By Brendan McAleer
While a rainy day isn’t convenient for photography and tends to snarl traffic up somewhat, it does provide a good backdrop for some real-world testing. What’s more, the two crossovers we have here today aren’t just about sunny days – these are the sort of vehicles that have more or less replaced the four-door sedan as the mainstay of Kenyan families. They have to be good when the sun refuses to come out, and the heavens open to reveal rainfall.
The Nissan Rogue and the Honda CR-V were two of the top performing cars in the crossover test shootout, which exposed them to a traditional Kenyan landscape and use. In truth, we won’t be able to separate them much on looks – the CR-V’s front lights appear better than the Rogue’s dotty LEDs, but neither one of us liked the Honda’s slightly hunchbacked three-quarter view.
Ride, Performance, and Handling
Honda makes good driver’s cars—it’s been said many, many times both on motoring sites and car journalism catalogues. They put a focus on making good driver’s cars out of the lowliest hatchbacks, and we love them for that.
You sit a little higher in the CR-V than you do the Rogue, actually, but after that, the way the just-right-sized wheel falls into your hands and the way the gear lever protrudes from the centre console—Civic SiR style—is just right.
Then, as you begin to proceed (in either “D”, “S” or “L”; I was happy to find the CR-V’s CVT transmission has all three, where the Rogue just gets “D” and “L”), the fantastic linearity of the drive experience makes itself felt pretty quickly.
That nicely sized wheel I talked about? Well, it connects you to a wonderfully responsive steering rack. Indeed, some drivers may find it almost a little too lively—almost nervous—but I’ll take that over a mushy, overly assisted power steering setup any day of the week.
For its part, though, the Rogue does hold its own. Yes, it doesn’t feel quite as granular as the CR-V does, but the 170-hp, 175 lb-ft four banger (the Honda makes 185 and 181, respectively) does well enough to perform passing manoeuvres at highway speeds with little concern. Thankfully, while not quite as lively as that which is found in the CR-V, the Rogue’s CVT doesn’t apply the shackles too heavily to the powertrain.
After that, we move on to one of the true strengths of the Rogue, and that’s the ride. Actually, it’s the ride and passenger comfort in general; in the comfort department, you get the NASA-developed Zero Gravity seats, designed to better focus on back and hip support. The Honda’s seats are quite firm by comparison, and almost hard. What the Rogue gives up to the CR-V in handling, it earns back in overall ride quality, which is just a little less brittle, a little more confidence-inspiring than the CR-V.
If you do want a little more “sport” to go with your “utility”, then go ahead and select “S” on the CR-V’s gate. It allows the transmission to hang on to revs a little longer, and is more ready to “shift down” (basically selecting a lower virtual ratio, as there are no gears to shift between in a CVT). There’s also “L” in each car for better performance when climbing hills or in adverse conditions. It’s the Honda that comes closest to making you forget that you’re driving a CVT at all. The larger power figures help here, too.
Comfort and Utility
It doesn’t take an expert to feel the difference between these two. In fact, I could probably pick these out blindfolded, like a sommelier sniffing out the difference between Cabernet and Merlot.
The Rogue is the comfort champion here – love at first sit. The so-called Zero Gravity seats are genuinely comfortable, and you feel as if you’re sitting in them, rather than atop them. The Honda’s seats aren’t exactly church pews, but they’re much harder, and perhaps a little short in the bottom cushion. We will award some points back to Honda for the memory positions on the driver’s side, but if long trips are going to be part of daily life, the Nissan is just better.
Utility is more of a mixed bag, with the CR-V the leader here. Its trunk is uncluttered and spacious, and if you own a dog, the low loading height will be a bonus. The Honda’s trick folding seats again beg the question, “Why isn’t everyone copying these guys?”
In many ways, the differences between the cars feels like that between the old Nissan Versa Note and the Honda Fit, where the Honda had practicality mastered, and the Nissan offered French levels of comfort, perhaps as a result of their relationship with Renault.
However, the Rogue has several tricks out back, including a folding multi-level floor that would be especially useful for young families. The two-level split makes separate spaces for strollers and for other gear, so that frequently unloading larger items doesn’t mean unpacking everything from the trunk. Also, the Rogue has a pass-through for its folding seats, so while the Honda’s rear seats are cleverer, the Rogue does offer some additional flexibility.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came when it was time to fit a child seat in the back of each car. We started with the Rogue, and after two full minutes of cursing, we called it. There’s a design flaw here in the Nissan, one that makes quick release attachments an absolute bear. The problem seems to be that the latch anchors into which the car seat is meant to clip have a fair amount of fabric right up to the ends. The child seat’s clasps wouldn’t click, although I was eventually able to wriggle one into place once I figured out what the issue was. If you’re considering a Rogue, make sure you test fit your car seat to see if a similar issue arises. The CR-V had no such problems, and the seat was properly installed in under thirty seconds.
When it comes to comparing the pros and cons of each vehicle, it doesn’t get much easier than this.
The infotainment system found in the CR-V is the perfect example of too much tech for the sake of it. It’s mainly a touchscreen setup, but unlike the item found in the Honda Fit, there are some redundant buttons on the left-hand side of the screen, but they are so small that they take more than a cursory glance to decipher. And, even when you do locate the button you want, the button is so small that making an accurate press can be a challenge.
