Nissan Rogue Is the Automotive Industry’s Unsung Hero

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The automotive industry is like a vast ocean of really big numbers, consisting of companies selling 10 million cars per year and booking over $150 billion in revenue. Under the surface of this giant market we find glitzy halo cars that sell very little -- but garner almost all attention -- as well as unsung heroes that both sell in large volume and are growing sales at huge rates.

In the U.S. auto market today, there are few better examples of one of these unsung heroes than the Nissan Rogue.

Contrary to Tesla (TSLA), which consumes CNBC's coverage 12 hours per day, you may be forgiven if you never even heard the name Nissan Rogue.

The Rogue is Nissan's second-best selling model in the U.S., just after the Altima, and it's made right here, too, in Tennessee. In 2014, U.S. sales were 199,199, up a whopping 22.4% over 2013. So far in 2015, sales are 65,514, up an even more impressive 32% over 2014.

To put things in perspective, the U.S. auto market grew 6% in 2014, with a similar number expected for 2015. Meaning, the Nissan Rogue out-grows the U.S. auto market to the tune of four-to-five times. In Wall Street parlance, it's a growth stock, sort of like Netflix (NFLX).

The small SUV market leader is the Honda CR-V. It sold 335,019 units in the U.S. in 2014 and 102,579 so far this year. Those numbers were up 10.2% and 6.7%, respectively. In other words, the Nissan Rogue is gaining -- and at a fast clip.

The comparison with the Honda CR-V is apt from another perspective as well. The cars are a spitting image of each other, styling-wise. They look just about the same. Nobody will notice either of them, either because they are bland, too common, (or, perhaps, so poorly kept -- unwashed -- by their owners).

The Nissan Rogue starts around $24,000 but my fully loaded test car topped $32,000, typical for its class. There aren't any engine or transmission choices, so you just have to pick 4x2 or 4x4, and the equipment level.

As is typical for its class, the first thing you will notice about the car is how "right-sized" and easy to use the body is. It's not too big, and not too small. You fit five large adults and a decent amount of luggage. Thanks to the car's high hip point, it's easy to get in and out. The door openings are generous.

If you had asked me only five months ago, in late 2014, I would have said that the interior is the richest in its class, with soft-touch materials galore. However, the goal posts have shifted, and I now declare the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500x the standard bearers in terms of refinement.

Just because the Nissan Rogue isn't as rich or visually appealing as those models, however, doesn't mean that it has poor ergonomics. To the contrary: strictly speaking, in terms of the ergonomics, it's equal to the best. There is nothing confusing or annoying; zero friction points.

My new automotive pet peeve is pairing Bluetooth in order to play podcasts. Every car has to pair with all of my smartphones and related devices, and play my podcasts. This should be a basic requirement of every new car in 2015, the next step after requiring that the car starts. You would be surprised at how embarrassingly many cars fail this test. I'm looking at you, Subaru and Mercedes.

So how does the Nissan Rogue fare in this newly crucial automotive test? I give it an "A." If you're like me, that basically means you can stop reading right here. The car is good -- I need say no more.

Digging below the Bluetooth pairing test, however, I have to point out a few things. The driver's seat is generally very good, but the front of the seat cushion doesn't tilt up. When you first get in the car, you think you're tipping forward. That's a jarring feeling at first, but somehow after a couple of days, I got used to it.

The quality feel of the car is very high, as it feels very solid. This comes in part from the outstanding suspension, which manages to both feel soft for comfort, as well as firm enough to make for great handling. It's simply tuned for just the right mix of firmness and comfort. Hard to describe, I know -- but you will appreciate the feeling.

The engine is perhaps a point of slight weakness. It has barely adequate power. Nothing huge to complain about, but also not nearly as good as, for example, a Volkswagen diesel or an electric car. This also goes to the fuel economy, rated at 26 miles-per-gallon in the city and 33 on the highway. I managed only 24 in the city. Solution: diesel, please.

I found two missing features that should be a top priority for Nissan to fix. First, the car lacks support for Google's (GOOGL) Android Auto and Apple (AAPL) CarPlay. That's okay for today, as no other automaker has it either -- but it's coming, in just a couple of months from now, on some cars. Second, even a $13,000 Chevrolet Spark comes with 4G LTE WiFi connectivity as standard. It should be standard on every single Nissan as well.

My expectations when I got into the Nissan Rogue were low. It's not a car that gets much attention, and one never hears anything about it, despite its huge sales and record-breaking growth rates.

I came to like the car a lot. It may be the biggest upside surprise of the last several months, after the Volvo V60, which was shockingly good. Other than the lack of compatibility with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, I can't find a single reason not to recommend this car. It has zero friction points, and will satisfy a broad range of consumers. The sales statistics show that the market agrees.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held AAPL and was short TSLA.

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