Enthusiasts always look for something fun in a car. Something exciting, adrenaline-boosting; something that makes a car rewarding. Things like good steering feedback, a willing and fun engine, and that special something that makes you want to drive.
But not every situation requires such characteristics; rather, sometimes a vehicle needs to simply be comfortable, efficient, spacious, and reliable– that is, it simply needs to be a vehicle. Take, for example, a Columbus Day weekend road trip from Connecticut down to Washington, D.C. and back– a drive necessitating cargo space, forgiving seats, and an automatic transmission to make tolerable sitting in the inevitable holiday traffic.
With my own stable of a manual-trans/low-on-cargo-space WRX and a parking-garage-and-gas-mileage-unfriendly 4Runner not fitting the bill, we turned the task on my then-girlfriend/now-fiancé’s new-to-her 2013 Nissan Rogue.
How’d the Rogue do, and how was my first proper adventure to our nation’s capital? Read on to find out.
Disclaimer: in an attempt to stay free-and-clear of the room full of rakes that is political discussion, I’m avoiding it entirely. This is simply the story of a vacation to Washington D.C.; nothing more, nothing less.
Back in May my significant other started and, very shortly thereafter, finished her car hunt by purchasing a certified pre-owned 2013 Nissan Rogue. Unlike me, and better chances not unlike you as well, her list of wants and needs was fairly limited: crossover height, all-wheel-drive, safety, good gas mileage, comfortable, and reliable. That is to say, she was the traditional car shopper in that her vehicular choice would serve as transportation from Point A to Point B and the car need serve little and few other purposes.
Of course I tried to sway her the way of a CX-3/CX-5 or even the light-on-its-feet Honda HR-V, but her prior car being a Sentra combined with a depreciation curve that very much favors the second buyer all indicated the way of the Nissan Rogue. Alas, a nearly-fully-loaded 2013 model made its way home to our parking garage one night in May and (knock on wood) has proven to be flawless transportation since. The Rogue both looks and feels brand new aside from one strange hollow noise (that in no way affects driveability), and will hopefully continue to be as good going forward as it already has been.
Prior to the recent D.C. road trip I had already spent quite a bit of time in the Rogue, and, though I don’t love it the way I do other cars, it has yet to infuriate me as so many other cars have. Sure, it could use a bit more power and a transmission that doesn’t occupy itself hunting for non-existent gears like it prefers to preoccupy itself with pretending to accelerate rather than actually doing so, but all-in-all it does just fine in that it never asks anything of you and gets you where you need to go whenever you ask it to.
And so when it came to deciding which of our three (four? Does the MR2 count?) cars would transport us down to the capital city it would be the Rogue. Such would be the Nissan’s first road trip under our care and given the circumstances it seemed the logical choice. So we loaded up the Nissan, set Google Maps for Washington, D.C., and set off, compass indicating south.
So how is the prior-gen Nissan Rogue? Let’s address the enthusiast concerns and qualms first: steering feel is completely non-existent, in turn favoring one-handed maneuverability, which does in turn make it well-suited to parking, navigating I-95 mid-rush-hour traffic, and pulling an about-face when lost in an unfamiliar city. Cornering reveals a tendency towards– really, a fixation on– understeer, which you’d be right to expect.
And then there’s the topic of the powertrain. The Rogue’s wheezy engine is only accentuated and undermined by the loose, detached-feeling CVT backing it, but, again, this car is focused on usability for the average “my car is basic transportation” buyer, not light-your-hair-on-fire thrills. In short, the powertrain sucks and is the only thing I genuinely dislike about the Rogue. Now that I’ve outed my “issues” in form of its dynamic incompetencies, let’s get to what actually matters for this little Nissan.
Should you make a list of the three most important road trip car qualities, what might those be? In my mind, for this adventure at least, said list is comprised of: comfort, fuel economy, and an easy-to-drive nature. We will revisit this shortly.
The drive down to D.C. was brutal: what should have taken four-and-a-half to five hours took over seven courtesy of holiday-weekend congestion. But we made it, and the Rogue got us there around 1AM just in time to run out of energy (us, not the car). Even in the late hours of our drive, the Rogue felt competent on the road, and even substantial…that is, until we saw the massive expanse of our nation’s capital, which is impressive even late at night.
In D.C. we mostly left the Rogue parked outside our hotel, allowing it to bask in the lack of glory that is the far outskirts of the city. But when we did need the Nissan, it did everything we wanted in being easy to parallel park, easy to maneuver, easy to see out of, and simply easy to use. It shuttled us around with ease, its relatively compact dimensions just the right size for the streets of our nation’s capital.
Oh, and what an interesting place D.C. is. In this time of turmoil, it’s a divided city with people at odds such that it is evident throughout. But, despite this, it was still a wholly enjoyable time sight-seeing and exploring the main attractions and the divey, away-from-tourist spots alike. Sights seen included the Capitol Building, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, other assorted pieces of government infrastructure, the Botanical Gardens, the Smithsonian Museum, the International Spy Museum, and, of course, a wide variety of restaurants, bars, breweries, and less-sightly, more local-frequented spots within the city’s limits.
It was quite a lot of walking, moving about, and traveling– even being that stayed in D.C. itself the whole time– but I enjoyed every minute of it short of a couple very questionable Uber rides. If I can recommend one thing to do, that is unquestionably to visit the main strip (Capitol Building, Washington Monument, and especially the Lincoln Memorial) at midnight or later; the statues and such take on an ambiance that simply is not present during daylight or under heavy traffic, and everything feels much more real and important in the silence. As far as I’m concerned, “Memorials at Midnight” is a mandatory must-do.
With the weekend winding down, we hastily re-packed our belongings and ourselves into the Rogue for the northbound return drive home, the duration of which was even longer than that southward, but the Nissan accomplished such just as handily. Nearly eight hours after departing the District of Columbia, we finally arrived home.
A few notes on my impressions of the Rogue having spent the better part of twenty hours in it over four days: All-in-all the little Nissan did excellent, proving its worth as a road trip vehicle through its ability to make you not hate yourself amidst the worst of adventure conditions. Cargo space, though not in abundance, is aplenty. On the contrary, however, is the lack of easy-to-reach pocket storage in the driver/passenger area; it’s glovebox, cupholders, or door pockets if you want to stash something up front, and while that sounds like a lot, there is a severe lack of cell-phone-pockets or wallet-holders and it shows when you have nowhere to put a snack or the technology you’re using along the way. Ultimately though, as a commuter this isn’t a problem, but it can cause issue when driving longer lengths.
Comfort is where the Rogue excels. Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats provide genuine long-stint comfort and, paired with strong butt-warmers, you never tire of sitting in them. The Rogue is also quite easy to drive thanks to its quietness (aside from the near-painful CVT hum) and pothole-soaking ride quality. Gas mileage was a positive as well, returning a computer-indicated ~30+ MPG over our journey.
Of course I have my qualms with the Rogue; it’s in my enthusiast nature to feel so towards a small-ish crossover that isn’t named Macan. But for its intended purpose, the Nissan CUV does everything it intends to quite well. I’ve come to be somewhat fond of it, and my fiancé certainly loves it. Factor in that it’s safe, reliable (thus far), conquers road trips with aplomb, and that she actually cares enough about the car to make it clear how she feels about it…and that’s good enough for me.