Nissan's popular compact crossover, the Rogue, returns for 2013 with a starting price of $22,310 for the base S model with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission.
There's also an all-wheel-drive version of the entry trim level, beginning at $23,610.
These are among the lowest prices on the market for a vehicle in this burgeoning class, making it quite a value for consumers looking for a top-quality product that's easy on the budget.
This is the last year of the current generation of the Rogue, whose production moves to the United States from Japan next year as the redesigned model arrives for 2014.
But there's really no reason to wait if you're in need of a vehicle now, as the 2013 version offers everything a young family or couple -- or even empty-nest baby boomers -- could want in a smooth, comfortable and very carlike utility vehicle.
Prices range as high as $28,650 for the top-of-the-line SV front-drive model with the feature-laden SL Package, or $29,950 for this model the SL add-ons and all-wheel drive.
For 2013, changes include an upgraded Special Edition Package for the base S model, which brings such extras as a Bluetooth hands-free phone system and two additional speakers, for a total of six, to last year's package.
This package also includes a premium AM/FM/CD/Satellite audio system with a 4.3-inch color display and USB connectivity; steering-wheel audio controls; backup camera system; 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; fog lights; and privacy glass.
Nissan says it's a savings of $1,500 over what it would cost to add each of these items separately to the base model, and allows consumers to dress up the entry-level Rogue quite economically.
A new Premium Edition Package is available on the SV models, bringing a Bose seven-speaker audio system with subwoofer; fog lights; a navigation system with five-inch color touch screen and XM NavTraffic capability; automatic climate control; a power moon roof; and automatic headlights.
The Rogue competes against such vehicles as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Outback. But the Rogue is the most car-like of the group, as well as the most fuel-efficient.
Under the hood of all models is a 2.5-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine, rated at 170 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque, connected to the continuously variable transmission, or CVT. It has no discernible shift points, so transmission and engine are matched at all times for the best efficiency and fuel economy.
EPA ratings are 22 mpg city/28 highway with front-wheel drive, and 22/26 with the optional all-wheel drive.
We tested the SV front-drive model with the SL Package. It includes Nissan's very cool Around View Monitor, which uses cameras on each of the vehicle's four sides to create a virtual bird's-eye view on the dash screen as though you're looking down on the vehicle from above. It's great when you're navigating through tight spaces or trying to park.
Other extras in the SL Package include leather seats and steering wheel, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a power/glass sliding moon roof, fog lights, the Bose premium audio system, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic high-intensity-discharge headlights, and heated front seats and outside mirrors.
The SL Package essentially creates a new trim level, and with it also comes a rear exterior "SL" badge to identify it as such.
Our vehicle also had splash guards and a floor-mat/cargo-protector package.
Introduced for 2008, the Rogue has become one of Nissan's best-selling vehicles. And you don't have to upgrade to the higher levels to have a well-equipped Rogue.
Standard even on the S model are such features as an iPod connection, six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, illuminated vanity mirrors and, of course, air conditioning, power windows and door locks with remote control, and cruise control.
There is room for five in the Rogue, although the middle position on the rear bench seat is best left to a small child or a child seat.
Front passengers are quite comfortable in the bucket seats; rear outboard riders have plenty of space, too, if they're average size or smaller.
Folding down the rear seatback, which has a 60/40 split, can expand that area significantly. The front passenger seatback also folds down to accommodate long items, such as snow skis.
The Rogue has ample power for everyday driving, especially when the car isn't fully loaded. Power is delivered smoothly through the CVT, even on hills. Handling is more like that of a compact sport sedan than a utility vehicle, and steering is tight and precise.
Nissan says the all-wheel drive is designed primarily for driving on wet and slippery roads, including snow, but it offers better traction on gravel and other unpaved road surfaces, as well in tight turns on fun roads like those you'll find in the Hill Country.
But the system is not designed for serious off-road driving, as there is no transfer case for low-range gearing, and the Rogue has limited ground clearance.
The backup-camera system is standard on the SV model. On the S model, 16-inch steel wheels are standard; the SV models come with 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
Among other SV standard amenities are a six-way power driver's seat, four-way manual passenger seat, cloth seats, manual tilt steering wheel, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, the illuminated visor mirrors, dual front and rear cupholders, front door map pockets, front seatback map pockets, dual overhead map lights, a front center console with armrest and storage cubbies, and two 12-volt power outlets.
The truly cool Around-View Monitor was added for 2012 -- and the Rogue is the first non-luxury vehicle to get this feature, formerly found only in some of the Infiniti models. (Infiniti is Nissan's premium brand.)
The Around-View Monitor uses four separate cameras -- one in front and back, one on each side-view mirror, to project a 360-degree overhead view of the car and its surroundings on the navigation screen.