Change. This seemingly novel concept has been hammered into our noggins for months, but in terms of SUVs, “change” is nothing new. Large models continue to serve a need, though the ranks are being fleshed out by efficient alternatives like the 2009 Nissan Rogue. This useful little rig won’t tow your Chris-Craft, yet it does achieve 22 mpg in the city and up to 27 mpg on the highway, and is backed by a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and 5 years/60,000 miles of powertrain coverage. Prices start at $21,000 for the S; our well-equipped SL rang up at $27,120.
When it debuted, the 2008 Rogue represented a Nissan-badged alternative to models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. For 2009, the lineup continues with front- and all-wheel-drive S and SL variants. Buyers enjoy standard features such as tilt steering and an auxiliary jack as well as power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, and cruise control. The SL takes things a step further by replacing the S’s 16-inch steel wheels with 17-inch alloys, body-color exterior trim in lieu of black bits, rear privacy glass, a handy trip computer for tracking fuel economy, and roof rails that can accommodate up to 99 pounds of cargo when fitted with optional cross bars.
A folding front passenger seat is standard on the 2009 Rogue SL. This item had been part of the SL’s Premium Package, featuring a Bose sound system with steering wheel controls, a six-disc CD changer, Bluetooth compatibility, a keyless ignition system, and more (all-wheel-drive SLs also get paddle shifters and xenon headlights). A Leather Package wraps the interior in hides, swaps in a six-way power driver’s seat, heats the front chairs, and tacks on other tidbits like a compass in the rearview mirror. Other options include a navigation system and a moonroof.
Last but not least are safety features incorporated into the 2009 Nissan Rogue, winner of the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick award. That designation is due in part to standard stability and traction control systems, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front-side and side-curtain airbags, and a tire pressure monitor.
In the Driver's Seat
Though it scores a win in the front leg room column, the 2009 Rogue actually offers less interior space than the similarly-priced Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. However, hop into Nissan’s little people mover and you’ll discover that specs don’t necessarily tell the complete story.
Up front are spacious and supportive buckets providing a comfy spot to sit back and cruise. The tilt steering wheel helps ensure a suitable driving position, padded window sills and armrests are welcome respites for lazy forearms, and Premium and Leather packages dial things up with dual-setting heated chairs, power lumbar, and soft material on the steering wheel. With the front seats adjusted for our five-foot-eight-inch-tall reviewer, rear leg and foot room were generous; head room was plentiful. When taller folks are relegated to the second row, soft front seatbacks will do little harm to their knees. Standing in contradiction to those pluses are hard window sills, the absence of a fold-down center armrest, and a non-reclining rear bench delivering something short of satisfactory thigh support.
This hit-and-miss theme carries throughout the rest of the Rogue’s cabin. The optional Bose system boasts clear controls but the climate control’s rotating dash vents feel as though they could break after a bit of kid abuse. Storage, aided by a folding 60/40 rear seat and a generous front console, suffers from a relatively high cargo floor and roughly 25 fewer cargo feet of cargo space compared to the Honda and Toyota.
On the Road
At the heart of every 2009 Nissan Rogue is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine cranking out 170 horses and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, putting this little ‘ute on par with the RAV4 and placing it ahead of the less powerful CR-V. Fuel economy figures are comparable. The RAV4 can also be had with a V-6 that gives it a 3,500-lb. towing capacity – 2,000 more than the Rogue.
During our drive of a decked-out front-drive Rogue SL, we averaged a respectable 24.2 mpg. The relatively refined little four-banger was shy of what we’d call powerful, but plant the throttle and zippy response will move this small crossover out of its own way…eventually. Like most new Nissans, the Rogue features a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), one that has not been blessed with set gear algorithms as seen in the updated Maxima and Murano. As a result, the tachometer spins to 6-7,000 rpm while the CVT works to put power to the pavement (available paddle shifters likely improve things). We spent a lot of time with the pedal mashed, making 24.2 mpg all the more impressive.
Handling is typical of a non-sport crossover, as the Rogue absorbs bumps well and delivers a modicum of steering response. The suspension is set for comfort and the brakes easily modulated, making this Nissan a great choice for habitual commuters seeking a calm ride home. Drivers with a bit of pepper in their veins, however, will be disappointed by the Rogue’s tendency to lean and understeer in corners. For them, perhaps a Mazda CX-7 is a better fit.
Shoppers interested in a small utility vehicle are afforded an increasing number of options, including but not limited to the Hyundai Tucson/ Kia Sportage, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Jeep Patriot, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan. With few exceptions, that list represents some serious competition for Nissan’s mini ‘ute.
For the most part, the 2009 Rogue handles the pressure with admirable finesse – there’s adequate grunt under the hood, plenty of available features to appease a broad range of potential buyers, optional all-wheel drive, decent visibility, and a well-controlled ride. Factor in the Leather Package’s soft upholstery coupled with the comfortable driving position, and you’ve got the makings for a winner…especially when gas prices are high. Even the as-tested price of $27,120, which struck us as lofty at first glance, is reasonable when viewed in the light of comparably-equipped alternatives.
Based on those accolades, one might assume there would be a Rogue in every driveway. Perhaps that scenario will be plausible someday, but in the meantime, Nissan can spend some time fine-tuning that high-strung CVT, reconfiguring the trunk to deliver more competitive cargo capacity, and maybe mix a smidge of zest into the styling.