2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD Review

An expensive, thirsty, tall Mazda3

By Igor Holas with Melissa Sanchez

08.02.2008

A few weeks back, we decorated the Ford Fusion with the title of “long Mazda3.” We used the title to honor its exceptional poise in the curves, but also to highlight its lack of refinement. This week we have the honor to bestow the title of “taller, fatter Mazda3” – on the Nissan Rogue. The Rogue is built on a chassis shared with the Sentra compact, but it pretends to be an SUV. To that end, it gained about three inches in height, added larger wheels, optional AWD, and several thousands in its price. However, deep down inside (and on the outside and in the cabin) it is still just a compact vehicle with excellent ride, excellent handling, and a mediocre cabin.

Exterior
Let’s start on the outside. If there ever was a perfect example of the “tall Hatchback SUV” niche, the Rogue would be it. Looking at the dimensions only, the Rogue is as much of an SUV as is the CR-V, RAV4, Outlander, or Escape; however, the Rogue does not look like an SUV. It looks like a compact hatchback, with raised suspension and slightly taller roof. The only vehicle that could epitomize the “tall hatchback SUV” better would be Nissan’s own Infiniti EX which does not even pretend to be tall. [N.B. – A review of the EX35 is coming next week.]

Getting that off of our chests, the Rogue is not unattractive; in fact, to the contrary. The lines are flowing and mildly aggressive, the small size is much less imposing than, say, an Escape, and in the current market seems to say “efficient” louder than its competitors do. The almost complete lack of chrome detailing on the outside is unusual for this segment, but it stands out in a good way, and delivers a handsome nod to the chrome-less sport(y) cars of past and present.

Interior
The one place that does not help the Rogue stand out in the good way is the interior. If you recall, Rogue was one of few crossovers we praised back in April for its interior materials – we still stand by that claim. While all the plastics are hard, they are of good quality, without the hollow, bargain basement feel and touch of the Highlander or Acadia. That said, one thing we did not evaluate back then was the feature content, assembly, ease of use, etc. And that is where the Rogue stumbles.

The first sign of trouble was the door-shut sound; it is tinny and hollow. We have not heard a door sound this cheap since our late 2005 Focus. The next warning sign is the steering wheel – it is urethane (not leather-wrapped) and lacks audio controls. Finally, once you really look around and notice, the Rogue failed to include most of the features packed into its competitors, and instead got stuck in the compact-hatchback mindset. Let’s list, shall we?

The driver’s seat is all-manual, the door pockets are uselessly small, the vanity mirrors are not lighted, the driver information center is nonexistent, there is no storage around the cabin, there are no auto headlamps, the rear view mirror is manual day-night, and the shifter feels cheap.

Now, you might think we are nitpicking, and in reality some of the items, such as the vanity mirrors and manual rear-view mirror are minor points, but these are not random omissions that are present in each car – this is an overall mantra of cheap, feature-poor design of the interior that permeates the entire cabin. Moreover, once you move to the rear seats, matters get even worse: there are no door pockets at all, the seats do not slide or recline and have no arm rest, and their headrests are fixed. This is a $23,000 vehicle we are talking about.

Not all things are bad in the interior. The front cabin is comfortable, and most controls are easy to use. The center arm rest is nicely upholstered, includes some neat details and is of good size. The glove box is so big, you could almost fit a purse in there and almost singlehandedly compensates for the complete lack of storage elsewhere in the cabin. The legroom in the back seats is satisfactory, and the headrests, while not adjustable, are actually comfortable to use. However, most compact crossovers are used as family vehicles (even more than usual in the current small car friendly market), and vehicles like Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Saturn Vue revel in offering interiors with clever details that will help the family. In contrast, the Rogue seems to be designed for the child-less young couple, and the interior simply lacks family-friendly features offered by competitors – good competitors too, some even cheaper.

Driving the Rogue
If we haven’t scared you with my ranting about the interior, you are in for a treat. The Rogue truly shines as a driver’s car, and loves to be pushed in the corners. And since only child-less young couples are still reading, the fact that the Rogue loves to be pushed is actually relevant. We spent two solid hours driving the Rogue around the curviest parts of Philadelphia, and the Rogue took it all in stride and asked for more. Not since driving my Mazda3 or the Fusion have I driven a car that felt so planted, so balanced, so controlled, and so much fun. The suspension is brilliantly tuned, and the chassis can take whatever you throw at it. There was no wobble, there was no hesitation. The steering is perfectly weighted and precise, and the brakes stop the car on a dime. If you like fun, FWD cars but want something that looks like and SUV, the Rogue is the car for you.

