2008 Nissan Rogue

Nissan's new car-based crossover features a sporty wagon design and sporty on-road manners.

Baltimore, MD.–Just as the delivery van cut me off, I glimpsed a sea of brake lights as six lanes of fast moving freeway traffic funnelled into four and then split again, taking cars in separate directions around the Washington/Baltimore ring-road.

The realization that the van had just stolen my stopping buffer sank in a micro-second before I nailed the brakes – swerving out of the lane just as he started to skid. I shot past him on the shoulder, missed another car that had pulled the same emergency manoeuvre and then finally, slowly, merged back into the now crawling mass of metal – without ever taking a breath.

That was my introduction to the all-new Nissan Rogue which, by the way, comes standard with four-wheel ABS disc brakes; Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD); Standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and a Traction Control System (TCS) – all of which I got to test in that hairy moment.

The Rogue is Nissan's new entry-level car-based crossover with a sleek sporty-wagon design, which it is intent on shoehorning into a segment that by its own count already has some 21 competing entries – many of which offer similar sleek sporty-wagon designs. That said, it is by far the fastest growing of all the automotive segments, particularly in Canada, and it is the place to be.

Pricing for the new Rogue has yet to be released, but a company spokesperson suggested that a price walk of between $25,000 and $35,000 would be close to right.

Considering the new technology, design and safety features of the Rogue, those prices are quite sharp considering that the X-Trail (which it replaces) was being sold at between $25,900 and $33,800 on its introduction in late '04.

That little SUV, the X-Trail (a Nissan world vehicle still available across the globe), came into Canada for a short three-year run to plug a hole in the Nissan lineup that the Rogue now calls home.

Most consumers assume that a replacement vehicle like the new Rogue is a continuing evolution of the former model – most often, yes, but not in this case.

In fact the Rogue replacing the X-Trail is deceiving because the Rogue and X-Trail are not of the same species and in a word, that's good.

Built in Japan on the new Alliance C-platform, this car-based crossover (it's really not an SUV anymore) features a multi-link rear suspension that does away with the X-Trail's room-robbing strut towers, and an independent front suspension with stabilizer bar and high-performance shocks with rebound springs.

As I said, much more car-based – or biased, if you prefer.

Either way the result is a sporty on-road feel, flat cornering with almost no body roll – with the right tires you could probably rally with it.

And, frankly, that's the image that Nissan wants to flog, reinforced with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters available on the AWD equipped models.

Sporty, fun and designed to be goof-proof – the computer will shift for you if you forget or redline the engine while in the manual paddle-shift mode. It's fun and every manufacturer seems to offer them. But beware, I figure paddle shifters are the Pet Rock of the new millennium: everyone has to have one, only to soon lose interest. Thankfully it's an option.

The Rogue is powered by a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine that makes 170 hp and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, an improvement over the X-Trail for the slightly (17.8 cm) longer Rogue. The power is pushed through its Xtronic CVT (constantly variable transmission), which Nissan is using more and more.

CVTs are great at getting the most out of an engine, but for many of us, the fact that you don't feel it shift is disconcerting and while accelerating hard, it runs to 6000 r.p.m., whines, and sticks there while the vehicle gains speed.

The AWD system, of which I have first-hand knowledge in the Rogue, is tied into a Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) that measures yaw, wheel slip and steering angle then controls the torque distribution, front to back, as needed to keep the car body in line with the steering direction.

This continually variable torque to all the wheels is what is special. Many AWD systems are fixed at 50/50 or 60/40 front to rear. But the Rogue can go from 0/100 and back to 100/0 in probably less time than it takes to read this.

In real life that means if the vehicle is under-steering into a corner, more power is pushed to the rear wheels to bring it around to the angle of the steering wheels.

While it's hard to get a sense of this system when you're driving on dry pavement (you'd have to be pushing pretty hard), where it will be instantly felt is in wet or snowy conditions.

Golly, that might just be good for Canada, eh?

Take note though: this is not a 4WD system or is it billed as such. In fact, during the drive there wasn't even a country road offered up to try the AWD/VDC combination. It was pavement all the way out to Gettysburg, Pa. and back. But, to Nissan's credit, it is not claiming any off-road attributes.

That said, there is still a very obvious utility component to the Rogue design.

The rear hatch opens to an easy-clean floor with a foldable cargo organizer under it. The rear 60/40 seats fold flat and with an optional fold-flat front passenger seat; extra long items can be carried with the hatch closed.

A large centre console is designed to hold drinks for the front and rear passengers, has a cellphone holder, 12V outlet, slots for coins, wallet or garage-door opener and it's still large enough to hold a dozen CDs and a box of tissue. And that still leaves the oversize dashboard glovebox for your collection of ketchup packets.

Safety, always a key concern, is also well represented with active head restraints, dual-stage front air bags, side-impact air bags and curtain air bags for front and rear occupants with a rollover sensor – none of which I tested.

The Rogue will be offered as an S or SL edition in either an AWD or FWD-only versions. There will also be trim packages that will include leather and entertainment systems.

Nissan is hoping to sell up to 14,000 Rogues in Canada next year after they start arriving in mid-September.

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