2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

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Baltimore, Maryland – When Nissan launched the X-Trail compact sport utility vehicle into the Canadian market two years ago, no one expected it would be around for long. While new to Canada, the X-Trail had been sold for several years in other parts of the world where compact SUVs were more common.

But demand for small utility vehicles, particularly car-based wagons – what the industry calls ‘crossovers’ – was quickly growing in North America. Nissan had its own crossover on the drawing boards, but it wouldn’t be ready for a couple of years. Rather than give up this popular sector to the competition – everyone was introducing new or redesigned compact utility vehicles – Nissan brought in the X-Trail to fill the gap.

As expected the X-Trail has come to the end of the trail in Canada, and although it will continue to be sold in other parts of the world for some time to come, it will be replaced this September by the all new Nissan Rogue.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

We got our first glimpse of the Rogue in Baltimore last week and can say that the new crossover certainly gives Nissan a vehicle that can compete on an equal footing with the new Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CR-V.

The styling is fresh and provocative, although not groundbreaking as the Murano was when introduced in 2003. The Rogue’s styling adheres closely to the crossover design trend with shapes that are both graceful and aggressive, sophisticated and powerful. One does not think of the Rogue as rugged, tough, practical or functional, although it is certainly very practical
transportation with a load of hidden functionality.

This combination of attractive sheet metal, car-like handling and ride characteristics and interior functionality is very appealing to buyers. Depending on how you define the sector, compact SUVs/crossovers are on the verge of displacing pick-up trucks as the most popular vehicle segment in North America.

On the functional side of things, the Rogue includes some nice features. A large console has been designed to include a place for pens, business cards, a memo pad and, of course, plenty of CDs.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

It contains front and rear cup holders, a removable box for tissues or more CDs, a coin holder and places for your cell phone or sun glasses, garage door opener or wallet. A console mounted 12-volt outlet is also optionally available. The glove box is huge – about 16 litres (.56 cu. ft.)- with a removable partition to keep things organized and a pocket in the lid designed for
maps and other flat things.

The front passenger seat on some models will fold flat providing about eight and a half feet (2,591 mm) of space for long items inside the vehicle. Standard 60/40 split folding rear seats provide additional versatility for seating and cargo storage.

Optional functionality includes a unique pop-up rear cargo organizer. When needed, the organizer pops up – with a one-touch open switch – from its hidden space below the flat cargo floor. A portion of the cargo floor snaps into a vertical position, revealing a flat recessed space with
removable, vertical cargo nets. The system helps prevent items such as sports equipment, windshield washer fluid bottles and grocery bags from rolling loose around the cargo area while driving. Also available is a washable, removable tray that fits below the cargo area floor to hold wet or dirty gear and tools and a rear tonneau cover to keep luggage and other items out of sight. A roof rail system with detachable crossbars can also be ordered.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

Naturally, functionality increases with the amount you spend, as do available comfort and convenience features. While final pricing was not announced, front-wheel-drive 2.5S models are expected to begin around $25,000, while 2.5SL models with premium, leather and tech packages will top out near $35,000. See the sidebar for the range of models, and standard and optional equipment.

My first impression of the Rogue’s interior was very positive. Our leather-equipped testers were comfortable and the power driver’s seat allowed sufficient movement to find a good seating position. However, being long of leg and short of arm, I wished the steering wheel would not
only tilt but telescope as well. I was impressed with the quality of interior materials, particularly the soft dash plastics which have a rich, luxurious feel and overall fit and finish appeared excellent.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

Liberal use of bright metallic trim around the gauges and switch gear, and on the
doors, steering wheel and console add definition and character. In top-of-the-line trim, the Rogue looks and feels more like an entry level luxury sedan than a compact SUV.

And the luxury feel continues on the road with a quiet, comfortable ride and a well-insulated cabin. The Rogue’s four-wheel independent suspension minimizes the irregularities of the road while tight construction and ample insulation keep noise outside where it belongs. At highway speeds the Rogue is smooth and quiet, with road, wind and engine noise barely audible.

Only under hard acceleration was the Rogue’s quiet demeanor interrupted by the high and continuous revving of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. Like most Nissans, the Rogue uses a CVT (continuously variable) transmission. Pressed hard, the engine speed increases quickly and then stays there, dropping off gradually as you reach cruising speed. It is a bit odd (and noisy) not to feel the transmission shift down and the rpm rise and fall like cars with conventional transmissions. It also gives (at least to me) the impression that acceleration is lazy, when in fact it may not be.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

If you’d prefer a more traditional shifting transmission, the Rogue’s available manual mode simulates six “gears” or shift points in the CVT. Steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are used to select the simulated gears.

Nissan calls its CVT “Xtronic”, and this latest version is reported to have 30% less internal friction which improves overall fuel economy. In fact, it puts the Nissan Rogue at the top of the fuel efficiency list for both front- and all-wheel drive compact utility vehicles currently sold. Its Transport Canada combined highway and city fuel consumption rating of 8.7 and 8.3 L/100 km for all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive respectively. With highway consumption of 7.7 L/100 km (AWD) and 7.2 L/100 km (FWD) the Rogue is also exempt from Ontario’s new gas guzzler tax which penalizes SUVs that use more than eight litres of fuel per 100 kilometres

The 2.5-litre four-cylinder is the same engine found in the new Altima and the Sentra SE-R. With 170 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque there is ample initial and mid-range acceleration. And with the CVT modulating rpm, it is easy to let the speed creep up on the freeway: best to keep an
eye on the speedometer.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

Power steering is electric but closely mimics traditional rack and pinion power steering. Easy to turn at low speed, the steering firms up nicely as speed increases with a good on-centre feel. Unlike some electric systems I’ve tested, the Rogue did not display a tendency to move off-centre with the consequent and constant steering corrections that I’ve come to expect from electric power steering.

Handling proved to be nimble as well. Called upon by an incident on a Maryland freeway to make a quick and abrupt lane change, the Rogue handled the move easily and with car-like efficiency. In fact the Rogue is a car as it is built on the same platform as the Sentra. The days of thinking of
utility vehicles as little trucks are gone. The Rogue is a family wagon with a sporting attitude.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

And as a family wagon, it comes fully-equipped with the active and passive safety features any family should expect in a new vehicle today. Standard safety features include dual stage front air bags with passenger seat occupant detection system, front seat side air bags and side curtain air
bags for both front and rear seat occupants. Four-wheel disc brakes and anti-lock brake system (ABS) are standard, as are traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC – stability control).

Based on input from yaw sensors, wheel slip sensors and steering angle sensors, VDC will intervene by reducing engine power and applying brakes to regain directional control in a skid. With all-wheel drive, the VDC can also redistribute torque front to rear.

The Rogue’s all-wheel drive system provides a 50/50 front to rear power distribution for stable starts on both dry and slippery roads. But once underway, power is directed nearly 100% to the front wheels.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge

The compact crossover segment is becoming one of the most competitive in the automotive market. Where once there were only a few truck-based or truck-like compacts, today there are more than 20 compact utility vehicles that could more properly be classified as compact wagons with all-wheel drive capability.

It is a crowded segment, but the Nissan Rogue is a competitive newcomer and will likely take more than its share of the market.

The Nissan Rogue goes on sale in Canada in mid-September.

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