Nissan Rogue shows well in the small crossover race

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Nissan for years has featured SUVs in its lineup. It was an early provider of sport utility vehicles, not a latecomer as were some of its Japanese and European counterparts.

The mid-sized Pathfinder has been around for decades and has become a favorite of thousands. The futuristic Murano crossover has enjoyed success and is now in its second iteration. The rugged Xterra has found a big off-road audience since the turn of the century. And the giant-sized Armada provides a choice to Nissan buyers who want a big SUV and desire to stay loyal to the brand.

But there’s been a gaping hole in the Nissan SUV crossover lineup. As the compact segment exploded a few years ago, Nissan sat on the sidelines ceding hundreds of thousands of sales to Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford.

That all changed in the fall of 2007 when it introduced the smallish Rogue, a stylish, rounded platform mate to the compact Sentra sedan.

Our first experience with the Rogue came in a modestly outfitted 2009 SL. We can report favorably. The Rogue is well done exhibiting excellent build quality and acceptable fit and finish. It is endowed with adequate
power yet among the most fuel efficient in the segment. It possesses a quiet, comfortable interior. It’s well priced. And it’s stylishly good looking, a smaller version of the more upscale Murano.

But the small compact crossover segment is loaded with good products including the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-7, Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Escape.

While we liked the Rogue, it brings nothing dramatically new to the segment even though it’s a late comer. So making big inroads against these vaunted competitors is no easy task, and the Rogue does have some downsides, not the least of which is a 58-cubic-foot cargo area, one of the smallest in the segment.

For instance the RAV4, CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander all have 73 cubic feet behind the first-row seats and all have about 36 feet behind the second-row seats compared to the Rogue’s 29 cubic feet.

But if space is not paramount in your transportation needs, and you don’t need a third-row seat, the Rogue has adequate room for the daily requirements of a four-person family.

And don’t get us started on the third-row seat complaint. It seems there are some critics these days who rate anything with a crossover designation lacking a third row seat regardless of size as deficient. We say, if you want and need a third row, there are many well-regarded mid-sized offerings available. Stuffing a diminutive third row in a small vehicle is idiotic.
While we figure catching up to the established players in the segment the first year out is virtually impossible regardless of the product, sales figures show that Nissan has struck a positive note with customers.

In one of the roughest sales climates in decades, for 2008, Nissan sold 73,053 Rogues in its first full year. That’s commendable, but still a far cry from the CR-V at 197,000, Escape at 157,000 and RAV4 at 137,000, but far ahead of the Mazda CX-7 at 27,000 and the Outlander at 13,500.

The Nissan has just one engine choice, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque mated to a continuously variable transmission (CRT), making it more than capable out on the highway and climbing through mountain passes.

We think Nissan’s decision to forego a V-6 option in these times of volatile gas prices is a good one. Honda has proven that the lack of a V-6 in its CR-V is no detriment.

While we are not fans of the CVT, Nissan has put much of its transmission resources into the shiftless technology and has come as close to doing it right as any manufacturer. Most people, once they get used to no shift points, won’t give the transmission another thought.

The Rogue comes in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive. The two-wheel- drive Rogue we tested performed adequately in all phases of driving. The drive is smooth and comfortable with a nice center on feel; and while not an off the line speed demon it has been measured at around 9 seconds in 0-to-60 timing.

We say if you don’t need all-wheel drive, there are several reasons for avoiding it. For instance, you will save $1,200 on the purchase price, you will get one more mile to the gallon in both city and highway driving (22 city, 27 highway vs. 21/26), and the nearly 200- pound weight savings will show up in the engine’s performance.

The interior is relatively nice place although the dashboard is made up of a considerable amount of hard plastics. That being said, the execution is first rate and the well-placed controls are intuitive and soft to the touch. An interestingly, for a small vehicle you won’t feel cramped – it feels bigger and that is comforting.

Our test vehicle did not include the optional leather package, and that’s OK because it gave us a chance to experience the nice looking and comfortable cloth seats.

Where the Rogue slips a bit is the area behind the front seats.

As we noted above, cargo space because of the stylish sloping roof — form over function if you will — is not up to segment standards, and while quite comfortable up front, rear passenger space is just adequate and legroom is not as good as most of the competition.

Also, the rear seatbacks do not recline and there is no provision for the seats moving fore and aft as in many of the vehicles in the segment. That being said, the rear seats themselves are comfortable and the seatback rake is tolerable.

Another result of the good looking, rakish exterior design is poor rearward visibility. You really need to set those outside mirrors correctly, and use them.
The Rogue comes in just two trim levels, S and SL, starting at $20,980 including destination charge for front-wheel drive. The upscale SL begins at $22,590 for 2WD.

Standard features include air conditioning, full power equipment, keyless entry, a four-speaker audio system with CD player, and cruise control. If you want options you will have to move up to the SL trim. Only a very few options are available on the base trim.

There are two big bundled packages on the SL. Our test car came with the $1,930 premium package, which includes foglights, a nice-sounding Bose audio system with satellite radio and keyless ignition. Our test car also included a moonroof as a stand-alone option, and an unusual feature, a portable Garmin navigation system for $540. The leather package is another $1,930 option, but was not included on our vehicle. Bottom line on our SL test car was $26,120.

If you are a Nissan loyalist and you are in the market for a small crossover you won’t go wrong with the Rogue. And we think it good enough to be included on everyone’s shopping list.


Base price: $20,980; as tested, $26,120
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 175 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: continuously variable
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 182.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,354 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Cargo capacity: 58 cubic feet
Luggage capacity: 28.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 mpg highway, 22 city
0-60: 8.8 seconds (MotorWeek)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape

The Good
• Car-like driving dynamics
• Comfortable seats
• Stylish exterior design

The Bad
• Cargo space not up to segment standards

The Ugly
• Poor rearward visibility