Nissan enters mini-SUV fray with Japanese import
It is a common, if somewhat lazy, marketing technique to give a new product an old name in order to provide it with an instant boost of recognition in the marketplace. In the case of the Rogue Sport, such name loaning is at least halfway accurate: Nissan’s new small SUV is essentially a shrunken version of the existing Rogue. With a foot less length and a couple hundred pounds less curb weight, the Rogue Sport’s mission is to give Nissan a beachhead in the lively subcompact SUV segment.
But when you get to the second half of the name, accuracy goes out the window. The Rogue Sport is no sportier than the regular (and decidedly unsporty) Rogue. The acceleration is just as poky and the steering is just as numb, though the chassis does have that same faint underlying hint of brilliance. Should you decide you can be bothered to push this wee crossover hard into the corners, the Rogue Sport might surprise you with its composure and agility—provided it hasn’t already numbed your senses with its anesthetized helm and droning CVT.
But the Rogue Sport does have other, admittedly more pedestrian, charms. The Rogue Sport only loses 2.3 inches of wheelbase to its big brother, and it’s also about a half-foot longer stem to stern than most of its subcompact competitors. That translates to a surprisingly habitable back seat with reasonable room for adults—provided the front-seaters don’t ram their own seats all the way back. Cargo space is still useful at 22.9 cubic feet, and a removable floor panel provides hidden storage. The back seats fold flat. No surprise that the Rogue’s optional third-row seat is not offered in the Rogue Sport, but we do wish the reclining rear seatbacks carried over.
Most other interior hardware is shared with the Rogue—the dashboard, steering wheel, and seats are virtually identical. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Just as the Rogue is based on the European-market X-Trail, the Rogue Sport is based on the Qashqai. Both are positioned as upscale vehicles, and that shows in the quality of the materials and the switchgear.
But what’s almost shocking is the Rogue Sport’s lack of infotainment technology. Android Auto? Nope. Apple CarPlay? Nuh-uh. How about a USB port for the back seat? Of course not, and how dare you ask! You’ll get one USB port, and you’ll like it. We’re sure this will go over great with the hordes of tech-weary millennials who are looking to get away from their portable devices and simplify their lives.
Another oddball aspect to the Rogue Sport is fuel economy. The Rogue Sport gets a smaller 2.0 liter four-cylinder that develops 141 hp and 147 lb-ft, as opposed to the 170-hp, 175-lb-ft 2.5-liter in the big Rogue. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Rogue Sport are 25/32 mpg (9.4/7.3 L/100km) city/ highway with front-wheel drive and 24/30 (9.8/7.8 L/100km) with all-wheel drive—numbers that are 1–2 mpg worse than the regular Rogue and well behind competitors such as the Honda HR-V (27/31 (8.7/7.6 L/100km) in automatic/AWD form). Our prediction: Someone in Nissan’s engineering department is about to have a very unpleasant performance review.
One area where the Rogue Sport chalks up points against the Honda HR-V and Buick Encore (and equals the Mazda CX-3) is advanced safety hardware. Automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control are all on the options list, which is the good news. The bad news is that those features are only optional on the top-of-the-line SL model, which will set you back a tough-to-swallow 30 grand.
That leads us to the Rogue Sport’s pricing in general. It could be a problem. With MSRP ranging from $22,380 USD for the basic front-drive Rogue Sport S to $31,625 USD for an AWD SL with all of the options, the Rogue Sport rings up one to three grand more expensive than the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, and Jeep Renegade. Perhaps Nissan will market the Rogue Sport as a tweener: bonus space compared to subcompact crossovers, better value than the compacts like RAV4 and CR-V.
Now this review might lead you to believe that we dislike the Rogue Sport, but that’s really not the case. Obviously, we’re not in love with it; if there’s a curvy road ahead, we’d much rather be at the wheel of a Mazda CX-3 or a Mini Countryman. But for the kind of driving most of us do most of the time—long freeway cruises, cramped suburban shopping centers, and urban rush-hour traffic—the Rogue Sport is a rather pleasant companion. It’s comfortable, quiet, maneuverable, and generally unobtrusive, the same formula that is propelling the regular-size Rogue to ever-higher sales heights. No matter what you think of the new Rogue Sport, you should at least credit Nissan for giving it a halfway-accurate name.