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Eric
03-17-2008, 03:12 PM
Are crossovers becoming too commonplace?

Some industry watchers - including me - think there's already a glut of these "car-based, wagon-like SUVs" and that the market needs another one about as much as Elvis needed another fried banana and peanut butter sandwich.

Nissan disagrees with me. Hence its new Rogue - a compact-sized crossover wagon that combines a budget price ($19,250 to start; $21,990 loaded with AWD) with mini-Murano styling and utility and - in theory - Sentra SE-R/Altima SE driving fun.

So, what's the skinny?

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The Rogue is powered by the same basic 2.5 liter DOHC four that's used in the base model Altima sedan and optional in the Sentra SE-R, albeit slightly downrated to 170 hp vs. 175 hp in the Altima and 177 in the Sentra SE-R.

Despite the minor power loss, this is still one of the strongest non-turbo'd four-cylinder engines on the market - and like Nissan's VQ-series 3.5 liter V-6, it's also regarded as one of the best engines of its type, quality and durability-wise.

Unfortunately, Nissan decided notto offer the six-speed manual transmission that's available with this engine in Altimas in the Rogue. As in the Sentra SE-R, the standard and only transmission you canget in the Rogue is a continuously variable (CVT) automatic.

These transmissions are becoming popular because they offer a slight fuel efficiency advantage relative to a conventional automatic transmission - as well as the absence of coffee-spilling "shift shock" between gear changes. These are advantages, no question. But the CVT is also noisier than a standard automatic, in part because the CVT will keep the engine operating at a fairly high RPM continuously when you're accelerating. When you floor it, the Rogue's engine will spin to 5,000-plus RPMs - and stay there as long as you keep your foot down.

This is just how CVTs work.

However, some drivers may not like the racket; others may feel the engine's being worked too hard. And bottom line: Enthusiast drivers will always prefer a manual gearbox to either a CVT - or a conventional automatic. Given that the Rogue (like all Nissan vehicles) is marketed to a great extent on its appeal as a sporty alternative to more conventional (boring) competitors, it's odd that Nissan chose not to at least offer the six-speed manual gearbox as an option. (More on this below.)

Base Rogues are front-wheel-drive; AWD is optional. All models come with electrically-driven power steering. The zero to 60 time is in the 8.8-8.9 second range for FWD versions; models with AWD are slightly heavier - and slightly slower.

Fuel economy is pretty good - 22 city, 27 highway for the FWD version.

HANDLING & RIDE

Its ride is pleasant and comfortable - due in part to a fairly hefty 4,200 curb weight. That makes it a good car for general driving - and even for longer trips. Very comfortable seats - and ample room for both front and second row occupants.

The handling, however, is softer than I'd have expected from a Nissan vehicle - especially one named Rogue. All that weight you're carting around begins to make itself felt the harder you lean on it in a curve. But on the upside, the feeling isn't one of instability - and imminent rollover - just "give." The Rogue will begin to slide if you push it in the curves - but predictably, gently - to the outside of your cornering arc. So long as you keep your right foot deep into the gas pedal, you can power it through a turn without tossing your lunch or getting "air" under the inside pair of wheels.

The Rogue is also easy to park - and generally feels a lot like a slightly higher-riding, heavier Sentra or Altima - which is basically what it is.

STYLING & UTILITY

If you like the looks of the Nissan Murano, you'll like the way the Rogue looks. Very similar overall shape - just on a smaller scale. Like the Murano, the Rogue's distinctive appearance helps it stand out from the crowd. Like its big brother, it can be ordered with fairly large (17 inch) wheels, which enhance its aggressive stance. The front end is toothsome, with a wide-mouthed grille and large "Nissan" badge in the center. The top edges of the four doors sit lower than the front windshield and cant upward slightly to the point where they meet the third (fixed) quarter window near the tailgate.

There are many similar in concept crossovers, but Nissan's are among the most highly styled and sporty-looking of the bunch.

On the downside, form sacrifices function - at least in terms of available cargo space (and access to that space) relative to key competitors like the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4.

The Rogue has just under 58 cubic feet of cargo space with its second row seats folded down. That is a lot less than the available space in the RAV4 (73 cubic feet) or the CRV (also 73 cubic feet). The RAV4 can also take seven passengers; the Rogue an optimistic five.

On the upside, the Nissan's less expensive than either of those two ($21,250 for the base RAV4; $20,700 for the base CRV) and has a larger, more powerful standard engine than both.

QUALITY/SAFETY

Given how much the Rogue has in common with the Sentra and Altima - at least drivetrain-wise - and given that both the Sentra and Altima have a well-earned reputation for being solid, well-built and reliable cars - it's likely the Rogue's a solid bet, quality-wise, as well. And for its price point, especially, the little Rogue is nicely fitted out - with the standard $19,250 S model coming through with all the essentials (AC, power windows and locks, cruise control, electric defroster, 16-inch rims) plus a CD-playing four-speaker stereo, remote keyless entry and- don't forget - the CVT automatic transmission. (In vehicles with a standard manual transmission, the optional automatic typically adds anywhere from $800-$1,200 or so to the price.)

AWD is a stand alone option that boost the base price of the S to $20,570 - which is less than the base price of the FWD version of the CRV and RAV-4.

The top-of-the-line Rogue SL ($20,790 without AWD; $21,990 with AWD) adds 17-inch alloy rims, plus a roof rack and tinted side windows. You can add a premium Bose audio system with MP3 capability and satellite radio, as well as fog lights and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to work the CVT transmission in semi-manual mode. One slightly cheesy thing is Nissan makes you pay extra to get a front passenger seat that folds down. Given the Rogue's not-so-huge cargo capacity, it would have been nice if that feature had been made standard as it would have helped buyers fit more stuff in - without having to pay extra for the privilege.

All Rogues, including base models, come with curtain air bags for both rows, side-impact bags for front seat occupants, ABS, traction and stability control.

Buyer's note: Nissan is one of the very few automakers that hasn't yet caved to politically correct pressures and fitted its cars with an annoying "belt minder" buzzer that harasses you like a fishwife if you haven't immediately buckled-up for safety. Just a red light on the dash that blinks at you. Silently.

I like that. A lot.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Rogue would be a lot more roguish if it could be ordered with a six-speed manual. Maybe even an SE-R version (as has been offered with the Altima and Sentra in the past) with six-speed, sport suspension and some neat trim upgrades.

That said, Nissan has probably done a lot of market research and found that most of its potential customers for this vehicle prefer an automatic (CVT or conventional). And there's no denying the ease of use of the Rogue's CVT (even if it can be a bit thrashy) or the fact that it is standard equipment - so those who don't to deal with a clutch don't have to pay extra to skip it.

And the suspension set-up, though soft by enthusiast driver standards, is also very posh for just running around. Smaller vehicles - cars, crossovers, wagons - are often harsher-riding than you'd expect, even some of the economy-oriented models. Some of the SUVs/crossovers handle like an ice cream truck on under-inflated tires.

But the Rogue would be a fine tool for a 15-hour junket to Memphis to pay homage to The King (or whatever). The decent gas mileage is nice, too.

Its sole major drawback is the limited cargo space - as well as access to the space that's available.

On the other hand, The Rogue is several notches more aesthetically distinctive than very functional but also very anodyne smaller crossovers like the CRV a RAV4. Yes, they have more room inside for kids and groceries, etc. But you may not need the extra space - in which case, the Rogue's lower price and higher style could be more important anyhow.

Disco Man
03-18-2008, 03:24 AM
Just posted on the main site with pictures:

http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/images/stories/automotive/nissan/rogue/08rogue-b1.jpg


http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=482&Itemid=10848