Based on an economy car platform, the Rogue is meant as a daily commuter, not an off-road adventure vehicle. The towing capacity is only 1500 pounds and the available all-wheel drive system is intended more for snow and rain than rocks and mud. The four-cylinder engine works well with the continuously variable transmission to provide decent pickup and frugal fuel economy.
Behind the wheel, the Rogue offers carlike ride and handling. We think it's one of the better handling small SUVs, but it's not sporty or particularly fun to drive. The ride allows for a lot of road feel and can become hard on pockmarked roads. Road imperfections and engine sounds also intrude on the cabin, leaving passengers thinking that the Rogue could benefit from more sound insulation.
Otherwise, the cabin is pleasant, with some materials that would look good in higher priced vehicles. The controls are easy to use and understand, but the Rogue lacks some of the creature comforts and tech gadgets that are starting to filter down to lower priced vehicles. There is no navigation system, for instance.
An SUV should provide cargo utility, and the Rogue is up to the task. The rear seats fold flat and there is even an available folding front passenger seat to permit longer items to be loaded. In back, Nissan also offers a handy cargo organizer that can keep groceries from sliding around and provide storage for muddy clothes.
With starting prices starting below $20,000, the Rogue is a worthy competitor for the higher-priced Honda CR-V. Its carlike road manners, cargo utility and prudent fuel economy make it appealing to young families or active singles. Those who want to go off-road or tow a trailer will be better served by more rugged vehicles.
Nissan Rogue 2.5 S; 2.5 S AWD; 2.5 SL; 2.5 SL AWD
Nissan waited quite some time to finally get into the cute-ute game, but the Rogue is finally here and it appears to be aimed squarely at the Honda CR-V. The styling is swoopy, with rounded lines and a wedge shape from front to rear. Flared rear shoulders and an upswept window line give the Rogue a sporty feel.
Ornamentation is minimal. A black and chrome Nissan badge up front is flanked by a body color grille. Only that badge and the headlights lend any contrast to the front end. There is even less character to the sides, which have no ornamentation at all. The mirrors are black on the S model and body color on SL. Chrome or black rub strips would help here, as would chrome door handles. The 17-inch aluminum wheels on the SL help, but the S has plain old steel wheels with hubcaps.
We think the Rogue looks best from the rear, where the dark rear glass, eye-shaped taillights, rounded panels, and license plate recess give it some definition. Unfortunately, the rear liftgate lacks separate opening glass.
The look is not unattractive, but it's plain. Among compact SUVs, the Rogue has a sleeker, car-based crossover look, like the CR-V, as opposed to the upright mini-SUVs like Ford Escape or Jeep Liberty. There is good reason for this, as the Rogue is based on Nissan's C platform, which also hosts the compact Sentra four-door sedan.
Onlookers will be surprised to learn that the Rogue is the longest vehicle in the class. At 182.9 inches overall, it is even longer than the seven-passenger Toyota RAV4 and the seemingly large Jeep Liberty.
The instrument panel features only two gauges, the tachometer and speedometer. There is also a motorcycle-inspired round graphic readout that displays the fuel level and water temperature, and on Rogues so equipped, trip computer information.
The center stack features three easily used round climate control knobs, and Nissan's unique radio layout. It has substantially sized buttons, but the presets are grouped in A, B and C folders, instead of AM and FM sets. It takes some getting used to, but with 18 total presets, most drivers will be able to program all of their favorite stations. An auxiliary input jack is provided for MP3 player connectivity.
Storage for small items up front is adequate. The center console has two integral cupholders and a small tray that will work for holding life's minutiae. If that's not enough, the console bin is very deep and is available with a removable tray to give it two levels of storage.
The driver's seat is comfortable and offers a good driving position, even though there aren't many seat adjustments. The tilt steering wheel helps, and there is enough head and leg room for all but the tallest drivers. There is good visibility to the front and the side mirrors are large, but over-the shoulder visibility is compromised by a smallish rear window and rear side windows that are pinched at the rear. The ride height makes getting in and out of the Rogue very easy.
The second row is usefully roomy, with head and leg room that can accommodate adults, even with the front seats moved far back. Three adults in the rear will be cramped, but they should be able to deal with short trips. Toe space under the front seats is plentiful.
Cargo space is good but not at the top of the class. The second-row seats are split 60/40, and they fold flat in an easy one-step motion to open up the maximum 57.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
The available Premium Package option includes a folding front passenger seat. It folds almost flat to allow loading of longer items. The Premium Package also has a rear cargo organizer. It has a recessed floor and removable nets to act as partitions, both of which help prevent groceries from rolling around in the back.
While the low floor makes loading items easy, separate opening rear glass would make the cargo area even easier to access.
The ride is generally comfortable, but it can become busy on bumpy pavement and sharp ruts can give passengers a jolt. Perhaps Rogue's biggest drawback is interior noise. Ruts and bumps cause crashing sounds, rough pavement induces body drumming, and the engine groans under heavy throttle, all characteristics we'd expect in an economy car. Put simply, the Rogue seems like it could use more body insulation, though we realize that would add weight.
Like the CR-V, the Rogue offers only a four-cylinder engine. Nissan's four-cylinder makes 170 horsepower and is one of the better four-cylinders available today. It has the low-end punch to provide good pickup from a stop. Midrange power is adequate, but the Rogue needs a head of steam for passing maneuvers.
The continuously variable transmission works well with the engine, quickly switching to an appropriate gear ratio for the driving conditions. The only way to tell that it's not a standard automatic is to floor the accelerator and keep it there. The transmission reacts by picking the gear ratio to put the engine in its optimum rev range and keeping it there. With the available Premium Package, the CVT has steering wheel shift paddles and six preset gear ratios. The shift paddles allow for a sportier driving experience by giving the driver more control.
The Rogue goes fairly easy on gas. With front-wheel drive, it is EPA-rated at 22 mpg City and 27 Highway; AWD models are slightly lower at 21/26 mpg.
While the powertrain works well, it's best suited for around-town duty. The available six-cylinder models from Toyota and Saturn are considerably faster. The Rogue is also not built for towing, with a maximum capacity of only 1500 pounds.
The Nissan Rogue matches the Honda CR-V for carlike road manners and fuel economy, though it's not as quiet on the inside and doesn't ride as smoothly. The Rogue is priced lower than the CR-V. It should be a good choice for drivers looking for a daily commuter with lots of cargo space. Drivers who tow boats and go off-road will want to consider more rugged vehicles such as the Nissan Xterra or Jeep Liberty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report on the Nissan Rogue from Baltimore.