2017-07-13 / Top News

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Nissan goes for a smaller, more distinct Rogue Sport

Adding the word “sport” to a car is usually just about enhancing a vehicle with a few more aggressive features. Ford offers new wheels, a different grille and deletes some chrome for this trim level on the Fusion, Edge and Explorer. So does the Honda Ridgeline. Even the luxury-level Range Rover Sport shares its wheelbase and engines with the standard Range Rover. So it could be easy to dismiss the Nissan Rogue Sport as just a trim level, when in fact, it’s a separate and distinct vehicle.

Despite possible confusion over this new crossover’s individuality, it will not likely be ignored. Buyers are now used to “sport” vehicles as a premium package, but the Rogue Sport starts out at $3,000 less than the standard Rogue. In fact, it seems like the less expensive model is out to steal customers who are solely shopping on sticker price, but there’s much more to the situation.

Nissan established two different crossover names on the international market over a decade ago, utilizing one platform. The X-Trail was boxy enough to look truck-based (but it wasn’t,) and the smaller Qashqai became popular in Europe for providing some sleek lines in a compact size. As crossover tastes began to unite under car-like designs, so did these two model lines. By 2014, the two established names merged similar stylings into big/little sibling alliance.

We didn’t see much of this in the U.S. because the latest Nissan Rogue is a version of the larger X-Trail, but the Qashqai never made it to our shores — until now.

The DNA shared between the Rogue and Rogue Sport is obvious. Similarities in the headlight designs, creased hood lines, and window profiles sometimes make the two indistinguishable to a casual consumer. This is likely why Nissan didn’t give the Rogue Sport a distinct name. After all, since we were never introduced to such exotic labels as the X-Trail and Qashqai, if Nissan tried that division on us now, we’d probably accuse them of making a mountain out of a molehill.

But the Rogue Sport’s design does live up to the “sport” expectations of buyers by foregoing much of the chrome details of its larger brother, giving it an overall sleeker appearance. And when looking at Nissan’s total lineup, it’s clear this one is serving as a midpoint between the somewhat polarizing styling of the smaller Juke and their more conventional larger crossovers/SUVs.

Inside, the Rogue Sport carries Nissan’s new style steering wheel that has a sporty grip and small horn cap reminiscent of a BMW. The base model starts at $22,380, and comes equipped with all the popular features — power windows, power locks, backup camera and keyless entry/ignition. But these are also found in a nearly identical layout on the redesigned 2017 Rogue.

The real difference between these two siblings starts behind the front seats. Compared to its big bro, the Rogue Sport’s wheelbase is a few inches smaller and over a foot shorter in total length. That makes legroom a little tighter in the back seat and not enough space for an optional third row.

There’s more distinction to the Rogue Sport out on the road. The 2.0-liter motor makes 140 horsepower, which is 30 less than the big Rogue’s standard 2.5-liter. Those extra ponies are missed under hard acceleration, but this is the case with many value-priced small crossovers.

Instead, the steering and suspension are really where this one earns the sport name. It feels a bit more responsive than its bigger bro and many of its competitors. This doesn’t compare to a true sport model like the Nissan 370Z, but it can be fun driving around town.

Like any good crossover, the Rogue Sport comes with plenty of option packages — everything from all-wheel drive to radar-based intelligent cruise control. But these will add to the weight and/or the price. So choose features carefully.

Nissan feels that there’s now enough room in the USA for the X-Trail and Qashqai to both fit under the Rogue name. And the best distinction of the Rogue Sport is when its role is as the svelte and affordable little brother. ¦

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