Another automotive category is now filled with offerings from Japan’s Big Three automakers. Nissan has finally introduced the production version of its brand-new compact SUV, the Rogue.
Nissan invited DC-area journalists to check out their newest offering in Baltimore, setting up a group ride with a handful of Rogues, commonly referred to as a ‘ride-and-drive,’ with historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as the destination. The usual protocol is to stay with the group, and to continue on the established route while sharing driving duties with another writer.
Roadfly was represented in both print and video, and we were able to snag one of the snazziest Rogues – a fully loaded SL with all-wheel-drive, electric “Indigo blue” paint and handsome light grey leather – for a two-man jaunt off the beaten path. We took a wrong turn somewhere while navigating the rural switchbacks of Maryland’s Carroll County, and found the Rogue a willing playmate for improvisation, conducting our road test as we struck towards Gettysburg.
Nissan has carved out a niche as a sportier, yet still mainstream alternative to Honda’s nerdy perfection and Toyota’s mass appeal. The Rogue is entirely consistent with that theme, and stacks up remarkably well against the CR-V and RAV4 while maintaining its own identity.
You can also watch the 2008 Nissan Rogue First Drive Video on YouTube.
The Rogue is based on Nissan’s Sentra compact, and that’s not a bad starting point for a crossover SUV with sporting pretensions. It weighs in at just 3533 lbs., which makes for a high degree of that elusive ‘tossability,’ especially considering the car’s place on the automotive landscape. Power is provided by the same 2.5-liter inline-four engine seen in other offerings like the base Altima, and the Rogue is rated at 170 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Although this trails the bigger V6s offered in some competitors, the Rogue’s sole engine choice makes more power than the competitors’ standard four-cylinder offerings.
That power is channeled through the continuously variable transmission (CVT) found in many Nissans, a unique feature that is the source of much pride for the automaker. It’s not perfect (I would have preferred a manual), but it is better than a conventional slushbox for a few reasons.
First is fuel economy. The EPA rates the Rogue at 21 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway, and Nissan advertises 27mpg for a 2WD model. Second is smoothness. The CVT is always adjusting, preventing the sluggishness and gear-hunting that plague conventional automatics. The CVT doesn’t feel like a normal transmission – there are no shift points that can be perceived by the driver. When you want to feel them, though, Nissan offers a ‘manual’ shift mode for the CVT, actuated by a pair of paddle shifters on the column. The transmission will simulate the shift points of six different ‘gears’ for a slightly more aggressive response.
The Rogue has a slightly different mission statement than its main competitors. Whereas the RAV4 tries to offer all things to all consumers (a 270-hp optional engine and a third row of seats as options), the Rogue is targeted at couples – either young, childless ones or older ones whose children have left home already. So there is no third row option, and some rear accommodations are basic, without even so much as a folding center armrest.
Nissan is banking that the Rogue’s virtues – efficiency and a sprightly character – will outweigh the features it lacks. It does have a neat under-floor storage compartment in the rear, which pops up at the push of a button to reveal a cluster of netted compartments for holding the usual smaller bits of cargo. There are great storage options within reach of the driver – a gargantuan glove box with a removable divider, and a center armrest that is so deep, it will fit a couple bottles of water even with the removable organizer placed inside.
Considering that it’s Nissan’s first try at this vehicle, I think they have done a great job. The Roadfly team put a good chunk of miles on our test car in what amounted to one workday, and had no real complaints after prolonged seat time in its no-nonsense interior. With a starting MSRP of just $19,250 and a top end of less than $28K, it should pull a good amount of buyers desiring something a bit more organic and exciting than RAV4, CR-V, and the Saturn Vue.
2008 Nissan Rogue First Drive: Scrappy Upstart Defined,