The 2008 Rogue is Nissan's first entry in the increasingly crowded compact SUV/ crossover utility-vehicle market and has racy styling to match its rather theatrical name.
The refined Rogue comes in base S and higher-line SL versions with front or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $19,250 for the front-drive S, which costs $20,450 with all-wheel drive. They end at $21,870 for the SL with all-wheel-drive. The front-drive SL is $20,670. I tested an S with all-wheel drive
Even the S is fairly well-equipped, with items including air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD audio system, split/fold rear bench seat and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry.
The SL has more standard features and can be had with options not offered for the S. Major SL options include an $800 moonroof and an $1,800 Leather Package, which contains a power driver's seat and heated leather-covered seats.
Standard safety items for all models include front side air bags and curtain side air bags for both seating rows.
All models have a smooth, sophisticated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and shoots power through a responsive, continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
You can get the CVT with optional steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but they're not really needed because the Rogue only weighs about 3,400 pounds and thus has lively acceleration without the need for manual shifting.
(A CVT has no "set" number of gear ratios, but some automakers give such a transmission electronically fake ratios so those accustomed to manual transmissions are more comfortable with this fairly new type of transmission. The Rogue thus has six preset ratios that mimic a conventional transmission's ratios.)
Estimated fuel economy with front-drive is 22 mpg in the city and 27 on highways. The figures are 21 and 26 with the versatile all-wheel drive system. That isn't much of a mileage hardship considering the added traction provided by such a system.
The Rogue is an easy 70 mph highway cruiser that effortlessly swallows miles. Its 65-75 mph passing speed is brisk, as is acceleration to highway cruising speeds.
The Rogue is fun to drive. It acts much like a car because it's based on Nissan's Sentra compact sedan. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering is quick and easy, and the all-independent suspension provides a ride that is firm but compliant.
Handling is steady, although it doesn't like to be pushed too hard because of its front-heavy (60 percent) weight distribution. Stability and traction control systems help keep the Rogue on the road in dicey conditions.
The brake pedal has the right amount of firmness and linear action, and the anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution provide safe stopping distances.
This new Nissan offers the room expected in a nicely designed compact SUV/crossover. Four tall adults fit comfortably. The rear seat is especially roomy in head room and legroom, but the high, hard center of the back seat makes it comfortable for only two adults back there.
The floor is a little higher than a car's, so it takes extra effort to get in. But door handles are large and front door openings are wide. However, rear openings should be wider for easier entry and exit. At least interior handles for all doors also are large because Nissan didn't give in to the temptation of making them more stylish than practical.
The interior looks good, with decent plastics and metallic trim. It's quiet even at 70 mph, and controls for the sound and climate control systems are conveniently large. The driver's power window controls are nicely located on the door, and the dual console cupholders are unusually deep to handle oversized beverage containers.
A simple-but-nice touch is a pull-down hook on the back of the front passenger seat that can hold such items as a jacket, purse or dry cleaning.
A manual-tilt wheel helps drivers of various sizes get comfortable. But the curiously styled fuel and coolant temperature gauges are way too small, although the speedometer and tachometer are large. The plastic pullout rear cupholders look sturdy but are set low near the floor at the rear of the front console.
Many glove boxes can't house much more than the owner's manual, but the Rogue's glove compartment is oversized. Front doors have storage pockets.
The cargo opening is low and wide for simple loading, and the large cargo area is as impressive as the roomy seating areas, especially with the rear seatbacks flipped forward. Moreover, there's no narrow pass-through opening between the cargo and rear-seat areas to hamper or prevent loading large cargo.
A fairly deep covered area below the rear of the cargo floor allows you to conceal stuff, besides providing an area for wet or dirty items.
New Rogue owners who haven't looked at the owner's manual might search in vain for a while to find the hood prop. That's because it's on the underside of the hood instead of being conventionally located low and near the radiator. But the sideways-mounted engine allows plenty of room under the hood for easily reached fluid filler areas.
The stylish, practical Rogue is a good first try for Nissan and should do well in its rookie year.
2008 NISSAN ROGUE
LIKES: Racy styling. Roomy. Quick. Good ride and handling. Available all-wheel drive.
DISLIKES: Narrow rear door openings. Moderately high step-in. Popular options not offered for base model.