Compromised rear visibility, no telescoping steering wheel, engine drones under hard acceleration, fixed rear seat with no center armrest, less cargo space than competitors.
The 2009 Nissan Rogue is pleasant. You look at it — pleasant. You drive it — pleasant. Here's a little crossover SUV that isn't really outstanding in any area, yet seldom disappoints. Instead, the Rogue does most things well enough that it adds up to a very pleasant total. While it lacks the utility and passenger space of some competitors, this handsomely dressed Nissan compensates with its athletic character, relatively frugal fuel consumption and avant-garde style.
In particular, the Rogue fits the bill for young professionals who like the idea of sitting up high, but still want something stylish and fuel-efficient. Ditto parents of one or two small children who aren't ready to drive a stereotypical "mom mobile," yet are attracted to the added space and sense of security an SUV provides.
Other points in the Rogue's favor include its attractively simple interior controls, which are easy to use even though they're connected to some of the latest gadgets and gizmos. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) rewards those who go easy on the throttle with seamless acceleration and good fuel economy, though heavy throttle applications cause the engine to drone like an unhappy cow. The electric-assist steering couldn't be easier to turn in parking lots, yet unlike other electric steering setups, the Rogue's is respectably communicative at higher speeds, lending more driver confidence to control the vehicle.
In sum, the 2009 Nissan Rogue is a bit sportier than the typical compact crossover SUV without exacting any penalties in ride comfort or fuel economy, and its sophisticated style separates it from the conservative cute-ute pack of such perennial all-stars as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In other words, it's perfectly pleasant.
While the 2009 Nissan Rogue's 8.6-second 0-60-mph dash is commendable, assessing its performance really depends on your driving style. When a Rogue first pulled into our garage a year ago, we were disappointed by the combination of its 2.5-liter 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine and the CVT. When driven in a manner commonly practiced by our lead-footed editors, the Rogue tended to sound like there was a weed wacker under the hood, droning on in a continuous moaning cadence since the transmission has no gears to transition between. On the highway, aggressive throttle applications caused the fuel miser CVT to yo-yo back and forth between low and high rpm. We found it annoying and declared the CVT to be poorly suited to less powerful engines, and our original verdict still stands if you're an aggressive driver.
However, this time around, we made sure to drive more prudently, like the average driver would. Specifically, we were sparing with the accelerator and kept pace with traffic flow rather than perpetually trying to get ahead of it. The Rogue is clearly intended to be driven in this manner. Not only does this strategy quell much of the engine's droning, it also provides smooth and quiet acceleration while maximizing the CVT's fuel-economy potential. In our week with the Rogue, we averaged 23.7 mpg. That's only a hair shy of the EPA's estimate of 24 combined mpg (22 mpg city/27 mpg highway), which is impressive given the amount of heavy traffic we drove in, along with a few strenuous handling evaluations on mountain roads.
Our positive previous impressions of the Rogue's steering and handling haven't changed. Unlike some other electric power steering systems, which tend to feel as though they're connected to a boat's rudder rather than a car's wheels, the Rogue's rack is actually well-weighted, and it transmits useful information to the driver's hands. Only when you're trying to pull a U-turn or maneuver into a parking spot does the steering lighten up to a video-gamelike effort level — where it's actually welcome. Around turns, the Rogue's tall profile and compliant suspension produce a fair amount of body roll, but it feels secure and well-planted in a way that many competitors don't.
The brakes were a slightly different story. Although they produced an excellent 121-foot panic stop from 60 mph, they also exhibited an odd bucking and skidding sensation with some directional instability. The Rogue manages to stop quickly, but be forewarned that it may be a wild ride.
With a long wheelbase and comfort-biased suspension tuning, the 2009 Nissan Rogue provides one of the most absorbent rides in the small crossover segment, yet it never feels floaty. Add the well-shaped and generously padded seats, and the Rogue is one comfortable little SUV. The driving position could be friendlier for taller drivers, though, as there is no telescoping steering wheel. The additional height adjustment that comes along with the optional eight-way power seats would have helped in this regard, but our modestly equipped SL test car had only six-way manual seats.
The rear seat is also nicely sculpted, and there's plenty of legroom, even with tall occupants up front. Unfortunately, the seat doesn't recline or slide fore and aft, as do those in the RAV4 and CR-V, among others. The rear headrests also don't adjust, and there's no center armrest. However, there was plenty of space for a front- or rear-mounted child seat in any of the rear positions, though the fixed headrest bumps can make mounting the seat a bit of a pain.
The Rogue's instruments and interior controls are a model of straightforward simplicity. The heating and air-conditioning are controlled by three large knobs with clear markings, and the similarly well-labeled stereo features a conveniently large display. Our one request is for Nissan to relocate the auxiliary audio jack from the radio faceplate to the center storage bin, making it easier to secure an iPod and keep the iPod cord out of the way. We also missed the optional wheel-mounted stereo controls not fitted to our test car.
Interior storage spaces are quite useful. You could probably fit a toaster inside the glovebox, while door bins, cupholders, the center armrest compartment and small console cubbies add to the front cabin's versatility. Cargo space could be better, though. Although the trunk is large enough to carry golf clubs, a large suitcase and a baby stroller, these items are a tighter fit than in larger crossovers like the RAV4 and CR-V. Compared to those two, the 2009 Nissan Rogue features about 15 fewer cubic feet of maximum cargo space when the back seat is folded down, and lift-over height is also higher.
That cargo space deficit is mostly a consequence of the Rogue's tapered roof line, which also plays havoc with rear visibility. The tiny rear-quarter windows and rising beltline can make backing out of a parking spot an adventure, while the tall, thin back window will make you wish Nissan made parking sonar available.
Design/Fit and Finish
Our test vehicle was a sparsely equipped Rogue SL, yet cabin quality was still very good. Soft-touch materials covered the dash, trim pieces fit together well and the seat fabric felt good and seemed durable enough. We'd question picking the light gray interior if you have children, as it appears likely to stain. Switchgear for windows, stalks, stereo and climate controls push and turn smoothly. After 14,000 miles of use, though, some of our test car's radio preset buttons were smoother in the center — like the keys on a well-worn keyboard.
Who should consider this vehicle
Someone looking for a fuel-efficient and comfortable small crossover for everyday commuting duties, for whom styling takes precedence over utility. If utility is a top priority, the RAV4 or CR-V may make more sense. For a middle ground between style and utility, try the Mitsubishi Outlander.