Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2008 Nissan Rogue

Second Opinion: Greg Wilson

Oshawa, Ontario – In a nutshell, here’s what the Nissan Rogue is not: it’s not the “new X-Trail”, although it takes that model’s place as Nissan’s entry-level SUV/crossover/sport-cute in Canada (the X-Trail was never sold in the U.S.). It’s not a downsized Murano, and it’s not the Nissan version of the all-new Infiniti EX35. Instead, it’s a stylish and capable model that can easily hold its own in a segment crowded with mini-utes from almost every manufacturer.

The Rogue comes in two trim levels: the base S, and my tester’s upper-line SL. Both use a 170-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with the company’s “Xtronic” continuously variable transmission (CVT). Both are also available in front-wheel drive or in my tester’s all-wheel drive configuration. Base prices range from $24,998 to $29,598. (By comparison, the 2006 X-Trail – the last model year offered in Canada – had an MSRP range of $26,098 to $33,798.)

Overall, the driveline is good; the 2.5-litre is strong, and the CVT isn’t obtrusive, although it might just be that I’m finally getting used to not hearing vehicles shift. My tester’s trim line included a manual shift mode with paddle shifters, and while I’m usually not a fan, I would definitely want this one in the Rogue, for several reasons. First off, it really works well. Okay, they’re really just six preset ratios, but unlike some manual-mode CVTs, they actually feel like shifts on the Rogue, especially since they snap in faster than any other I can remember driving.

Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD. Click image to enlarge

There are also two manual modes, a system I first encountered in the Honda Fit. Put the transmission into Sport mode and it holds the “gear” selected until you shift to the next one (as long as you don’t get too close to redline or are coasting to a stop, in which case it will override your decision). If it’s in Drive, though, flicking the paddles will take you up or down a gear; after a short period, the transmission goes back into automatic mode. It’s a great system if you need to downshift to pass, but don’t want to keep shifting after that. I also found that the CVT sometimes sat stubbornly around 1400 rpm in moderate traffic where it could get a little growly; a flick of the paddle smoothed it out.

The all-new, all-wheel drive system is more than the usual slip-and-grip system; it’s integrated into the Vehicle Dynamic Control, and uses sensors to measure wheel slip, steering angle and yaw to determine where the torque should go. A button on the dash will also temporarily lock it into all-wheel for extra assistance on slippery surfaces at low speeds. I like that it’s optional on both trim lines, instead of the more common practice of making the base line front-wheel and the upscale line the all-wheel only.

Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD. Click image to enlarge

I drove a very low-mileage Rogue during a particularly cold week, which could account for my vehicle’s poor fuel economy: against the vehicle’s published 8.6 L/100 km in combined driving, I averaged 11.7 L/100 km.

The Rogue’s styling is the usual slippery jellybean common in the segment, with nice proportions and smooth integration of the styling components. The S doesn’t have roof rails, and I wish they were optional on the SL, as I think the design would be cleaner without them. One disadvantage to the design is in the rear quarters; the narrow windows and high kick-up look great, but they cut down considerably on visibility.

Inside, the driver and passenger are divided by a floor console that gives the Rogue the “cockpit” feel that Nissan favours. My tester had optional leather seats with six-way power driver’s adjustment. The seats are firm and I was fine behind the wheel, but my passenger complained that he was uncomfortable, since tilting the backrest pushed the bottom of it into his lower back.

Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD. Click image to enlarge

I could feel what he meant when I sat there, but it didn’t bother me, and I suspect this may be a case of shorter versus taller passengers fitting better into the chair. I didn’t get a chance to try another one, but it might also be inherent to my tester’s fold-flat front passenger seat.

Overall, the dash and centre stack are laid out well, with vents that open and spin at a touch (and can be closed completely), big-and-simple climate control dials, and a straightforward stereo with my favourite feature, a huge central knob that controls volume and power, especially since redundant wheel-mounted controls aren’t standard on the lower model. The only thing I didn’t like was the instrument cluster, which contains a small round gauge for fuel, temperature and odometer. At night, it’s a bright orange circle that’s very distracting, and since it’s tied in to the dimmer switch overall, turning it down or off also affects the speedometer and tachometer on either side of it.

The most surprising thing about the Rogue’s interior is that it has huge stretches of plain plastic, but unlike many cars so burdened, it looks clean and straightforward but not cheap.

Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD nissan car test drives
2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD. Click image to enlarge

Rear-seat passengers get good legroom, considering the Rogue’s compact footprint, and the 60/40 seat folds easily. It doesn’t fall absolutely flat, but it’s close enough, and it opens the 95-cm-long cargo area to 167 cm. With the fold-flat passenger seat down, there’s 260 cm of cargo length, which should handle just about any handyman’s trip to Home Depot. Another benefit to my tester’s option package was a nifty cargo organizer, which hides under the cargo floor and has two removable cargo net dividers.

Safety-wise, all models share four-wheel brakes with ABS, brake force distribution and brake assist, front seat side airbags, and curtain airbags with rollover sensors.

Overall, while the Rogue isn’t as sporty as its looks would suggest, I was extremely pleased with it as a roomy and stylish mover, with an interior that’s put together very well. I’d leave off my tester’s leather interior and technology package, leaving me with a smart, well-equipped little machine around the $30,000 mark – now that’s a wrap.

Second Opinion by Greg Wilson

Pricing: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD


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