Twenty is the new plenty

2008, Nissan, Rogue S

What a time to be shopping for a new car. Unless that is, your old behemoth is costing you an arm and a leg, in which case: What better time to be cutting your losses before your trade-in value shrivels to the dimensions of a sun-dried raisin.

Time was when $20,000 served as a reasonable threshold for separating barely tolerable budget cars from real, adult cars; but no longer. For folks with worthless trade-ins, $20,000 isn't a benchmark but a budget. And since fuel economy is now a crucial issue (what took us so long, America!), no self-respecting commuter would now dare contemplate settling for anything less than 20 mpg in the city.

What follows, then, is a round-up of three twenty-somethings that manage to combine fuel-efficiency with space-efficiency for a target price of $20-grand or less. And the punch-line is: very little lifestyle adjustment is necessary not only to justify significant downsizing but also to achieve that forehead-slapping realization that we shoulda done this years ago, America!

Apparently Nissan would like to make its customers feel that downsizing and economizing is a roguish thing to do, when really it's just a matter of simple common sense. Be that as it may, the new Rogue crossover provides an option for buyers in need of cargo space at the expense of seating room, with reasonable fuel efficiency to match.

The Rogue is based upon Nissan's lackluster Sentra econocar; but the similarity ends there. It's a genuine five-seater, but the rear seat isn't particularly comfy for three on account of minimal cushioning and fixed seatbacks. By way of compensation, however, cargo space is excellent with a range of 29 to 58 cubic feet.

Four-wheel independent suspension and disk brakes are quite welcome for the Rogue S model priced at $20,300 (as-tested). They don't exactly translate into sporty handling, however. Powertrain performance, too, is an acquired taste, if it can be acquired at all, that is. Output is decent at 170 horsepower, and mileage is satisfactory at 22 mpg/city, 27 mpg/highway.

But the darned transmission (a CVT or continuously variable transmission) is a buzz-killer. In theory, it's an elegant efficiency solution; and in practice, it works as advertised. But aesthetically (in that vital seat-of-the-pants department) the Rogue's CVT feels like a continually slipping clutch. For some traditionalists who like their gears to shift in discrete steps, enduring a CVT re-education process may just be asking too much.

But that's a Rogue for you, defiant of customary norms. For the Gen-New drivers who can't tell a shift from a shucks in the first place, Nissan's new crossover probably represents the continuously variable paradigm of the future.

By Marc Stengel

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Images of the 2008, Nissan Rogue S

2008 Nissan Rogue S
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