2008 Nissan Rogue

Nissan's brand new 2008 Rogue jumps into a hotly contested compact crossover/SUV segment with more than a dozen contestants.

Nissan's brand new 2008 Rogue jumps into a hotly contested compact crossover/SUV segment with more than a dozen contestants.

And this stylish five-seat crossover has come out swinging, winning Best New SUV/CUV under $35,000 according to Canadian auto journalists.

The Nissan Rogue replaces the X-Trail, which came to Canada in 2005. It was a funky little ute, with a central instrument pod, plastic fenders and a boxy profile. Utility was its calling card.

The Rogue eschews all those pretenses for a much more upscale and uptown look. The X-Trail's sharp creases and upright planes give way to the Rogue's organic flowing form. Its tapered snout and headlight clusters lead to a belt line that sweeps up to meet the sloping roofline.

A casualty of this fashion trend toward more car-like profiles in crossovers is a compromised rear cargo area. My large dog had to stick her head over the back seats, instead of having the option of chasing her tail like in the X-Trail.

That one practical issue aside, the Rogue is a far superior vehicle to its predecessor in every way.

Rogue pricing starts at $25,995 for the base front wheel drive S model. My loaded top-line SL AWD tester checked in at $35,023.

On-road dynamics show a fine blend of ride comfort, body control and car-like handling. The steering is nicely weighted and direct. This is one cute-ute that won't be embarrassed on a winding back road.

Power comes from a DOHC 2.5 L four with variable valve timing that puts out 170 hp at 6000 rpm and 175 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm Nissan claims the AWD Rogue has best-in-class fuel economy with a rating of 9.5 L/100 km city and 7.7 L/100 km highway (9.1 and 7.2 for the front-wheel-drive models). I averaged 9.5 L/100 km during my winter test week.

Look to Nissan's latest generation Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) for much of these fuel savings.

CVTs have their own quirks, not least of which being the apparent disconnect between engine speed and forward progress. Call for some brisk acceleration and the engine ramps up to about 3500 rpm and drones away while the car tails off in an unrelated manner. It's the most efficient use of the engine's torque, but not a particularly pleasant aural experience.

That said, when cruising around under light throttle, the engine is barely ticking above idle, and at 120 km/h, it spins at a lazy 2400 rpm.

For those who like a more traditional approach to cog-swapping, my tester featured optional steering wheel-mounted shift paddles controlling six sequential "gears" that are programmed into the CVT.

Rogue's all-wheel-drive system will give a 50/50 front/rear torque split when starting off, but reverts to 100 per cent front-wheel drive under normal driving conditions, another fuel saving feature.

Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control and six airbags are standard across the line.

Inside, the Rogue impresses with high quality plastics that complement a modern yet uncluttered design. The all-black treatment is a bit sombre, but it is leagues ahead of the X-Trail's cabin. The audio and HVAC controls on the centre console are large, legible and well laid out. Similarly, the two major gauges within the binnacle are easy to read.

My only dislike is the round orange-lit display (odometer, temperature, and fuel) between said gauges that glows like a halloween pumpkin at night.

You sit up high in the Rogue, with a good view down the road, although rearward visibility suffers due to the pinched roofline and broad D-pillars. Fortunately, the big rear-view mirrors mostly cover the blind spots. Backing up in a parking lot, however, is not much fun.

The Rogue is built on Nissan's new "C" platform which features extensive use of high-strength steel and has a long (for this class) wheelbase. Structurally, this CUV feels as stiff as a frozen boot and, as advertised, the rear legroom is perfectly adequate for those long-of-leg.

My AWD tester had the optional $4,600 Leather Package, which kicked the luxury quotient up a few notches. Along with leather seating surfaces and six-way power for the driver's chair, the package adds upgraded eight-speaker Bose audio, fog lights, trip computer, moon roof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, paddle shifters w/manual mode, auto-dimming inside mirror, fold-down passenger seat and foldable rear cargo organizer.

The $700 technology Package tossed Bluetooth, XM satellite radio and Intelligent Key System into the mix – the latter allowing you to lock/unlock the doors and start the car with the fob in your pocket.

After a week of zipping around the GTA in this stylish soft-roader, I grew to appreciate the Rogue's solid build quality, surprisingly brisk acceleration and competent handling. And I'm always happy to have AWD when the snow hits.

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