity, the tachometer needle didn't drop to zero unless I came to a full stop. As I drove on the highway and through a small shopping center, trying different throttle strategies, the Rogue Hybrid's engine remained alive, burning gasoline.
Nissan previously said that the Rogue Hybrid could run fully electrically for up to two minutes at 25 mph, so it seems that the system uses narrower parameters than most recent hybrids I've driven. And with EPA fuel economy of 31 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for the all-wheel-drive version, moments of electric driving wouldn't seem to matter. However, during my drive the car's trip computer -- not always a reliable gauge -- hovered around 26 mpg.
Nissan launched the Rogue Hybrid last year, adding a powertrain option for its popular small SUV in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. The Rogue Hybrid competes directly with, and seems like a response to, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which came out a year earlier.
The Rogue Hybrid retains the five-passenger layout of its gasoline-only counterpart, although takes a slight trim, amounting to 1 cubic foot, on cargo space due to the lithium-ion battery pack under the cargo floor. It looks much the same as the standard Rogue, although features hybrid badges on sides and rear. Nissan makes two trim levels, SV and SL, available, with the latter boasting LED headlights and an in-dash infotainment system.
Nissan attempted hybrid systems on several of its models, such as the Altima and Pathfinder, but none of those stuck. This latest example uses a smaller four-cylinder engine than the standard Rogue, 2.0 liters versus 2.5 liters, and complements it with a 30-kilowatt electric motor. Nissan lists total system output as 176 horsepower, 6 more than in the standard Rogue.
As with other hybrids, the Rogue Hybrid uses regenerative braking to charge its battery, then uses that electricity to help drive the wheels.
Other than my reservations about real-world fuel economy, the Rogue Hybrid drove comfortably, with the kind of neutral, hassle-free experience that makes small SUVs so popular. The acceleration felt strong enough for passing and merging, while the riding position gave me a good view of the road, and the oceanside vistas. An optional panoramic sunroof lit up the cabin nicely.
The ride quality felt about average for a small SUV, comfortable enough for long road trips. And there were no surprises with the handling, good nor bad. The Rogue Hybrid steers easily, without drama. A surround view camera system, a Nissan signature technology from way back, helps prevent parking-lot disasters.
As I drove, I took the Rogue Hybrid through its three drive modes: Eco, Standard and Sport. Predictably, throttle response went from muted to strong, letting me tailor the driving experience somewhat. The buttons for these modes sit low on the left underside of the dashboard, making them a distraction to use while underway.
Adding to that distraction, the drive mode controls sit in a double-bank of buttons, making them even more difficult to choose by touch alone. Another button along the row locks the all-wheel-drive torque distribution, which can be a very useful feature, and one not often found in crossovers.
Although I didn't spend much time digging into the navigation system on this short drive, the 7-inch touchscreen looked small, with bland graphics. However, Nissan makes up for that limited real estate with hard buttons to the side of the screen, allowing quick access to navigation and audio sources. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here, but connect a phone to the system and it will do online destination search.
As a fan of hybrids, I like that Nissan applied the technology to its Rogue crossover, especially as this small SUV segment becomes incredibly popular. However, I have reservations about how well this new hybrid system will work in the 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid. Nissan's history in this area doesn't shine, and my admittedly short driving experience didn't show the typical benefits of a hybrid drivetrain. However, the Rogue Hybrid deserves further testing once we can do a full review.
To its benefit, it boasts good interior space, with almost no compromise for the battery pack. Despite poor ergonomics from the button placement, the inclusion of torque locking for the all-wheel-drive system should help out if it gets stuck in snow or mud. The driving dynamics proved comfortable and easy, and if its EPA fuel economy proves out, then that and its horsepower make the Rogue Hybrid a clear win over the standard Rogue, especially considering only a $1,000 price premium, based on the Rogue Hybrid SV's $26,240 price tag.