What's New for 2008
The 2008 Nissan Rogue is an all-new compact crossover SUV.
It's not quite to the extent of Moon Unit Zappa or Apple Martin, but the 2008 Nissan Rogue should give its parents hell for its name. While its similarly styled big brother Murano is named after the glass-making island in beautiful Venice, the little Rogue is at best named after a rather dull X-Men character. At worst, this stylish cute-ute crossover shares its moniker with an uncontrolled animal that lives apart from the herd, or a plant that is inferior and unwanted. Do Nissan's marketing folks not have a dictionary in the office?
While the marketers blundered, the engineers flourished for this all-new small SUV. It may look like a Murano after a trip through a hot spin cycle, but under the skin, the Rogue is closely related to the compact Sentra sedan. Surprisingly, the Rogue manages to be better-looking, better-riding and more useful than its underwhelming progenitor. It shares the Sentra's vague electric steering, but offers an all-independent long-travel suspension that smoothly gobbles up road imperfections. It is stable at higher speeds and provides a good combination of highway and city road manners. If you're looking for a compact crossover that drives most like a car, this is it.
Powering the Rogue is a torquey 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine that provides smooth acceleration on par with other vehicles in the class. Unfortunately, it is tied to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) -- a design Nissan has utilized with great success in the V6-powered Altima, but needs rethinking here. Feeling like it's partially constructed of rubber bands, the CVT can get maddening on the freeway, constantly raising and dropping revs like a yo-yo whenever the driver moves on or off the gas. It seems that this just isn't the right technology for a small engine.
Nissan says it has the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in its sights, but the Rogue is significantly smaller than those models. Therefore, families or those in need of superior people-hauling and cargo versatility may find the Rogue lacking. Its rear seat doesn't recline, slide forward or offer a center armrest, and rear visibility is hampered by a rising beltline and small rear window.
Instead, the 2008 Nissan Rogue is a very good choice for suburbanites who enjoy an elevated driving position and occasionally need the utility and available all-wheel drive of a compact crossover. The Rogue may not be the largest, most family-friendly or powerful compact crossover, and in addition to the aforementioned rivals, you'll probably want to cross-shop models like the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-7 and Saturn Vue. That said, this Nissan sets itself apart from the herd with comfortable, carlike road manners and eye-catching styling. In that way, maybe it's a tad roguelike after all.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Nissan Rogue is a five-passenger compact crossover SUV available in four trim levels: S, S AWD, SL and SL AWD. The AWD refers to all-wheel drive. The S and S AWD are identical save for their drivetrains, with standard equipment that includes 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, air-conditioning, full power accessories, keyless entry and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. There are no factory options for the S trim levels.
The SL and SL AWD are virtually identical, but the latter offers additional optional equipment. Standard features beyond those on the S include 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, tinted windows and a height-adjustable driver seat. In typical Nissan fashion, options are lumped together into large packages. The SL Premium Package includes foglights, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a cargo cover, a fold-down front passenger seat, a trip computer and a seven-speaker Bose stereo with in-dash six-CD changer, MP3 capability and satellite radio.
The SL AWD Premium package includes those features, but adds xenon headlights, keyless ignition and entry, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth. The Leather Package is only available on the SL AWD and includes leather upholstery, heated front seats and mirrors, power driver seat, one touch up/down driver window and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and HomeLink. Both SL trim levels can be equipped with a sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2008 Nissan Rogues are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 170 hp and 175 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard, while buyers have a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. In performance testing, a Rogue SL AWD accelerated to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, which is on par with other four-cylinder-powered compact crossovers. Fuel economy is 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the all-wheel-drive models (22/27 for FWD Rogues), which is again on par with similarly powered competitors.
Each Nissan Rogue comes well stocked with safety equipment including antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Rogue's cabin may not be as visually interesting as its exterior, but it is well-constructed with excellent materials. All controls fall readily to hand and are easy to decipher. The Rogue doesn't have many storage areas, but what it lacks in number, it makes up for in size. The center console bin is large, while the enormous glovebox is more useful than some convertibles' trunks. There is also a nifty under-floor organizer.
In a four-vehicle comparison test involving the Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander, we found the Nissan to have the most comfortable front seats and darn comfortable rear ones as well. Unfortunately, that rear seat only folds flat, and doesn't recline or slide fore and aft like those other crossovers. The Rogue also comes up short in terms of cargo volume, with 28.9 cubic feet with the rear seat up and just 57.9 with it folded.
A "carlike" driving experience is often touted among crossovers, but the 2008 Nissan Rogue delivers on this description. Its long travel suspension soaks up bumps and road imperfections easily, and the Rogue is stable at speed. Short stopping distances are another Rogue plus. The electric power steering can be a little vague at times, but it is generally direct and well-tuned.
On the other hand, we're rarely fans of CVTs, and the Rogue's does nothing to change our minds. It's better than some other examples, but the elastic-band throttle response and engine note gets tiresome -- particularly at highway speeds. It also manages to make the Rogue feel slower than it actually is. An available manual shift mode with paddle shifters rectifies this situation somewhat by allowing the driver to select among six simulated "gear" ratios.