By Roger Witherspoon
The sky was dark grey, the rain was steady and hard and the potholes in the
roadway were like land mines planted at scattered intervals waiting to blow out the
unexpected tire or bend the errant axel.
There was little traffic, which was a good thing because the road conditions did
not give one a lot of time to spot the potholes, and some were difficult to avoid without
swerving outside the designated driving lane. For many cars, SUVs or trucks, this would
be the kind of road to either avoid entirely or drive at 20 miles per hour with the flashers
But this wasn’t just any vehicle. I was rambling through the countryside in a
Rogue, the smaller version of Nissan’s popular Murano SUV which was intended to offer
some of the amenities of an SUV and some of the fun of a roving Jeep Wrangler while
coming closest to providing the feel of a sedan. And while the Rogue is not going to
chase a Jeep off road, it is designed for moderate rough riding – like swerving and
maneuvering around a slalom course composed of potholes. Which made the trip over the
pothole-riddled, New York roadway interesting instead of nerve wracking since the
combination of traction control and balance makes the Rogue maneuverable and sure on
virtually any surface.
The Rogue, which Nissan bills as a “whole new crossover,” is stylish, compact,
efficient, comfortable crossover which could provide some competition for the revamped
Toyota Rav 4 and lure a younger set of buyers into Nissan showrooms. In styling, it is
similar to its popular big brother, the Murano. Both feature a broad, rounded front –
though the Rogue’s grill is far less aggressive than the Murano’s – and a looping, curving
profile accentuated by exaggerated wheel wells which, in this case, feature 17-inch
aluminum alloy wheels. But, like a good little brother, the Rogue is shorter and smaller
than the Murano, and its price tag, around $26,000, is a good $10,000 less.
It also has a smaller engine. The Rogue sports only a four-cylinder, 170-
horsepower engine. But on a vehicle this small, that is more than enough to rev it up to
triple digits if you’ve a mind to. While the pickup in automatic mode is adequate, shifting
into manual mode and using the paddle shifts on the steering wheel to boost the torque
makes the Rogue much more responsive and quick, acting more like an Audi 4 than a
typical, small SUV.
Inside, the Rogue offers a lot for a car on the starter end of a performance line,
particularly in its electronics. The steering wheel, which tilts but does not telescope,
features fingertip controls for the phone, audio system and cruise control – as well as
housing the paddle shifts. But Bluetooth system is easy to pair with any cell phone. There
is no navigation system, which is not uncommon for a vehicle costing under $30,000.
But Nissan did not cut corners with the entertainment system. There is AM/FM
and XM satellite radio, as well as an in-dash, six-disc, CD and MP3 player producing
sounds over a Bose surround-sound system featuring seven speakers and a sub woofer
capable of lulling you to sleep to soft ‘Trane or waking up the neighborhood with Usher.
The seats are cloth rather than leather – which is typical in cars in this price range
– and the front pair are manually adjusted. But the seats are wide, well padded, and
comfortable, and there is enough leg and head room in the rear for a passenger pushing
six and a half feet to ride cross country comfortably. In addition, the rear and front
passenger seats fold flat to enlarge the storage area, which has a set of sunken bins
designed to hold packages such as groceries or potted plants upright, even when swerving
Nissan’s ads may exaggerate a bit when billing the Rogue as a whole new breed
of SUV. But in the category of crossovers packing a lot of performance and goodies into
a small package, the Rogue may race to the front of pack.
2008 Nissan Rogue SL
EPA Mileage: 21 MPG City 26 MPG Highway
As Tested Mileage: 19 MPG Mixed
Towing Capacity: 1,500 Pounds
2.5-Liter, 4-cylinder aluminum DOHC engine producing 170 horsepower and 175
pound/feet of torque; continuously variable transmission; all wheel drive; automatic with
electronic manual mode using gear or paddle shift; 4-wheel disc brakes; anti-lock
brakes; independent front and rear suspensions; xenon headlights and halogen fog lamps;
traction control; dual-stage front airbags; front seat-mounted, side impact airbags; roof
mounted curtain airbags for front and rear with rollover detection; 17-inch alloy wheels.
AM/FM/ XM satellite radio; Bose premium audio system with 7 speakers; 6-disc, in-dash
CD and MP3 player; roof rails; power moon roof; cloth, manually operated front seats;
fold flat rear and front passenger seats; steering wheel mounted audio, telephone, and
cruise controls; Bluetooth connection; tilt steering wheel; foldable cargo organizer.