2013 Nissan Rogue

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Road Test: 2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By Tony Quiroga of Car and Driver

Bottom Line:

In its first attempt, Nissan launches a small SUV that can look the competition in the eye.
Pros:
  • Lightweight package
  • Decent fuel economy
  • Refined road manners and styling
Cons:
  • Could use a little more power
  • Try the CVT before you buy

To our ears, the word rogue has a kind of bad-ass appeal. It conjures up Cold War films where a rogue Soviet submarine, captained by a bushy-browed Sean Connery, causes a tenuous nuclear standoff. Such an image is probably fine by Nissan because although its new Sentra-based Rogue isn't likely to cause any kind of political rift, the name should allow it to distinguish itself in the increasingly competitive and rapidly saturating small-sport-utility market—a segment that is expected to generate more than 1,000,000 sales this year. Okay, Rogue, you got our attention, but is this economy-car-based SUV worthy of its swashbuckling name? Or even a road test? Is there anything rogue about the new Rogue?

An SUV that emerges from the bones of a Sentra doesn't exactly cause shoving matches at our car sign-out board. We've compared two of the latest Sentras and found that the first, a Sentra 2.0S, ranked last in a field of five peers ["Sensible Shoes," December 2006]. A second comparo ["Power Toys," May 2007] placed the sportier Sentra SE-R Spec V one step up from last place. However, plopping an SUV body atop that platform works better than we had expected. One major advantage of this relationship can be seen at the scales: Our fully loaded Rogue SL with all-wheel drive weighed in at 3533 pounds, hundreds of pounds lighter than the portliest small utes and nearly identical to the weight Honda claims for the AWD version of its bestselling CR-V.

Transforming a Sentra into a Rogue apparently didn't require much stretching of the architecture. The Rogue's wheelbase is 0.2 inch longer than the Sentra's, and the Rogue's width is 0.4 inch greater. The overall length grows by just 3.1 inches. Aside from the 5.8-inch-taller, Murano-like body, the Rogue has nearly the same footprint as the Sentra.

Competition
Those extra inches of height do allow the Rogue to sit higher off the ground than the Sentra and translate into 16 more cubic feet of cargo space. The high roofline lends an airy feel, and there is decent legroom in the back seat, although three adults sitting across the rear bench might not be a stellar idea as the Rogue is just a smidge wider than the Sentra. The Rogue's innards are a bit smaller than those of a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 but about the same as a Saturn Vue's. Some rivals in the Rogue's class offer a third row, but the Rogue will go through life without one. What you do get in the way back is 29 cubic feet of cargo space, which is a few six-packs shy of the space in the CR-V and RAV4 and, again, about the same size as a Vue.

Having that extra space to haul the goods of an expanding family is what Nissan tells us most of its small-SUV buyers will want. Presumably, those shoppers will be less interested in the performance capabilities of the mandatory 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Unlike some others in the small-ute class that will haul out an optional six-cylinder for more spirited buyers, the Rogue only comes with a 170-hp four-cylinder, which is, however, slightly more than the 2.4-liter fours in the RAV4, CR-V, and Vue. The Rogue's engine also enjoys more torque: 175 pound-feet.

Although we recognize that prospective Rogue buyers are going to be more concerned with fuel-economy numbers than burnout abilities, the forever-young goons in the home office rang up a semirespectable 21 mpg over a 550-mile mix of highway and city driving. Which turned out to equal the EPA's city-driving mpg estimate for the Rogue. We don't have a C/D-observed fuel-economy number for any other '08 small four-cylinder utes, but the EPA city figures for the '08 RAV4, CR-V, and Vue are expected to be 20, 19, and 19, respectively.

The Verdict
When the conversation turns to fuel-economy measures, Nissan points to its Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). We aren't crazy about the CVT in this new vehicle, or in any other for that matter, nor have we been convinced yet of its claim to dramatically improve gas mileage, but the wide spread of gear ratios and the smooth power delivery do seem to be a better idea than the four- or five-speed conventional automatics of the competition. A downside of the CVT is the inevitable engine drone that occurs under most acceleration rates. In many CVT-equipped vehicles, the monotone engine note is obnoxious to the point of inferring mechanical cheapness. Fortunately, the Rogue keeps the noise to a murmur (a luxury-carlike 74 decibels at full throttle), which should stave off CVT buyer's remorse.

Highway cruising is where the Rogue and its transmission work best. Secure on-center steering feel, a firm but compliant ride, and a quiet cabin combine to effortlessly count down highway miles. At 70 mph the Rogue is turning a fuel-efficient and hushed 2200 rpm. Were this car equipped with a conventional automatic, such tall gearing would likely result in the annoying habit of constantly downshifting (or upshifting) between the two top gears. In the Rogue, the CVT seamlessly raises engine revs as the transmission moves imperceptibly through its ratios. Highway passing is a smooth experience. Still, if you're old-fashioned and must have a conventional shifting sense, the Rogue offers six preset ratios that mimic the gears of a conventional transmission.

At the track, the CVT makes the most of the Rogue's power-to-weight ratio and delivers a 0-to-60 time of 8.8 seconds. As noted earlier, we haven't tested any of the Rogue's four-cylinder peers, but we expect this SUV's acceleration to be class competitive. Keeping wheelspin in check at takeoff is Nissan's clutch-based all-wheel drive, set to send 50 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels at launch; then, once rolling, the power split shifts to the front wheels until slip is detected. Stability and traction control are standard if you find yourself exceeding the Rogue's nearly carlike 0.77 g of skidpad grip. Keep pushing, and you'll find that the Rogue comes standard with side airbags for the front seats and curtain airbags all around.

Our leather-lined, Bose-stereo-equipped Rogue with all-wheel drive came in at an estimated $27,000. Base versions are expected to start at roughly $20,000.

On its first try, Nissan has produced a good-looking and spirited small SUV. It doesn't have a third row or optional V-6 power, but there are plenty of small-SUV buyers who desire neither feature. The Rogue has the rest of the small-sport-ute checklist covered. Perhaps the name is a tad theatrical, but calling it the Nissan Competent just didn't have the ring to it the company was looking for.

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BB01 - 7/25/2014 11:30:11 AM