For 2014, the Rogue has upped its game with more distinctive styling, more comfortable and practical seating arrangements and improved fuel economy. They constitute basic motherhood issues for this segment that absolutely factor into the purchasing decision process.

It was cold out there. Like, 15 below, with blowing snow and darkening skies in the heart of Quebecís Laurentian mountains just north of Montreal. And there we were, sampling Nissanís 2014 Rogue compact wagon.

The second-generation Rogue follows a pattern established by the original 2008 model-year version. Although a Nissan success story, the Rogue is kept at bay by the league-leading Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Chevrolet Equinox.

For 2014, the Rogue has upped its game with more distinctive styling, more comfortable and practical seating arrangements and improved fuel economy. They constitute basic motherhood issues for this segment that absolutely factor into the purchasing decision process.

Visually, the Tennessee-built Rogue swaps out its Murano-like egg-carton grille for one thatís a whole lot bolder. Itís part of a new front end with added folds and creases for the hood and fenders, an enlarged lower air intake and fancy jewellike headlight pods ringed with standard LED (Light Emitting Diode) running lights. Added blacked-out rocker and fender-opening trim contribute to the more aggressive design.

At the opposite end, the rear window and side glass are squared-off, and the taillights are enlarged and repositioned above the fender line for improved style and visibility.

What isnít visible is the Rogueís all-new platform thatís developed with Nissanís cross-ownership partner Renault. The Rogueís dimensions actually vary little from the original architecture, with just a 0.6-inch stretch between the front and rear wheels and similarly small increases in width and body height.

Inside, Nissan increased the Rogueís load capacity by about 20 percent, thanks to a new fold-flat passenger seat. Overall interior volume is increased by about 10 percent.

Nissan now offers a third-row seating option for the Rogue, which makes it the only small ute in its class outside of the Mitsubishi Outlander with the capacity to transport up to seven passengers. Access is secured by sliding the split-folding second-row bench forward up to 9 inches.

The remaining restyled cabin area is a place of comfort and joy, especially the restyled dash/control panel layout and the NASA-inspired Zero Gravity front seats (similar to the ones in the Nissan Altima sedan). They really do the trick on extended trips, especially with the optional progressive quick-heat system that warms the thighs and hips before extending warmth to other body areas.

Returning is a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Itís connected to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that now performs more like a traditional automatic in operation and performance. A redesigned belt and pulley system plus a sport-mode switch for the driver sharpens transmission operation and throttle response.

The improved CVT helps bump fuel economy to 26 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway (25/32 for AWD models), compared to 22/28 on previous Rogues (22/26 for AWD).

Various traction and control aids make winter tripping tolerable. The $1,350 all-wheel-drive option ó a must-have for snow-bound buyers ó redirects engine torque from the front to the rear, or to individual wheels, as necessary. The AWD can also be locked in 50:50 mode (front/back) at speeds below 25 mph.

Other safety and comfort systems can be brought into play on the Rogue, such as Active Ride Control that uses the brakes and engine torque to help smooth rough-road jounces, Active Trace Control that applies the inner or outer brakes as needed for more directionally precise cornering and Active Engine Braking that automatically reduces engine torque to help slow down the vehicle while youíre using the brake pedal.

Options include a power-adjustable driverís panorama sunroof and Around View Monitor that shows a birdís-eye view of whatís going on around you. Also optional is a leather interior and a navigation system, which inflates the Rogueís $23,350 base price, but allows buyers to take the luxury route whether heading to and from work, or heading outdoors.

Base price: $23,350