Sometimes a vehicle's name causes us head-scratching confusion. Take the Dodge Sprinter, an airport shuttle van in disguise that does not exactly evoke Olympian Carl Lewis.
Or more to the point, the 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD, a small crossover SUV based on the platform of the Sentra sedan. It's a pleasant little sport-utility, with stylish 17-inch wheels and a capable AWD system. But "Rogue"? A rogue is an underhanded, mischievous person — a scamp. Someone you make damn sure to keep an eye on. Apparently, Nissan is trying to get our attention.
And it has to. The 2008 Nissan Rogue is another entry in the segment of small, car-based crossover SUVs, a part of the market where new vehicles are arriving every day. It's meant to appeal to those who have left behind the me-first cars of their youth and have graduated to greater responsibility, but aren't yet ready to resign themselves to a family-friendly crossover or minivan.
A Little Off the Top Nissan offers the Rogue in just two trim levels, S and SL. Both are available with either front- or all-wheel drive. All are equipped with a 2.5-liter 16-valve DOHC inline-4 making 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, sent through Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT). Based on a platform introduced by the newly enlarged 2007 Nissan Sentra, the Rogue rides on a long 105.9-inch wheelbase. There's room for five passengers, with 126.4 cubic feet of passenger volume.
The Rogue has been styled to deliver the same look as the Nissan Murano, a vehicle that inspires a lot of loyalty among Nissan enthusiasts. The differences in the Rogue's two trim levels are minor, with the SL appealing to those of the sporty persuasion, who want a moonroof for star-gazing and a roof rack for carrying a kayak or mountain bike.
Interior Monologue Once you're behind the wheel, you're first struck by the sheer amount of plastic within the interior. The dash appears cheap at first, but the soft-touch plastic has a pleasant malleability to it, and the silver-painted plastic surrounds look sharp.
Audiophiles that we are, we appreciated the Rogue's optional Bose stereo, a key item in utes of this class. It has seven speakers and a six-disc CD changer, and even offers audio controls on the steering wheel and speed-sensitive volume control. From Incubus to Thelonious Monk, the sound is strong and full of life.
This Rogue SL's optional leather-upholstered front seats are comfortable, but the six-way manual adjustment has its limitations, as our seat companion (apparently pampered by electronic seat controls in the past) inadvertently released the seatback and it flipped forward and whacked her in the noggin with the headrest. Fortunately, the Rogue's enormous glovebox (a full half-cubic-foot in capacity by Nissan's measurement) was able to accommodate a bag of ice, a box of Advil, a pillow, two gauze bandages and a crash helmet.
The second-row 60/40 split-fold seat helps maximize the Rogue's cargo-carrying capacity, and the fold-down front seat (only in SL trim) also gives this SUV the ability to carry something 8.5 feet long. But rear-seat passengers aren't treated with the same thoughtfulness, as the seat neither reclines nor slides fore and aft.
The Final Frontier Space, in fact, is something that the designers of the Rogue have obviously thought about. The Rogue maximizes space efficiency with its huge glovebox and a center console compartmentalized to hold everything from CDs to a cell phone, a memo pad and different-size cups. In back, the touch of a button triggers a pop-up cargo organizer that combines a plastic floor and cargo nets that together keep grocery bags or tools from moving around too much. There's also an optional removable tray beneath the rear cargo floor to carry wet clothes or dirty sports equipment.
The Rogue's cargo area has a very large footprint, but the capacity is actually only 56.9 cubic feet — some 14 cubic feet smaller than its competition. The under-floor organizer and gear compartment steal away a couple crucial inches of capacity and also increase liftover height, plus the spare tire is also carried under the floor.
In any case, a Chevy Suburban the Rogue ain't. It's not designed to haul more than a driver, a passenger and two full-size adults (or maybe two adults and a kid) in the back. The SL model's maximum tow rating of 1,500 pounds is good for maybe a Jet Ski or a couple dirt bikes.
It's the Economy, Stupid In order to differentiate it from the Murano with its 3.5-liter V6, Nissan has limited the Rogue to a four-cylinder engine. Fortunately this is Nissan's perky 2.5-liter four, which delivers 170 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and (more important) 175 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Balance shafts help this engine deliver surprisingly smooth performance.
Although the combination of a four-cylinder engine and this 3,544-pound, all-wheel-drive crossover doesn't deliver acceleration that's exactly staggering, this Rogue gets to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds on the way to the quarter-mile mark in 16.9 seconds at 83 mph. The Rogue also ingratiates itself with respectable EPA-rated fuel economy, 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The Rogue's CVT helps maximize its fuel economy, and the combination of the CVT and the torquey inline-4 delivers calm, carlike refinement in urban traffic. Once you put your foot down to ask for more, however, the CVT has to do a lot of ratio swapping to get the power you require, and the result is sluggish throttle response followed by lots of engine noise. In these circumstances, the Rogue SL's optional steering wheel-mounted shift paddles are a necessity.
Stop or My Rogue Will Shoot Although the Explorer rollover terror has been largely forgotten, Nissan still wants you to know that a sport-utility can be a safe ride on the highway. Stability control comes as standard equipment, and there's curtain-type head-protection airbags with a rollover sensor.
