The Nissan Rogue appears to have found the perfect middle ground between SUV and sedan. Looking like a shrunken version of the sleek Murano crossover, it performs its duties with more elegance and driving pleasure than you'd expect at this price point.
Nissan's keeping it simple, offering just two models, either with two-or four-wheel drive. The S is the starting point, or you can step up to the SL, as my test car was, in a handsome Gotham Gray.
Both models share a gutsy 170-horsepower 2.5-liter V6 with 175 lb.-ft. of torque. California models rate 167 and 170 respectively, but get the benefit of exceptionally good Green Vehicle numbers. The "regular" car earns a 6 for Air Pollution and a 7 for Greenhouse Gas, while the California version pushes the Air Pollution number to a 9. That's hybrid country.
Fuel economy for the two-wheel-drive model is 22 City, 27 Highway. Those numbers drop by one point each for the all-wheel-drive version. I averaged 21.6 mpg.
The optional all-wheel-drive system is meant to give you a stable start on dry or slippery roads and provide extra traction in poor weather. The Rogue is not meant for serious offroading adventures.
While the 3,354-lb. Rogue is certainly no luxury car, it feels nice inside in a way that Nissans weren't feeling for a while.
"The designers of Rogue sought to create a vehicle that makes you first consider its power, style and sophistication - like a high-end designer briefcase or bag," says Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America, Inc.
The quality of the padded dash, door panels, and controls lends that feeling, as does the remarkably quiet cruising I experienced during my test week. Part of that silence comes from the car's Nissan Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission. It uses belts rather than gears to seek the most efficient gear ratio at all times, based on the driver's inputs, vehicle speed, road gradient, turning condition and acceleration force. So, the engine could be turning over at just 1,500 rpm while you're rolling down the interstate.
As a crossover, the Rogue offers some of what SUV buyers wanted when they went for the big truck-based rigs of yore. You get 28.9 cubic feet with the rear set up and ready for passengers, and 57.9 cubic feet with that seat folded. The SL model has a front-folding passenger seat too, so you can carry a long object, such as a ladder or surfboard, with no problem.
The SL also receives a cargo organizer in the rear, addressing issues of sports equipment or your groceries sliding around while you drive. With the press of a button, it pops up from a hidden space below the cargo floor and provides vertical cargo nets. The car gets the usual array of cupholders, coin holders and cell phone and sunglass holders too.
Just remember, in California you've got to use a Bluetooth device-don't handle that cell phone while driving.
Many cars today have built-in navigation systems. They normally run around $2,000. My test Nissan, however, sported a Garmin Nuvi 750, which popped into a dash mounted stalk when needed and lived in the console bin otherwise. It worked just fine, and the price was just $540.
Introduced in 2008, the Rogue has minimal changes for 2009. SL models get small things like speed-sensing automatic door locks, driver's seatback pocket, dual-level console tray and mood lighting, along with the handy information of the drive computer and outside temperature display.
Magazines such as Kiplinger's and Parents Magazine have given the Rogue awards. Most important, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration presented the Rogue with its highest rating-five stars-for crash safety. Any family would want that.
The SL, with its additional equipment, including 17-inch alloy wheels, seems to be the way to go with this car, but if you want even more it's available. How about leather seats? My tester had the Premium Package (front wheel drive version), with a Bose audio system upgrade, Bluetooth, Nissan Intelligent Key (keep it in your pocket), fog lights and more ($1,930).
Combined with the Garmin navigation device and $110 worth of floor mats, the total for my test car came to $25,170, including shipping. The 2010 Rogue S, available now, starts at $21,140 including shipping charges.
Nissan has hit the target for crossover shoppers with the Rogue. Perhaps it's not the best name, considering what a nice fellow it is-a regular family guy.