The touchscreen itself is large and responsive enough, but again, it takes too long to do anything. Say you’re on the navigation screen, and you want to change your audio source. First, you have to hit the “menu” button (part of the small column of buttons we talked about earlier). Then, you revert to the touchscreen, and select “audio”. Then, after that, you can finally select the audio source you want. The CR-V’s upmarket cousin, the Acura RDX, has a button for AM/FM, and a button for satellite radio, right there on the dash. Why can’t the CR-V have this?
There are a couple of knobs for the climate control system, of which I really am a fan; the frustrating part is, all it would take is two extra buttons and an extra knob to alleviate all these issues.
Take the Rogue, for example. The screen is the same size, and it’s integrated into the centre stack smoothly and in a low-profile way, just like it is in the CR-V. The CR-V does have steering wheel–mounted controls for some of this, but that doesn’t help your passenger at all, and when it comes to navigating radio stations, well, I’d say that’s the passenger’s job, should there be one.
What I will say in the CR-V’s favour in the tech department, however, is that it has memory seating where the Rogue doesn’t, and it has a seven-speaker-plus-subwoofer premium audio system, which sounds fantastic and more like it comes from a luxury vehicle.
It’s fantastic, but it doesn’t save the CR-V from having its clock cleaned by the Rogue in this category, and that’s before we even discuss the optional Around View monitor, which provides all sorts of great cameras to help you park and manoeuvre at low speeds in tight areas. Yes, the CR-V adds the blind spot monitoring system that turns your infotainment screen into a blind-spot camera, but the Around View monitor is the more integral service, and takes less getting used to than the blind-spot camera does. Plus, the way the actual camera for said system hangs off the far-side wing mirror and gives the impression of an unsightly growth of some sort. Can’t they better integrate the camera into the mirror housing?
Value and Economy
As you see, there’s a certain amount of give and take in what features are available in both vehicles, but as both are top-of-the-line cars from mainstream Japanese manufacturers, you’d expect them to price out very competitively. It’s somewhat a surprise then that the Rogue looks like such a good deal and is slightly cheaper than the CR-V.
Then again, most people will aim for more mid-level versions of these two, so let’s pit the volume-selling Rogue SV against the CR-V SE. Both cars here have useful standard features like heated front seats, keyless ignition, all-wheel drive and alloy wheels, but the Rogue comes with a panoramic sunroof. Bump up your CR-V budget to an EX, and the price-competitive Nissan could be outfitted with its useful navigation system, Around View monitor, a power tailgate, and even a fold-away third row seat.
In short, Nissan has Honda on the ropes for value. However, Honda is easily the equal of Toyota in terms of resale in Kenya over the years; especially the CR-V. The public perception of the CR-V has been firmly entrenched over nearly twenty years, and while Nissan has been putting out solid products of late, you will likely see a bigger percentage of your outlay back on resale for the vehicle with the H-badge on its nose.
Moving to something we can measure, namely fuel economy, our 100-odd km drive route included both hilly highway and stop-and-go right through the CBD. Official ratings for the CR-V are 9.1 L/100 km city and 7.2 L/100 km highway; we achieved 9.0 L/100 km real-world. Official ratings for the Rogue are 9.5 L/100 km city and 7.4 L/100 km highway; we achieved 10.6 L/100 km. That’s a narrow win for the CR-V, which also did very well real-world in the larger seven-car test.
It’s almost as if the similar looks displayed by these two cars predicted the outcome of this comparison; that outcome being that these two are so similar, it’s almost a wash between them.
However, we do have to pick a winner, and that car, has to be the CR-V, with a strong nod to Honda’s brand equity and the resale value it presents.
It was tough though; when the Honda’s attitude through the curves impressed us, the Rogue’s mature attitude on the highway answered. Where the Honda’s wonderful audio enchanted our ears, the Rogue’s ease of usability almost made the CR-V’s seven-speaker system a non-factor. Where the Rogue’s smart Divide-n-Hide rear cargo system impressed us, the way the bottom cushions of the CR-V’s rear seat collapsed into the footwell, and the seatbacks folded flat, all with a single tug on an easy-to-reach tab impressed us just the same.
In the end, though, Brendan probably put it best: “The Rogue is a car I’d like to drive over a long distance, and the CR-V is a car I’d like to own for a long time.”
The bottom line? These are two excellent vehicles, and be sure to give them both a try before you buy.
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain
Pricing: 2015 Honda CR-V Touring
Base Price: $36,540
Price as Tested: $38,335
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain
Pricing: 2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD
Base Price: $31,298
Options: Premium Package – $2,800 (LED Headlights with auto-levelling, power slide/recline front passenger seat, power liftgate, welcome lighting, four-way power front passenger seat, Bose audio w/nine speakers and two subwoofers, radio data system, speed-sensitive volume control, Nissan Navigation System, Srius XM w/traffic, Around View monitor, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, moving object detection, forward collision warning); Metallic/Pearl paint – $135
Price as Tested: $36,083