The Rogue, Nissan's latest foray into the crossover segment, is meant for urban adventures. Even its optional all-wheel-drive system is designed for great cornering on road rather than for climbing over rocks or traversing rugged dirt roads.
Nobody at Nissan seems concerned that the Rogue name was used by Rambler in the 1950s and 1960s. Their target buyers, 30, somethings weren't even born yet so they likely won't remember the AMC models. Nissan aims to offer greater utility and passenger capacity to young families outgrowing their sporty coupes and small sedans who still want to have some fun on the road.
With styling based strongly on Nissan's successful, larger Murano crossover, the Rogue has little in common with boxy offroad-style SUVs. The nose is tapered and sleek, and the hood rolls up to a laid-back windshield. The small, sharply drawn bulges around the wheelwells convey performance more than rugged offroad intent. The rear glass is curved and far from rectangular. The lozenge-shaped taillamps bulge out of the fat rear quarter panels. It's a look with attitude.
Inside, the dash has a sporty coupe feel, with gauges tucked into a round-topped binnacle, vents that pop out of the dash and taper backwards, and plenty of silvery accents. The main gauges use sporty white on black while the small center circle glows orange while displaying fuel level and temperature (and mileage info if so equipped).
The Rogue is just a bit bigger than most of the competition, so rear passengers ride in comfort. My grown son commented on the remarkable accommodations. This spaciousness could help buyers choose a Rogue over a competing model.
Rogues come in two levels, S and SL, with front- or all-wheel drive available in either model. Beyond that, you choose from eight colors with names like Venom Red and Wicked Black. My SL tester with front-wheel drive came in Phantom White.
Every Rogue gets with four-wheel vented disc brakes with anti-lock and other electronic features. It also has power windows with one-touch auto-down for the driver, power mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, variable windshield wipers, remote keyless entry, and more.
The SL bumps the S model's16-inch steel wheels to 17-inch alloys, adds roof rails, installs polished stainless steel exhaust tips, and gives you rear privacy glass. Inside, besides upgraded seat cloth, SLs have rear heater ducts, visor vanity mirrors, a cargo light, and two extra seat adjustments.
The SL level gives you entry into the option list. My tester had the $1,900 Premium Package, which upgrades the standard audio system to a Bose setup, adds XM Satellite Radio, and includes a long list of conveniences -- electronic and practical. You can order a leather package on the SL all-wheel-drive model, although the rugged cloth in my tester looked and felt fine.
To provide adequate oomph for the 3,200 to 3,400 pound car, Nissan dropped in its 2.5-liter 170-horsepower inline four. It felt up to the job during my test week.
In all Rogues, the 175 lb.-ft. of torque runs through Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). This technology uses two pulleys with a sturdy belt connecting them. A CVT has an infinite number of gear ratios, depending on where the belt is positioned on each pulley as determined by the transmission's computer. This is designed to improve performance and fuel economy.
However, if you really want to have more of a say in the matter, you can manually shift ratios. And you can install optional steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters in SL models.
The EPA's official fuel economy numbers are 22 City, 27 highway for the two-wheel-drive model. I averaged 20.9 mpg. That's pretty typical, because nobody drives in the ideal, standardized conditions used by EPA testers.
The Green Vehicle Guide numbers look good. I found two versions listed. All Rogues score 7 for the Greenhouse Gases number but the Air Pollution score is either a 6 or a 9. Be sure which one you are looking at when you order yours 9 represents a super ultra low emission vehicle (SULEV), which is something you can feel good about.
The Rogue S with front-wheel drive starts at $19,995, including destination charges. The SL with all-wheel drive bases at $22,735. The all-wheel-drive S and front-wheel drive SL squeeze in between. That's a pretty narrow price range. My SL two-wheel-drive tester came to $23,425. In today's market, that feels like a bargain.
Nissan is a little late to the small crossover party, but may have brought the best package. Though I'm way past the target demographic, I felt very comfortable in the Rogue. It certainly makes a lot more sense in the world today than a huge SUV.