rogue_4.jpgNissan Rogue: Honey, I Shrunk the Murano

By The Car Family

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Our first reaction was decidedly mixed. Did they shrink the Murano? It has the same futuristic look and is even more attractive in darker colors. What it didn’t take us long to discover was the quiet ride, spunky engine, firm ride, and the fact that it didn’t have a spare tire hanging off the rear hatch making it difficult to open and expensive to repair.

The interior has a youthful look with a few helpful twists such as an auxiliary jack for iPods and large HUVA controls. The instrument panel is trendy, but the bright orange light from the gas gauge and the small fonts make them very difficult to read quickly. The tachometer and speedometer are about six inches and the fuel and temperature gauges two inches in diameter and reside in the middle of the instrument cluster and has a strange orange illumination. The seats are firm and need more lumbar and maybe a touch more padding, but overall they felt good to the tush.

The engine is very responsive with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder powerplant producing 170 horses and 175 lb-ft of torque providing a good average of 23 mpg with a 15.9-gallon tank. Only the Honda, Subaru, and Toyota were able to match that and they weren’t as much fun to drive even though they had more usable room inside. It comes with four-wheel anti-lock braking, Electronic Brake force Distribution, Vehicle Dynamic Control and Traction Control to help control your emotional outbursts.

The CVT works well, but would really just like to accelerate. When it senses you want more power it reacts aggressively, but that is better than some of the Lexus transmissions where they appear to be second guessing your desires even with their seven and eight speed gearing.

We had the optional all wheel drive feature and it worked very well. The Rogue starts in all wheel drive and switches to front wheel drive until future notice. You don’t have to ask, the Rogue takes command of the situation.

There is plenty of competition in this price range and they all offer a lot for similar money in the from of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV, Subaru Forester, and overpriced and premium fuel devouring BMW X3 being among them. So why consider the Rogue? Well, it is more fun to drive, has excellent visibility, and just begs to be toyed with. And, it is filled with little surprises like a huge glove compartment, a lot of little storage areas, and a

On the negative side is has less cargo space and probably won’t retain its value as well. However, we think you are probably going to get a great deal on these as Nissan strives promote its Rogue.

Mom’s view: I like the seating position and the front and side visibility. On all SUVs and minivans I want a rear view camera option, but there wasn’t one on this model. As such rear visibility is very limited. The seats were firm and there needs to be both a tilt and telescoping option on the steering column as I could not find an accommodating position as the steering wheel has a very bus like angle. The brakes were very good, the acceleration sprightly and well mannered, and the rear hatch easy to open. The interior lighting was great, but the front headlights were dismal and there needs to be better lighting in the rear cargo area where there is none.

Interior materials are bleak and I expect that the seat fabric, as that on the Versa, is going to harvest dog hair at a terrific rate. The controls are easy to reach, but the Nissan radio with its unique FM/AM push button selection needs to be mastered before setting out. The heater and air-conditioning is average in quickness to change the cabin’s temperature and the horn is well below average in sound level. There is plenty of storage with a large and well thought out glove compartment.

This is a crossover vehicle that is related to the Sentra sedan. We like the Sentra, but we like the Rogue more. The electric steering is very good in town and the Rogue, contrary to its name, always feels domesticated. The ride is remarkable for such a short wheelbase vehicle. It is the among the best of all compact SUVs, although it does not handle real offroading the way a Subaru Forester does and can’t perform up to those with six cylinder engines.

With pricing starting in the $20,000 range you need to take a look at the new Saturn Vue, the Mazda CX-7, the Ford Edge, and the Honda and Toyota products. All of the competitors offer more room, but only the Acura RDX is friskier. Indeed, if you want to save considerably and don’t need the room the Suzuki SX4 is priced around $15,000 a truly cute ute.

Safety wise the Nissan Rogue comes with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.

I found myself liking the Rogue more each day I drove it. The 37.4 ft. turning radius is fine, the 3300 pounder felt trim and eager to please with good brakes. Only the sometimes confused CV transmission would jar my concentration, but it was worth it when it came to fill the tank. I was able to better 25 mpg easily on the highway. Maybe I bit youthful in the looks department, but in the top category of crossover utes moving in with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V while patiently awaiting the residing king/queen of this segment, the Subaru Forester which has undergone a makeover. Nevertheless, the Rogue is good value.

Dad’s view: Nissan has the strangest collection of vehicles of any manufacture and can’t seem to get its styling department to concentrate while the engineers produce one of the best six cylinder engines anywhere. They have some of the worst vehicles for gas mileage from the god awful gas swilling Titan pick-up and Armanda SUV that can both deliver single digit fuel mileage in traffic, to the Xterra and Pathfinder which seem to contradict each other as they offer nearly the same power and utility while the Xterra is priced over $6000 less and has just has a tad less room and luxury. Than there is the new 2009 Murano that has been rendered nearly obsolete at birth by the Rogue unless you need more of everything for several thousand dollars more. To this strange mix add the really terrific Versa, Sentra, and 350Z and the underrated Maxima and Quest minivan and useful Frontier pick-up all of which get exemplary fuel mileage and are user friendly and well priced.

That being said, the Rogue is clearly to be placed in the latter category. It is a winner, but as the Versa, may have a tough time catching the eye of the public. And, unlike the Versa, it needs to have a sharper price point to be competitive. As it now stands the Rogue is in the base Honda CR-V’s cost range and, although it is much more responsive and fun, doesn’t have the proven resale or room of the Honda. If Nissan priced its entry level price $17,500 it would be unbeatable.

The four cylinder 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine has plenty of spunk and offsets its sometimes noisy behavior by providing excellent fuel mileage. The CVT gets your attention and is not as smooth behaving at the one in the Versa or the Altima. Nevertheless, the fuel mileage and passing ability are very good. We had the all wheel drive model that might be needed if you’re driving experience is marred by frequently snow, but we feel that the front wheel drive model is the better performer. As might be expected, the all wheel drive gets slightly less fuel mileage at 21/26 mpg and 0 to 60 times reside just south of ten seconds.

Car like is the best way to describe the feel of the Rogue on the road. The electric steering is well muted and the suspension levels most all road surfaces without a disruption. The seating position feels very high due to the fast sloping hood and low dash. The seat adjustments aren’t that easy to reach, but the electric side mirror knob is as are the window controls. There is a fair amount of noise in the cockpit, especially in windy and rainy weather. The wipers aren’t large enough to clear the top and side of the windshield and the defrost could be quicker to heat. The tailgate is very, very easy to lift. The best in the business. However, the liftover is high, probably due to the eight inches plus road clearance that the Rogue has to accommodate those determined to go offroad or traverse unplowed roads. It does not corner as well as the very snappy Acura RDX, but it costs a lot less. Overall, this is an ideal combination of commuter car and adventure mobile.

Young working male’s view: This is perhaps the best SUV that Nissan has ever produced. It gets good gas mileage, has a nice ride, can hold four adults in comfort, and is nimble. The rear seats are fixed, which does not allow them to be slid back for more legroom and there isn’t much cargo room with less than 30 cubic feet behind the back seat. The headlights are average, I would go with SL model and the Premium package with its optional xenon units and you can utilize your SmartKey with keyless entry, upscale sound system, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth and an auxiliary port for iPods.

Frankly, the looks of the Rogue attract a lot of female interest. In fact, none of my male friends found it appealing at all. Call them the Xterra crowd, unruly and always short of gas money. I didn’t mind the Rogue’s road abilities, but the backseat is strictly for two adults and the steering needs a bit more heft at speed. This Nissan wouldn’t be my first choice in a crossover, the Subaru holds my attention better, but it is a good one.

Young working woman’s view: Looking like a shrunk Murano, the Rogue is one of the more poorly named vehicles this side of the Ford Taurus. You can order it as a S with or without all wheel drive and the SL with the same drivertrain choices. Standard equipment is what you would expect with 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, air-conditioning, power mirrors and doors, and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. I recommend this model. If you want to upgrade harvest yourself a SL with larger tires, alloy wheels, tinted windows and various doodads.

There is plenty to appreciate here, but there are some areas that need to be addressed. For example, how about good rear seat cupholders, a padded area for your sunglasses, a place to put your purse, and a rear cargo light? I also have no idea why they don’t place the gas filler door on the driver’s side. It is so much easier to park near the “pump” and who wants to have to walk around a car to fill in cold weather?

There could be a better use of the space in the spare tire area, a better jack, a longer slide for the front seats for those that are tall, side molding to protect from the SUV drivers and passengers who are so upset about their plummeting resale rates that they slam their doors open, and the reflective glare in the side view mirrors from the interior bright pieces in sunny weather. On the plus, but easily missed side, are the red night lighting, including the overhead console, the perfect rear seat height for placing a baby in its seat, the cargo organizer, the hidden middle rear seat safety belt that doesn’t hang down like on some models, a keyless entry system that saves hunting for keys (By the way, there is a key in the unit should the battery die.) and a rear hatch that practically opens and closes itself.

If the Rogue had a larger rear storage area I would consider it, as this is one useful Nissan. But with two large dogs to tote around and a high jump up level it isn’t right. On the other hand, my friends treated it with affection once they rode in it.

Is it better than the competition? Well, not having driven the new Subaru Forester, I would say that it is as good as the rest save the RAV4 with the V6 which gets nearly the same fuel mileage with an engine that produces almost 100 more horsepower. On the down side the RAV has the rear mounted spare tire I deplore.

Family conference: Having a Versa and Rogue in your garage would be a swell pair for a family into utility and saving money. They are perfectly matched and the Rogue is as much SUV as you are ever going to need unless you are into towing or need a third seat. We enjoyed our time with this Nissan, but are worried that many potential buyers are going to ignore it because of the cargo space and pricing. Nevertheless, this is among the very best crossover utes and Rogue in name only.

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