Nobody asked me, but . . .

Take a practical and functional Nissan Sentra compact 4-door sedan and send it to a Jose Canseco athletic club for a 2-week “treatment” and what do you get?

Give up?

Why, the 2008 Nissan Rouge, of course.  A Sentra pumped up here and pushed out there to create an even more functional compact crossover.  And just like Jose, who has a brother who also played pro ball, the Rogue has a familial look with the Maxima-based Murano.  The body language is similar with a signature grille, badging and integrated headlamps that speak Nissan very strongly and distinctively.  The Rogue evokes thoughts such as jaunty and sporty, exactly what Nissan’s designers were hoping for.

Rogue is available in front-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations and two trim levels: S and SL.  Prices start at an affordable $19,250 (plus $745 destination) for the base S 2WD and climb to a still affordable $21,870 for the better-equipped SL AWD  model I tested.  All models are powered by Nissan’s peppy 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, nicely matched to Nissan’s XtronicTM CVT.  Left to its own devices this continuously variable transmission keeps the revs comfortably and quietly between 3000-4000 rpm to provide smooth linear acceleration along with maximum performance and fuel economy, which the EPA estimates at 22/27 mpg, city/highway for 2WD versions and one mpg lower for AWD Rogues.

Nissan’s Intuitive AWD system features yaw moment control to detect when rotation of the Rogue exceeds what is normal for a given radius turn.  In other words, it alerts you to the fact that you are about TO SPIN OUT OF CONTROL!  Every Rogue also features standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with Traction Control (TCS).  These systems provide stable starts on dry or slippery roads and excellent all-weather performance and traction, which I tested to the max during some Christmas holiday visits to friends living in the snowy, icy Massachusetts Berkshires.  The litmus test was my three passengers remaining calm and serene despite my best efforts to do something untoward.

Unusual for this class is standard 4-wheel independent suspension, which proves its worth in providing a balance of ride comfort and driving stability along with a larger, more regularly shaped cargo compartment.

Responsive steering is provided by an electric power-assisted steering (EPS) system.  Every Rogue also comes equipped with power-assisted front and rear vented disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA).

Every Rogue comes standard with a plethora of standard passive safety features, including advanced dual-stage front air bags, front seat active head restraints, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags and roof-mounted curtain air bags (for front and rear outboard occupant head protection) with rollover detection.

Function and utility are strong points of the Rogue’s interior. The manual driver’s seat features a ratcheting height adjuster for an uplifting driving experience and a command view of the road ahead and to the sides.  Not as friendly are the rear and rear quartering outward vision, which narrows as a result of the pinching of the roof at the backlite. The layout of major controls, gauges and switches makes for easy use and quick readability.  A rear 60/40 split-folding bench seat and a cavernous petitioned glove box also are standard.  The audio system has A, B and C station presets, but figuring out their logic is not as simple as A B C.  The Rogue interior also excels in the areas of touchy-feely controls, soft surfaces and fit and finish.

My SL model had a number of options including a front passenger seat that folds flat, allowing more than 8.5 feet of front-to-rear cargo space for carrying long items such as wood or ladders and a trip computer readout set between the circular speedometer and tachometer gauges. Unfortunately, the readouts were too small to read easily.

Rogue’s roomy cargo area has several optional utility features, including a useful cargo organizer, which  pops up from a hidden space below the flat cargo floor.  A portion of the cargo floor snaps into a vertical position, revealing a flat recessed space with removable, vertical cargo nets.  The system helps prevent loose items from rolling around the cargo area while driving.  Also available is a washable, removable tray that fits below the cargo area floor to hold wet or dirty gear and tools and a rear tonneau cover to keep luggage and other items out of sight.

Farsighted in concept, design and execution, if not in rear vision, the smart and sassy Rogue is a standout in the compact SUV segment and adds all new meaning to the expression crossing over.

And rumor has it that Nissan engineers are already hard at work on a performance version of this compact crossover that will be fitted with a mildly detuned version of the 480-horsepower 3.8-liter twin turbo V6 in the 2009 Nissan GT-R super car.  With obvious hair-raising acceleration potential, it’s no wonder Nissan has named this version the Rogueaine.

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