The Rogue also delivers four-wheel disc brakes, brakeforce distribution and even brake assist. While the Rogue doesn't stop with a tremendous amount of grace, diving deep on its long-travel suspension and offering a hint of wheel hop, it comes to a halt from 60 mph in a surprising 123 feet, impressive for its class.
The Rogue's bodywork incorporates a very high beltline, and its character line sweeps up so high in the rear that it impedes vision to the rear corners. The Rogue's rear window is also absolutely tiny. So despite its compact size, the Rogue is actually difficult to park. Of course, we can't really think of anyone who drives in reverse for long periods of time, other than the protagonist of A Bronx Tale.
Handling is another story. The Rogue's relatively long 105.9-inch wheelbase makes it feel relatively sure-footed. As an SUV (though an all-weather soft-roader rather than an off-road vehicle), the Rogue has lots of suspension travel, and this makes the tall Nissan a little clumsy in quick directional transitions. Yet the ride is notably comfortable, and there's none of the bounding-down-the-road feel that makes other small sport-utes seem cheap and unpleasant. The 225/60HR17 Dunlop Grand Trek tires help the Rogue deliver 0.79g on the skid pad.
As carlike as the Rogue is, all that suspension travel also keeps the steering from feeling very precise, and you find yourself constantly making adjustments with the wheel, particularly when on that narrow road to try out your new mountain bike. Even so, this electric power-assist rack-and-pinion is one of the best we've sampled, and it feels natural and intuitive.
Once it's off-road, the Rogue's long wheelbase doesn't do it any favors on rough terrain, but 8.3 inches of ground clearance combined with a 21.8-degree approach angle and 19.9-degree breakover angle allow this Nissan to maneuver around the rocks for a camping trip.
The Name of the Rogue Nissan set out to deliver a little brother to the Murano, and it has delivered exactly that. The 2008 Nissan Rogue is best as an everyday utility vehicle, a car that just happens to be big enough to carry all your stuff and yet small enough to keep your monthly gasoline bill in check.
Yet there's nothing that truly sets the Rogue apart from its competition. Well, maybe the combination of a CVT and a four-cylinder engine is meant to give the Rogue a unique ability to deliver both power and fuel economy, but we still continue to find a CVT a distracting device when it has only the power of a four-cylinder engine with which to work.
We just don't think it's a rogue, a rebel, an upstart. At this point, the Rogue is really more of a ferret, or a badger. Sure, it's kind of a novelty, but it takes more than that to get buyers to look past the standard-bearers in this class, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says: Oil and water. Shaq and Kobe. Mustang and Camaro drivers. Things that don't get along but are forced to do so, often with mixed results. Add to this list the Nissan Rogue's 2.5-liter four-cylinder and its CVT, a combination so mismatched it deserves its own sitcom.
Optional on our test car, however, were the sport-shift paddles that proved invaluable. Do you have a hill on your daily commute? Have you ever felt the need to pass slower-moving traffic? Does velocity on your local highway vary with traffic/corners/speed limits? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions prepare to become acquainted with the shift paddles. Use them early and often. When you're in a hurry, they're the only way to get the engine and CVT on the same page.
The Rogue does so many things well — interior functionality and materials; ride quality; totally bitchin' sound system — that the transmission's inconsistencies really compromise the overall impression it makes.
Nissan comes to the compact sport-ute scene a dozen years after the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, and instead of being the fashionably late, dressed-to-kill life of the party, the Rogue sneaks in the back door and simply blends into the crowd.
How does it sound: A This optional Bose stereo sounds very good and is easily the best among compact SUVs. Bass is deep and somewhat rich, although we'd like a little more punch given that a subwoofer is part of the package.
Highs add nice detail and only distort slightly at higher volumes. The positioning of the three front speakers is just about perfect, as the front soundstage has both depth and presence. There's no midrange adjustment, something we expect in a premium sound system. It doesn't seem to matter much, as vocals and other midrange tones sound great; clear, detailed vocal reproduction is what this system does best. From the gruff Kurt Cobain to the lilting Julieta Venegas, the vocals have a texture that makes it fun to listen to all types of music. Acoustic guitar also sounds very nice.
How does it work: A Simple and straightforward, the Nissan head unit has no surprises. Everything is where it should be; we especially like the CD-changer function that moves to a certain disc by simply pressing the corresponding button on the dash. All CD changers should work this way.
Redundant controls mounted on the steering wheel are also well placed for the most part. In a perfect world, the often-used volume control would move up to where the voice command button now resides. As it is, adjusting the volume feels like an unnatural move while driving.
Special features: The upgraded Bose audio system is an option, but it comes in a larger package. It's hard to know just the price of the stereo, as it comes with features like XM Satellite Radio, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, speed-sensitive volume control, transmission shift paddles, trip computer, outside temperature display, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System, xenon headlights and Intelligent Key.
Conclusion: On paper, Nissan's Rogue doesn't offer any special features above and beyond what we'd expect from a compact SUV loaded with options. While its sound system doesn't really offer more features than the competition, it does have excellent sound quality. Judged on sound alone, the Rogue's Bose stereo is the best in its class. — Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.