The Nissan Rogue is a compact SUV. Based on a car platform, it's considered a crossover vehicle, like the Honda CR-V. The Rogue seats five and comes with a four-cylinder engine, as with the CR-V. No V6 is available, nor is there a third row for seven-passenger seating.
The Rogue is meant as a daily commuter, not an off-road adventure vehicle. Its all-wheel-drive system is intended for snow and rain, not rocks and mud. A so-called crossover, it's based on an economy-car platform. The towing capacity is only 1,500 pounds. 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. The ride allows for a lot of road feel and can become harsh on rough and irregular surfaces. Road imperfections and engine sounds intrude into the cabin.
The cabin is pleasant, with materials that would look good in higher-priced vehicles. The controls are easy to use and understand, but the Rogue lacks creature comforts and gadgets filtering down to other low-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, on the Rogue SL, so does the front passenger seat to permit longer items to be loaded. In back, Nissan offers a handy cargo organizer that can keep groceries from sliding around and provide storage for muddy clothes.
The Rogue was introduced as a 2008 model, and changes since then have been minimal. For 2010, Rogue S models are now available with what Nissan calls the 360 Degree Value Package, which includes 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, privacy glass, a rear spoiler, a chrome grille, and a rearview monitor integrated into an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Nissan claims the package price saves about $1,000 compared to buying these options separately.
With prices starting around $20,000, the Rogue is a worthy competitor vs. the Honda CR-V. Its carlike road manners, cargo utility and prudent fuel economy make it appealing.
The Nissan Rogue 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, even with the chrome door handles which have been added for 2010. Side mirrors are black on the Rogue S and body color on the Rogue SL; and the standard wheels on the S are stamped steel with plastic covers (which look like five-spoke alloys, from a distance).The 17-inch aluminum wheels that come with the SL add a touch of drama, with five bifurcated spokes that seem to actively cling to the rim. In contrast, the 16-inch units that dress up S models with the 360 Degree package are a more restrained and traditional five-spoke design. We're ambivalent about the chrome grille that comes with the package, which brightens the front end but fails to enhance its character.
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 a separate opening glass.
Among compact SUVs, the Rogue has a sleeker, car-based crossover look, like the CR-V, as opposed to the upright mini-SUVs like the Ford Escape or Jeep Liberty.
The Rogue is the longest vehicle in the class, though it doesn't look it. At 182.9 inches overall, it is even longer than the seven-passenger Toyota RAV4 and the seemingly large Jeep Liberty.
At first glance, the interior of the Nissan Rogue seems nice if somewhat plain. Closer inspection reveals quality materials impressive for the price. The dash, for instance, is molded in a soft-touch material that seems as if it might be right at home in an Infiniti. The door tops also have a nice soft-touch material. The remainder of the materials is price-appropriate plastic that fits together well.
The instrument panel features only two gauges, the tachometer and speedometer. There is also a 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 little odds and ends. 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 into 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 to the maximum 57.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
The SL model includes a folding front passenger seat, which folds almost flat to allow loading of longer items. The Premium Package offers a rear cargo organizer, with a recessed floor and removable nets to act as partitions, that helps 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 Nissan Rogue is based on an economy car platform and those roots show through in more ways than one. While it is among the better handling compact SUVs, it's not sporty. It drives more like a car than an SUV, but it has more body lean in turns than most cars. The electric-assist steering requires only a light effort, but it feels natural and direct with good road feel. In fact, the Rogue transmits more road feel to the driver through the steering wheel than most compact SUVs.
The ride is generally comfortable, but it can become busy on bumpy pavement and sharp ruts can give passengers a jolt. Perhaps the Rogue's biggest drawback is interior noise. The noises from rough pavement, bumps and potholes, and the engine are somewhat as we'd expect in an economy car. 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; it makes 170 horsepower and is one of the better four-cylinder powerplants available today. It has the low-end punch to provide good pickup from a stop. Midrange power is adequate, but the Rogue needs to get going a bit for passing maneuvers.
The continuously variable transmission works well with the engine, quickly switching to an appropriate 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 ratio to put the engine in its optimum rev range and keeping it there.
The Rogue goes fairly easy on gas. With front-wheel drive, it is EPA-rated at 22/27 mpg City/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 RAV4 from Toyota is considerably faster. The Rogue is not built for towing, with a maximum capacity of only 1,500 pounds (with the dealer-installed towing package).
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 a little 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.