Nissan Goes Rogue
The Good: Good looks, fuel economy, decent price
The Bad: Only one choice of engine, noisy on the highway, less cargo space than key rivals
The Bottom Line: Check it out before buying a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4
If you had asked me a few months ago whether the U.S. market needed yet another compact SUV, my reply would have been a resounding "No way!" Lucky thing I'm not running Nissan (NSANY). Consumers snapped up 17,531 of its new Rogue compact SUVs in the first three months of this year, which is a lot considering the economy is tanking and gas prices are soaring.
What shoppers seem to like about the Rogue is its combination of sporty good looks, practicality, and low price. At 183 inches, the Rogue is about the same length as the top-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota (TM) RAV4. However, like the Honda (HMC), the Rogue only comes with two rows of seats, so it doesn't have the carpooling capability of the RAV4, which has an optional third row of seats. That makes the Rogue a good choice for young couples who are just starting a family, or older couples who only have light hauling and carpooling needs.
The Rogue comes with either all-wheel or front-wheel drive, but there's only one available engine: a 2.5-liter, 170-hp four-banger. The only choice of transmission is a continuously variable (CVT) automatic. The trade-off is that Nissan has packed its new baby SUV with convenience and safety features at a relatively low price. The basic Rogue S with front-wheel drive starts at just $19,995, rising to $22,735 for the fancier Rogue SL with all-wheel drive. On top of that, through the end of June, Nissan is offering a $500 cash rebate on the Rogue, which is unusual for a popular new model. (Some Detroit models carry even bigger discounts. More on that later.)
Another of the Rogue's strong points is it gets modestly better mileage than a comparable CR-V and RAV4, thanks to its slightly lower weight and the efficiency of its transmission (CVTs increase fuel efficiency by up to 10%). The Rogue is rated to get 22 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway with front-wheel drive, 21/26 with all-wheel drive. By comparison, an all-wheel-drive CR-V is rated at 20/26 and an all-wheel-drive RAV4 with a four-cylinder engine at 20/25. (In 286 miles of mainly highway driving in an AWD Rogue, I got 21.9 mpg.)
The Rogue S comes standard with a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, full power accessories, and a CD player. The only optional equipment are dealer-installed add-ons such as a body-colored rear spoiler ($330), floor and cargo mats ($180), and splash guards ($125).
The SL adds such standard gear as roof racks, tinted windows, a height-adjustable driver's seat, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The main option package available on the SL goes for $2,200 in the AWD version and $1,800 in the FWD version and includes a fancy seven-speaker Bose sound system, XM satellite radio, paddle shifters, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, xenon headlights, and numerous other convenience features. Leather upholstery costs an extra $1,800, a moonroof $800, and a towing package $450.
The '08 Rogue earned four- or five-star ratings in all crash test categories from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Front, side, and head-protecting side curtain airbags are standard, as are four-wheel antilock brakes and stability and traction control.
Behind the Wheel
I really like the way the Rogue feels when you slip behind its steering wheel. The front seat area has a cockpit-like design similar to a sporty car's, and the standard two-tone upholstery on the seats is surprisingly attractive. Yet when you crank up the seat using the manual control, you have the high perch and good visibility typical of a larger SUV.
My problems with the Rogue start when it's under way. Like most compact SUVs these days, the Rogue is car-based rather than truck-based, so it handles well. Unfortunately, it isn't particularly fast. I clocked it at a bit over nine seconds in accelerating from zero to 60 mph, which is slow for a sporty compact SUV. Motor Trend timed the front-wheel-drive Rogue at a more respectable 8.2 seconds, but if you lust for speed, check out the RAV4 with a six-cylinder engine, which is much faster.
Connecting paddle shifters to a CVT also doesn't work very well in the Rogue. In automatic mode, the transmission unwinds in one continuous skein, with no changing of gears. Put the system in manual mode, and you can either do the shifting yourself, or let the transmission do it. Either way, software creates the sensation of gears changing, but it seems to be mainly for aesthetic reasons. The transmission seems less efficient in manual mode: In my tests, the car was a click or two slower in zero-to-60 runs when it was in manual mode.
I also found the Rogue a bit noisy on the highway. You can feel and hear every seam in the pavement. When I drove on bumpy back roads, an annoying rattle developed in the dash of my test vehicle somewhere to the left of the steering wheel.
Front head and legroom in the Rogue are about the same as in the RAV4—which is to say adequate for average-sized adults. Rear headroom is about the same, too, but rear legroom is noticeably more cramped.
A number of storage compartments are spread around the Rogue's cabin. The glove box is spacious, and there's an innovative storage rack in the rear that keeps groceries from spilling and folds up when not in use. There's also a removable tray under the rear deck designed for storing wet gear. Unfortunately, there are no bottle-holders molded into map storage spaces in the front doors, and no storage spaces at all molded into the rear doors.
The Rogue has 29 cubic feet of luggage capacity with the rear seats up, expanding to 58 cu. ft. with the rear seats down, more or less matching cargo space in the Mazda CX-7 and Saturn Vue. However, a comparable CR-V and RAV4 have significantly more cargo space with the second-row seats both up and down.
Buy It or Bag It?
Scratch the Rogue off your list if you do a lot of carpooling, and instead consider the RAV4 or Mitsubishi Motors' (7211.T) redesigned Outlander. They're a bit more expensive than the Rogue, but can be had with a third row of seats. The RAV4 goes for about $24,676 after an average rebate of $686, according to the Power Information Network (PIN). Through Apr. 30, Mitsubishi is offering $500 rebates on the Outlander ($1,000 if you already own a Mitsubishi), which has lowered that model's average price to $24,604.
However, you can definitely save money—on the Rogue or one of its Detroit rivals—if you can get by with only two rows of seats. Nissan's $500 rebate offer has lowered the Rogue's recent average selling price to $23,444, according to PIN. By contrast, Honda isn't offering cash rebates on the CR-V, so it sells for an average of $24,245, nearly a grand more than the Rogue. Mazda isn't offering cash rebates on the CX-7 either, though dealers seem to be coming down on price. The CX-7, however, still sells for a relatively high $25,331 after an average rebate of $967, PIN says. (Like BusinessWeek, PIN is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHC).)
Detroit models sell for less because they're being more heavily discounted. For instance, through Apr. 30, Ford (F) is offering $2,000 rebates (and sometimes more) on the '08 Ford Escape, lowering its average price to $21,978. General Motors (GM) is offering $1,500 cash off on the '08 Saturn Vue ($3,000 off if you already own a late-model GM vehicle), lowering the Vue's average price to $22,086. GM and Japan's Subaru have similar $1,000/$2,000 cash-back offers out on the Chevrolet Equinox and Subaru Forester, dropping the average price of the Equinox to $22,641 and of the Forester to $21,604, according to PIN.
The bottom line is there are numerous inexpensive models to consider if you're shopping for a compact crossover SUV. The Rogue has a lot to offer, but in this market it pays to shop around.
See more of the 2008 Nissan Rogue in BusinessWeek.com's slide show.