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2009 Nissan Rogue SL AWD Review

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What’s in a Name?
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

We often wonder where model names come from and what they have to do with the vehicle to which they are attached. Exotic place names, wild and vicious animals, even totally nonsense, meaningless syllables and alpha-numeric monikers are used for cars and trucks. So . . . what does this small, 5-passenger, cute-ute from Nissan have to do with a ‘roguish’ character.

Nothing, I contend.

A “rogue” is a rascal, scoundrel, apart from the herd, a wanderer, something apart from the norm. The Nissan Rogue is none of these. It’s conventional, useful, attractive and not a misfit in any way – certainly likeable, but not a rogue in the accepted sense.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The Los Angeles-built Nissan Rogue, based on the Sentra platform, looks like the Nissan Murano’s little brother. Murano, of course, is a pioneering crossover vehicle with trend-setting shape. Rogue reflects that shape but it’s a bit more subdued with broad front end featuring a distinctively Nissan grille, large light pods and exaggerated front wheel arches. The side windows taper to a rear-facing point above the rear wheel arch insinuating an upswept theme. Large headlight and taillight designs are entirely up to date. The center section of the grille, housing the Nissan badge, looks like it was copied from Subaru. Murano’s grille is much cleaner and more attractive than Rogue’s, in my subjective opinion.

This little “cute-ute” starts at $20,220 for the basic S-model, reasonably well equipped. The SL version adds 17-inch wheels, silver roof rails, body color mirrors, 6-way manual driver’s seat. Bottom line on our SL AWD tester is $26,670, which includes the Premium Package (lots of good stuff), dash-mounted Garmin navigation system, special floor mats and destination charge.

Powering the Rogue lineup is a competent, but not impressive, 2.5-liter, 170-hp 4-cylinder making 175 lb.-ft. of torque mated to Nissan’s ubiquitous CVT – continuously variable transmission. In this case paddle shifters and a manual mode can make it feel a little more like a conventional transmission with specific gearing but it’s not as crisp and controllable as some other systems. This Rogue is rated at 21-mpg in the city and 26 on the highway using regular fuel. With the standard front-wheel drive the mileage improves just 1-mpg at both ends of the spectrum.

The all-wheel drive system is referred to as “intuitive” by the good folks at Nissan. That means essentially that it is designed for wet and slippery road competence but not so much for off-roading. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be OK on the sandy or rough two-tracks in Northern Michigan but you might not want to get over confident about slogging through the mud or climbing rocks. I felt, or heard (I’m not sure which), a little grumbling from the all-wheel drive system a couple of times at slow speeds on sharp turns.

In terms of safety equipment and ratings the Rogue is on par with most in its class sporting six air bags, active head restraints, full compliment of chassis dynamic systems and five-star ratings for side crash and front driver positions. Rogue earns four-stars for front passenger side crash and rollover protection.

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Rogue’s interior style and design shows more drama than the exterior. The instrument cluster and brow project a brash but effective demeanor with two large round pods gazing out from under the tight and abbreviated brow. The center stack is simple and controls intuitive. Fit, finish and materials are quite nice, though certainly not of the luxury level. Our tester has fabric seats that look durable and attractive. We didn’t spill anything on them to test cleanability, but the black and dark gray color scheme has an upscale look and feel.

Cargo capacity is not best-in-class, but is well-designed and convenient. With rear seats in place we have 28.9 cubic-feet into which we can stuff our stuff. The rear seats fold nearly flat to open up 57.9 cubic feet and we can fold the passenger seatback forward for the extra long stuff. Plenty of cubbies and hidden places make it eminently practical.

Driving dynamics felt fine, but nothing special, as well. In competition with Honda’s CRV, Mazda’s CX7, Toyota’s RAV4 and even Ford’s Escape the Rogue holds its own but does not shine. This is certainly a competent group, so keeping up with them is solid praise. We sit high enough to get that SUV view of the world. Sharp steering and independent suspension (front struts and rear multi-link design) make handling feel up to our expectations.

If you’re looking to spend between 20 and 30 grand on one of these small crossovers you have a lot of shopping to do. There are probably as many entries in this class as any except sedans. You’ll want to keep the Rogue on your shopping list, for sure.

But don’t expect it to be roguish.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved