For small families, the vehicle of choice is no longer the minivan or the SUV; it's the compact crossover. With prices that are about the same as a mid-size sedan—or maybe even a little less—these vehicles are more fuel efficient and can be equipped to near-luxury levels of comfort. Plus, they retain much of the appeal of a full-size SUV, without the added heft and rock-scrambling ability.
Nissan’s Rogue offers a uniquely-styled alternative to box-on-box crossovers, while one of our perennial favorites, the Honda CR-V is probably going to be seen as a bit blander. Both offer up a blend of safety, practicality and comfort, but when compared head to head, one stands (slightly) above the other.
Nissan’s Rogue, like the larger Nissan Murano, doesn’t look like any other crossover vehicle on the market. Based on the last-generation Nissan Sentra sedan, the Rogue offers the flexibility and cargo-hauling capability of a small SUV, but drives more like a sedan. In fact, those coming from a small sedan may find the Rogue to be more to their liking than many other compact crossover choices.
Under the hood, the Rogue’s sole engine option is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers 170 horsepower. With its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Rogue delivers reasonable acceleration, taking around nine seconds to run from 0-60 mph. Front-wheel-drive is standard, but all-wheel-drive is available for those who want it. Added traction comes at a price, though: in addition to raising the sticker price, all-wheel-drive lowers fuel economy by a few miles per gallon.
Inside, the Rogue offer seating that’s neither too high nor too low. The back seat is roomy enough for two adults or three children, and there’s ample cargo room for hauling the trappings of modern life. A low cargo floor makes loading and removing heavy or bulky items that much easier, adding to the Rogue’s appeal.
On the road, the Rogue delivers a comfortable ride, although some of the interior surfaces seem to transit road noise. As for safety, the Rogue has performed reasonably well overall in crash tests, but it only scored “acceptable” in IIHS roof strength tests and hasn't done well in the new IIHS small overlap test either.
The Rogue is an excellent choice for a compact crossover, but Honda has really hit the mark with the latest CR-V. We like the one-hand, one-strap rear-seat folding arrangement better than anything else in the class, and we’re glad to see that Honda has upped features and content even on base models. Both front and rear seat comfort has been improved, too, making the new CR-V one of the better vehicles in the class for road-trip comfort.
Honda has retained its familiar 2.4-liter four cylinder engine, still mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, but we say that’s a good thing. Gear ratios were made taller, in an effort to boost fuel economy, but the smooth i-VTEC engine copes without complaint. Opt for the front-wheel-drive CR-V, and you can expect to get 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway; if you choose the all-wheel-drive CR-V, those numbers drop to 22 city and 30 highway.
Cargo room is generous even with the rear seats in place. With the rear seats folded, the CR-V has a cargo floor that’s over five feet in length. It’s lower than on previous CR-V models as well, which helps loading and unloading heavier objects. Overall, the interior is a noticeable step up from previous CR-V models, and thanks to the use of double door seals, it a quieter place to spend time, too.
While the CR-V lacks driving excitement, it does deliver predictable handling and a comfortable ride. Honda’s new electric power steering helps to boost fuel economy, but that comes at the cost of reduced road feel. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is noticeable compared to previous CR-V models. That gripe aside, the new CR-V looks like it will be one of the safest vehicles in the compact crossover class, carrying on the tradition of previous CR-V models.
Either model represents an excellent choice, and we’d recommend you drive them back to back before making a purchase decision. That said, and based on fuel economy, functionality and standard features, we give the nod to the Honda CR-V.
An all-new 2014 Nissan Rogue is due later this year. It's expected to have even better interior appointments, better fuel economy, and a more refined driving feel—and it will be assembled in the U.S. (versus Japan for the current version). Will it manage to accelerate past the CR-V in family shopping lists? We'll have to see then.