- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

Every manufacturer wants us to believe that it has redefined the segment with its crossover contribution. Some are more like station wagons while others are SUV like, but in truth they are car-based vehicles that may or may not have all-wheel drive.

Wow, that covers a lot of territory, you say. Yes it does. In truth, today´s crossovers are to minivans what minivans were to station wagons in the 1980s. Offering more utility than a sedan and better fuel economy than an SUV, most crossovers are really just butched up minivans – versatility and utility are their long suits.

Nissan calls its Rogue: a whole new crossover. Is it? From behind the wheel it certainly feels sportier than either of its major competitors: Toyota´s Rav4 and Honda´s CR-V. But then it offers less utility than these segment leaders. Its athletic handling and peppy acceleration make it uniquely fun to drive – particularly on urban slogs. But if hauling maximum amounts of luggage or cargo is a key criteria, its capacity is dwarfed by the Honda and Toyota. Rogue´s maximum luggage/cargo (with the second seat folded flat) capacity is 28.9/58 cubic feet. That compares to 35.7/73 cubic feet in the CR-V and 36.4/73 cubic feet in the Rav4.

If the most your crossover will be called on to carry are a few bags of groceries or a couple of suitcases for the holiday trip to Grandma´s, the Rogue will more than fill the bill. Its jellybean profile and beefy flanks combine to give it a solid yet friendly appearance. If it had voice, it would probably sing “Whistle While You Work” as it performs its daily commutes. It´s a vehicle you can feel good about driving. Fuel economy is about the same as the four-cylinder Rav4 and CR-V with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

Nissan offers the front-wheel-drive Rogue in two flavors. Anchoring the lineup is the $21,000 S while the top-end version is the $22,590 SL. Fulltime all-wheel drive is a $1,200 option for either the S or SL. Despite boasting about the same ground clearance as a Ford Escape, Rogue´s AWD is strictly a foul-weather system that doesn´t provide any off-road settings.

Even when dressed in S trim, as the test Nissan was, the Rogue is well contented. Among the standard features are a tilt steering wheel, six airbags, fold-flat 60/40 rear-bench seat, cruise control, remote keyless entry, full power accessories, air conditioning, and a four-speaker audio system featuring a CD player and auxiliary input jack. For the additional bucks the SL commands it provides 17-inch alloy wheels in place of the 16-inch steel wheels on the S, fold-down front passenger seat, trip computer and tinted windows.

Buyers of the S must be satisfied with the standard features offered because no factory options are available. The SL can be gussied up with options such as leather, a moonroof and a $1,930 Premium Package that includes an upgraded Bose audio system with eight speakers, six-disc CD changer and XM satellite radio capability, redundant steering wheel-mounted audio controls, retractable cargo cover, fog lights and the Intelligent Key keyless entry/ignition system.

Motivating Rogue is a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. This is a few ponies more than the CR-V and a few less than the four-cylinder Rav4. A CVT distributes engine output to the wheels. Buyers of the AWD SL can opt for a driver-shiftable CVT that provides artificial shift points when in manual mode. Acceleration falls short of neck snapping, but things get moving quickly enough. Reaching 60 miles per hour from a stop in the 2WD Rogue takes just over eight seconds.

Rogue´s remarkably car-like ride is responsible for its sporty feel. Although built on the Sentra platform, Rogue casts aside Sentra´s solid rear axle for a multi-link setup.

MacPherson struts are the core of the front suspension. Stabilizer bars reinforce both the front and rear suspension. Highly maneuverable, this small crossover feels stable and well connected to the pavement. The steering is smooth and quick.

An antilock system supervises the disc brakes on all four corners. Stability control and traction control are standard on both trim levels, as are electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist. A tire monitoring system is included in the base price, too.

The well-crafted interior is comfortable with supportive seats and simple-to-use controls. The central gauges are large and easy to see. A deep center console will swallow all sorts of stuff. Located just inches above the shift lever, the audio controls can be used without diverting much attention from the road. The climate controls are in the form of three large round knobs just under the audio system. If there is a caveat from the driver´s seat, it´s the tunnel-effect rearward view. The rear window is a bit smallish and the view crunched.

Priced a little below its target competitors, Rogue is a good value. Its clean exterior lines, carefully assembled interior and fun-to-drive nature make it easy to overlook its somewhat stingy cargo capacity. It is a wonderful place to spend those grinding work-day commutes.

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