Update, October 24, 2016:This First Take has been updated with information and driving impressions on the new Rogue Hybrid.
When it came time to perform a midcycle update to the second-generation Rogue, Nissan didn't have to rewrite the book on its compact crossover. Rogue sales through August this year are up 14 percent compared to the same period in 2015, placing it third in sales behind only the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 in its segment.
Heading into 2017, Nissan looks to continue the Rogue's climb up the charts with styling updates, additional features and the rollout of a new hybrid variant.
The Rogue's most noticeable visual change comes at the front, with a bolder V-motion grille keeping the family resemblance going with its Pathfinder and Armada big brothers. It also gains new fascias, headlights, fog lights, LED taillights, chrome side trim and wheel designs. The updates give the Rogue a slightly more aggressive look than before, which isn't a bad thing and keeps it visually on par with competitors like the RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape and Hyundai Tucson.
Most of the cabin looks familiar, too, with the exception of a new steering wheel, center console design, shifter and panel finishes. The SL test car I'm spending a day driving on pristine Georgia roads is a bit snazzier, as a new Platinum Reserve interior option package adds tan leather seats with unique quilted inserts. The seats themselves are comfortable throughout a day of driving and riding, and all controls for climate and infotainment remain easy to work through.
Refinement takes a further step forward with the addition of more sound deadening material, upgraded door seals and thicker rear glass to better keep out unwanted noises. Jetting down the expressway, there's very little road and wind noise to speak of, and during hard acceleration, mechanical ruckus isn't as apparent.
There are a few more goodies in the Rogue's quieter interior, too. In addition to the SL's standard Bose audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth and navigation with a 7-inch touchscreen, the new Platinum Package adds adaptive cruise control along with safety technologies like lane departure warning with lane departure prevention, this feature taps the brakes on one side of the car to pull it back into its lane. Forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection is also part of the package, providing audio and visual warnings of a possible front collision and automatically engaging the brakes to either avoid or reduce the severity of an impact if the driver doesn't act.
NissanConnect Services remains standard on the range-topping SL, which uses a SiriusXM subscription to perform internet navigation searches and destination downloads. Customizable alerts are also available via email, text message and phone call to notify owners of vehicle speed, curfew alert and geographical boundaries to help parents keep a watchful eye on young drivers.
Unfortunately, the Rogue's infotainment system isn't setup to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but a Nissan spokesman says both are being worked on for future models. Another damper is the one USB port located in the lower center stack, which will have passengers arm wrestling to decide who gets to juice up their phone, or require folks to bring adapters to charge up using one of the regular power outlets.
For the hybrid, there are a couple of interior concessions in the rear cargo area. The load floor is slightly higher to house the lithium-ion battery cutting cargo volume from the 28.4 cubic-feet in regular models to 27.3 cubic-feet. That battery being placed below the cargo area also means the optional third-row seats aren't available on the hybrid.
On the mechanical front, the gas drivetrain is carryover. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque continues to setup shop under the hood, and works with a continuously variable transmission. Fuel economy for front-wheel-drive models punch in at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, while my AWD tester returns 25 mpg city and 32 mpg on the highway.
As before, there's sufficient power to get the Rogue down the road in an acceptable manner. Performing passes and merging onto expressways takes a heavy right foot to wind up the engine, but it's by no means alarmingly slow. As someone who used to run screaming from any car with a continuously variable transmission, I have to admit that they've come a long way and the Rogue is quite good at adjusting ratios to simulate gear changes.
Through curvy portions of the drive route, the 19-inch wheel and tire set that comes with the Platinum package earn their keep getting the Rogue around curves in a competent manner with no apparent downsides to the bigger footprint of the Bridgestone tires. There's no annoying tire noise and ride quality stays nicely compliant. While the Rogue's handling mannerisms are respectable, they still don't match the reflexes of crossovers like the CX-5 or Kia Sportage.
Dynamically, the Rogue still suffers from an electric power steering system that's too lightly weighted and lacks feedback. Sport mode firms things up some, but Nissan still has room for improvement on this front.
As for the new in-house developed hybrid, that combines a 2-liter four-cylinder with a 30-kilowatt electric motor and lithium ion battery. Together they produce a net system output of 176 horsepower to match up closely to the regular Rogue's 170-horsepower from a 2.5-liter engine. Those few extra ponies are needed to help move around the additional 187 pounds the Rogue Hybrid SL AWD carries compared to the Rogue SL AWD.
Like its full-gas counterpart, acceleration is acceptable from stops and for merging onto the expressway, but you likely won't be winning many drag races out of the grocery store parking. The payoff is fuel economy which Nissan expects to come in with a 31 mpg city and 34 mpg highway rating for all-wheel drive models bettering the normal model by 6 mpg city and 2 mpg highway. That also compares well to the recently released Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which returns 34 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
Unlike Toyota, Nissan will be offering the hybrid on front-wheel models, too. Nissan is forecasting a 33 mpg city and 35 mpg highway fuel economy ratings for that drivetrain combination. That's good for a 7 mpg city and 2 mpg highway improvement over the gas model.
Rolling along back roads, the dual-clutch hybrid system seamlessly switches between full-electric, a combination of gas and electric and all-gas propulsion. My drive route doesn't feature any prolonged low speed driving, but Nissan claims the Rogue Hybrid can operate for 2 minutes at 25 mph on pure electric on a fully charged battery, which would come in handy if you find yourself sitting in traffic. The start/stop system is also aggressive to kill and quickly refire the engine at stops.
The big annoyance with the hybrid is the regenerative brake's wonky pedal feel and performance. Bite at the top of the pedal stroke is very light before tightening in the middle, which gives you some modulation of stopping power, but makes it difficult to brake smoothly.
Truth is, the mild freshening is all Nissan needed to do to its already solid small crossover, considering the popularity of the segment. It tackles the competition with satisfying looks, performance, comfort and features that have been reeling in customers with great success. Just how successful is the Rogue? Successful enough that it should surpass the Altima as the best-selling Nissan vehicle by year's end. That's a big accomplishment considering the Altima has held the title for the last 21 years.
The Rogue's journey to the top receives its next bump when the 2017 gasoline models hit dealers in November, while hybrids go on sale in December. Expect the updated car to wear a starting price similar to the 2016 model's $23,330. The Rogue Hybrid should be priced competitively with the $29,030 RAV4 Hybrid.