Big bad gas-swillers – the fabulously excessive autos of my youth – appear to be fading faster than my tie-dyed T-shirts.
They don’t sputter alone. Muscle-cars – sweet beasts at one time — seem to also be losing their snorting, asphalt-shredding, beer-and-beans appeal.
Even icons like the Corvette and Mustang struggle with falling sales, which strikes me as darn near un-American.
The hard, cold truth is most consumers want tallish utilitarian vehicles now like the 2017 Nissan Rogue crossover I had recently – not feel-good cars with 400 horsepower.
Still, isn’t that a bit like choosing between a woman who wears practical, rubber-soled librarian’s shoes and the dangerous one in five-inch stilettos?
Personally, I don’t mind crushed toes.
Oh, well. At least my black Rogue Sport SL looked pretty good for a high-riding, two-box, mini station-wagon of sorts – a true cute ute, for whatever that’s worth.
Nissan introduced the second generation of the Rogue just three years ago and gave it a slight refreshing for 2017 – probably in response to the pitched sales-battles it wages with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
In fact, the Rogue has become Nissan’s top-selling vehicle, with dealers moving nearly 196,000 of them in the first half of this year – a whopping 31.4 percent increase over 2016.
Even I must admit that the little ute shimmers with a sort of puppy cuteness.
Mine sported a typical Nissan chrome horseshoe grille flanked by fairly bold two-projector headlamps that added some spice.
Moreover, the Rogue’s sloping hood had just enough lines on its edges to be interesting, matched by sharp character lines that tightened up its sides.
Like most modern vehicles, the Rogue offered short overhangs front and rear, giving it an appropriately athletic stance.
Meanwhile, a rakish top with short rear pillars worked well visually with fairly large 19-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/45 rubber.
It all looked pretty sporty.
I just wish the Rogue – which is far better-styled than Nissan’s awkward, angular Altima and Maxima sedans – didn’t feel so much like a fine container without much content.
The $31,000 Rogue I had struggled with a base 2-liter, 141-horsepower four-cylinder diminished further by a continuously variable belt-and-pulley “transmission,” the infamous CVT.
With nearly 3,700 porky pounds to contend with, the little engine worked reasonably well in city driving, where its modest torque (147 lb.-ft.) could push the Rogue smoothly to 40 mph or so.
However, it could generate only sluggish acceleration above 40, requiring 10 seconds to hit 60 mph, the slowest vehicle in the compact crossover segment, according to Car and Driver.
Its fuel economy was pretty average as well, rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway – which suggests to me that the engine labors some to move the Rogue.
The weak engine was especially disappointing since the Rogue rides on a solid, well-designed platform that provided a commendable mix of comfort and handling.
The steering, for example, felt light and positive, making the Rogue seem almost flingable for a mini-SUV.
Though limited by average tires, the Rogue turned into corners athletically with slight lean, striving to be nimble and zippy.
While I wouldn’t recommend trying to chase Porsches down in a Rogue, decent handling proved to be one of its virtues.
Likewise, the ride was pretty good for a short-wheelbase vehicle with all-wheel-drive. Although the Rogue could get fidgety and busy on bad pavement, it felt reassuringly firm on the smoother stuff.
I also give the Rogue pretty high marks for its interior – something you don’t necessarily expect in a $31,000 vehicle.
Textured black plastic, for instance, covered the vehicle’s graceful dashboard, which curved over a center-stack dominated by a 7-inch display screen.
Buttons and knobs controlled the climate and stereo systems – thank you — and somewhere stuffed behind the stack were a host of nannies that included active cruise control, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Meanwhile, light-gray seats with perforated and sectioned centers offered a dash of luxury, complementing door panels that also were mostly gray.
Head- and leg-room in back was fine for altitude-challenged people like me, but would likely be a tight fit for a six-footer.
What Nissan has created with the hot-selling Rogue is a compelling crossover in search of a better engine.
If I’m stroking a check monthly on some vehicle, I want it to make me grin every now and then.
The Rogue really needs more smiles per gallon.