Well, if words like “carving” and “apex” say nothing to you, especially when your precious cargo is in the back, fest assured the Rogue rides as well as it handles. It is not as softly sprung as the Ford Edge, so you will be aware that you just drove over a pothole and you will also hear more of the world around you, but the road noise is nowhere near obtrusive. The surefooted handling will come in handy in an emergency situation (or when you are alone in the car), but the comfortable seating position, precise steering, and well-tuned suspension will make you a relaxed, confident driver no matter who or what is with you in the car.

The engine tasked with powering this small CUV is a 2.5 liter four-cylinder coupled with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). I had a chance to acquaint myself with Nissan’s CVT a while back in the Murano, but this experience was different. Unlike the torquey six-cylinder in the Murano, the smaller engine in the Rogue with its need for higher revs truly used the CVT’s flexibility to deliver brisk performance and steady cruising. Upon a signal from your right foot (mashing the gas pedal), the CVT allows the engine to spool up and gain both torque and horsepower to accelerate; however once you ease off, and let the car cruise at a steady pace, the CVT immediately reins the engine back in and lets is hum along at about 1,500 – 1,800 rpm. On a regular transmission, acceleration is achieved in a similar fashion, but once you cruise, should the next gear up be just too much to handle for your engine, the old-school transmission will force you to stay in the lower gear, oftentimes buzzing around at 3,000 rpm (and wasting some fuel). The CVT’s infinite ratios eliminate the forced steps and always let the engine settle into a comfortable hum. Moreover, when you are conservative with your demand for acceleration, the transmission chooses a ratio that provides the perfect amount of engine speed to achieve the desired forward thrust, so under relaxed pull away from a stop sign, you might be at mere 2,000, or 2,200 rpm – which simply feels amazing.

With all of this technology allowing the engine to always operate at optimum efficiency, we should expect it to also deliver optimum fuel efficiency. We would like to give you details of city, highway, and other fuel consumption figures, but Nissan’s omission of fuel economy gauge (even an “average fuel economy” one) means we just do not know. What we do know, however, is that after we drove 96.6 miles in your test, we used up 10.75 gallons of regular. Do the math, and it comes out to nine miles per gallon! . Now, we barely ventured onto the highway, and I did spend a while driving aggressively, but the Rogue has a four cylinder under the hood. A four cylinder rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city! No matter what our expectations were, and no matter how this can be explained that number – nine miles per gallon is incredibly low, and we just hope that it is a fluke. It’s also possible that the vehicle’s tank wasn’t completely full when I reset the trip odometer. The Rogue is the first car that I’ve tested that did not have a fuel economy computer, and we can promise you that all of our future test will include both, computer calculated, as well actual fill-up calculated mileage numbers.

Conclusions
The Rogue costs more than most of its competitors, it has a subpar interior relative to most of its competitors, and returned poor fuel economy in our driving. That does not sound like a car that should get our nod. And indeed, if we were buying a compact CUV to haul a family in, we would probably pass up the Rogue for another option. However, we are currently compact-car-owning, child-less, young adults – and as such, the extremely likable, agreeable, and confident way the Rogue handles everyday driving made us love it. However, as Melissa put it, “This is a car you buy a daughter to go off to college.” It is a compact hatchback disguised as an SUV; it simply is not a true family-friendly compact SUV.

For more images of the 2008 Nissan Rogue, click here.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t drive a slightly-taller station wagon, I drive a CROSSOVER. Has there been a more successful re-naming of a type of vehicle anywhere in automotive history? It makes me snort with derision to see these people buying stations wagons while massaging their fragile egos with the solace that they’re not a station wagon owner. It’s just a watered-down version of the urge a office worker or a suburban mother had to drive a trail-rated SUV! Some glimmer of hope that their not really as boring and stale as they really are. I’m not a housewife because I drive an EXPLORER or a PATHFINDER, which sound like they would belong to someone adventurous. I’m not a milquetoast CPA or orthodontist, I drive a TUNDRA. Or maybe a NAVIGATOR or a LANDCRUISER. Give me a break!

  2. whiskey-addled, you’re right, marketing and advertising has done a number on the public and as usual, the public has gone for it hook, line and sinker.

  3. Hey, good review. Quite useful.

  4. I’m in a rented Rogue S AWD, and can agree that you’ve hit the nail on the head with the “cheap mantra” comments. While the car does seem to be well put together and made from decent materials, small features that are commonplace in modern vehicles are conspicuously absent in the Rogue. Steering wheel mounted audio controls, any type of luggage management (even grocery bag hooks), and lack of rear seat storage or armrest are pretty surprising. The big plastic wheelcovers on the S I’m driving add to its aura of cost-cutting.

    On Montana’s 75 MPH highways, the CVT’s operation is smooth but sounds quite odd on acceleration. In parking lots, blinds spots at the rear are huge. Having ridden in a CR-V last week, the Rogue leaves me totally unimpressed.

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