The Toyota RAV4 established the compact crossover segment way back in 1996, but Nissan is only now fielding an entry, the Rogue. Although the name might suggest an aberrant or at least atypical approach, the Rogue rides comfortably in the wake of the RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.
Unlike the trucklike-and-proud-of-it Xterra, which had been Nissan's sole effort to net shoppers of lower-priced SUVs, the Rogue takes a mainstream approach, with a car-based, unibody chassis, a four-cylinder engine, and front- or all-wheel drive. No V-6 is offered, lest the Rogue crowd its (slightly) bigger brother, the Nissan Murano, even more than it does already.
Like the Murano, the Rogue's sole transmission is a CVT. Nissan embraces this technology more so than any other automaker, and the example in the Rogue is one of the best we've driven-you could almost forget it's not a conventional gearbox. The Rogue's electric power steering is also commendably conventional-feeling, with just-right efforts. Nissan has tuned its small crossover for responsive cornering, but the downside is a ride that delivers sharp kicks over bumps.
One can see the Murano family resemblance in the Rogue's exterior design, but to our eyes the Murano is the handsome first-born and the Rogue is the somewhat dorky younger sibling. Both have an upswept beltline that limits rear quarter visibility and a rounded, sloping rear end that constricts cargo space. People-space, though, is adequate, and the driver faces a rounded dashboard that's pleasantly sporty looking. The judicious use of padded surfaces and some nice graining on the dash and door panels offset the cheap plastic on the console. Overall, the interior is not a bad place to be.
The Rogue's position in the market, though, is tougher. Nissan's entry is an agreeable vehicle, but it's a latecomer to this segment. Without any real standout quality, the Rogue has a hard time making a case for itself in the panoply of competitors. The Rogue goes on sale September 18, 2007, and the front-wheel drive S model will start at under $20,000.