Nissan showed off some serious cabin tech innovations over the last couple of years, but leaves them out of the all-new 2008 Nissan Rogue. This entry-level car fits into the new crossover segment, and seems like a cut-rate version of Nissan's Murano. The cabin tech it does have mostly concerns the audio system and is well integrated with the car.
For an entry-level crossover, it has abundant cargo space and a nicely designed, modern exterior. The Rogue is very easy to drive, although it is a little wobbly due to its high center of gravity. The engine isn't particularly powerful, and we would consider the fuel economy only average. But the Rogue's highest tech feature is in the driveline, with a continuously variable transmission sporting virtual gears.
Test the tech: Virtual shifting
When the 2008 Nissan Rogue showed up in our garage, we were surprised to see that its continuously variable transmission included a manual shift mode. With an automatic transmission, manual gear selection locks it into one of its gears, but a continuously variable transmission has no fixed gears. For its manual selection mode, it uses six virtual gears, created by programming in at specific ratios. When we used a similar system on the Lexus GS450h, a Lexus engineer downplayed the usefulness of these virtual gears, suggesting they mainly worked to slow a car going down a hill.
But we put the Nissan Rogue's virtual gears through the paces we would reserve for a car with fixed gears. And we came away impressed--Nissan has figured out a way to make its continuously variable transmission behave like a manual.
Our first test involved timed runs to 60 mph, in Drive and by manually selecting the gears. For the first run, we just put the car in Drive and held the gas pedal all the way down. The car skittered a little, then built up speed; its 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine getting us to 60 mph in a leisurely 9.3 seconds. We switched to manual mode, holding gears right up to redline using the paddle shifters mounted on the wheel. We gained a little time over our initial run, getting to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds. The difference in times showed that the manual mode is worth something, as we were able to run the revs up higher than Drive mode allowed.
For the second test, we took the Rogue up a winding mountain road, using sport driving techniques by downshifting and applying power before the turns. During this test, we were able to keep the Rogue in virtual third gear on most of the straightaways, then put it into second as we approached each curve. A strong foot on the gas through the turn produced some tire squealing pleasure and carried us out the other end, although we couldn't push it too hard due to the height of the vehicle. The gear shifts accomplished what they were supposed to, and felt reasonably solid in the bargain, but the small engine couldn't provide the power to make this type of driving really exciting.
Finally, we took the Rogue on a downhill run to see how well the virtual gears worked at engine braking. It came as no surprise that our gear selections worked as advertised, keeping the car at a reasonable speed. We kept it in second for a lot of this run, as we had a fairly steep and curving road. This part of the test revealed how solid these virtual gears felt. Overall, we were impressed with the performance of the virtual gears, feeling they did an excellent job of mimicking fixed gears. We only ended up wishing for a more powerful engine to take advantage of the transmission.