ASHVILLE, Tennessee — I came to Music City with less than high expectations for the new 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport. After all, its Rogue sibling, while a best-selling crossover and a rather useful vehicle in its own right, is about as exciting as a cheese sandwich on white bread from an enthusiast’s perspective.
The Rogue Sport is based on the European-market Nissan Qashqai (“cash-kai”, though feel free to adopt my preferred pronunciation, “cash cow”), while the regular Rogue is similar to the X-Trail. All this would be much more exciting if the Qashqai and X-Trail were radically different vehicles.
I tend to dislike the use of model-name extensions like “Sport,” and in this case Rogue Light probably would have been a better call, as it’s similar to its big bro in many ways and there isn’t a lot of sport going on here. Styling changes to the front and rear fascias of the Sport are so subtle that it takes a long look to tell the two Rogues apart, though the Rogue Sport does appear more athletic in profile. Interior bits, including the dash, steering wheel, and seats are virtually identical as well.
Dimensionally, the Rogue Sport is about a foot shorter, slightly narrower and not as tall as the Rogue, though it’s still nearly half a foot longer than competing subcompacts. Most of the length reduction affects the back seat, which loses 4.5 inches of legroom, and the cargo area, which shrinks by 9.1 cubic feet to 22.9. The Rogue Sport does without the Rogue’s optional third-row seat and reclining second row, and its cargo-area configuration options are simplified. There is one noticeable misstep with its interior packaging: although Nissan is promoting the Rogue Sport as a youth-market vehicle, it lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and possesses only one USB port (though you can add two more as a dealer-installed accessory). That’s probably not going to go down well with the tech-savvy customers Nissan is trying to attract.
Nissan hasn’t announced an official curb weight, but we expect it’ll be at least a couple hundred pounds lighter. If you’re salivating as I was at the thought of what the Rogue’s 2.5-liter four can do with less weight to drag around, you can stop now: The Rogue Sport gets a smaller 2.0-liter mill that delivers 141 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque, a deficit of 29 hp and 28 lb-ft compared to the bigger engine. It’s a doubly curious choice given the sacrifice in power doesn’t translate into a fuel economy bonus. The front drive Rogue Sport is EPA rated at 25/32 city/highway and the all-wheel drive version at 24/30 mpg — figures that are 1-2 MPG lower than a comparable Rogue.
Unsurprisingly, acceleration is pretty lackluster, and its CVT (the only gearbox available) often makes for a droning engine note that at times can be less-than-pleasant to the ears. That said, if you get aggressive with the throttle, it will snap off ratio changes in a reasonable imitation of a conventional automatic.
On the plus side, the Rogue Sport offers a ride that is smooth, quiet, and well composed. The crossover grips well and stays nicely composed in the turns. While it’s easy to maneuver around town and unobtrusive on the highway, its steering offers little feedback and though Nissan has “Regular” and “Sport” modes, we found virtually no difference between them. If Nissan could improve that one element, it would noticeably improve the Rogue Sport experience.
And as far as packaging goes, the back seat gets tight when the front seats are at their full rearward travel, but it’s generally tolerable for adults — and fine for kids. The cargo bay has plenty of room for suitcases, and the trick false floor can be removed for extra space or left in place for a flat load floor with the rear seats folded. The safety resume is decent: Auto braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure mitigation are all on the options list.
There’s one other problem, and that’s the price. The 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport S starts at $22,380 (including a $960 destination fee), while a top-of-the-range SL with all-wheel-drive and all factory options lists for $31,625. That makes the Rogue Sport one to three grand more dear than its competitors, and I think that’s going to make for an uphill battle, particularly if buyers compare it to the superior packaging of the Honda HR-V, driving experience of the Mazda CX-3, or off-road chops of the Jeep Renegade.
All in all though, the Rogue Sport is a capable enough package. The styling is handsome in an inoffensive way; the drive is comfortable, if not engaging; and build quality is impeccable. It’s a safe bet that the Rogue Sport will be just as successful in the marketplace as the Rogue. For that I respect it, even if I don’t quite love it.