First drive: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport [Review]

Rogue\'s mini-me comes to America.

Stop us if you've heard this before, but there's a new small crossover in town.

Overseas (and in Canada, too, for that matter), it's called the Qashqai, but Nissan chose to riff on its volume CUV's nameplate for the U.S. market. Why? Ostensibly, it was done to capitalize on the strength of Rogue's brand; it is one of the best-selling vehicles in America, after all. If we were to put money on it, however, we'd wager that the real reason is that Nissan knew the average American would take one look at an advertisement and ask, "What the hell is a Kwash-kwa-yee?"

That Nissan's choice of nomenclature prompts its own set of questions is neither here nor there, really, but at this point it would be prudent of you to ask what the hell a Rogue Sport is. Well, it's a Qashqai, of course.

Sorry. We couldn't resist.

No, really, what exactly is the Rogue Sport?For starters, the Rogue Sport is neither a Rogue nor is it particularly sporty. It is the non-American execution of a compact CUV, meaning it's a little bit smaller and a little bit more sophisticated than its American equivalent (the Rogue), while still being large enough to serve the same purpose overseas. Some may even go so far as to call it "right-sized."

We're not so sure what's right or wrong here, to be honest, but we can tell you what makes them different. The Rogue Sport is a little smaller in every dimension, giving up just over two inches of wheelbase, a foot of overall length, five inches of height and just a shade under half an inch of width to its bigger sibling.

So, it's smaller. It's also lighter, though not as light as we'd like. There's a 200-pound difference when you compare front-wheel-drive models of each, and while that's not exactly trivial, it's the raw number that really stands out. The Rogue Sport starts at 3,225 pounds; we wouldn't exactly call that "light" in any sort of absolute sense.

Moving targetsHere's the thing, though: The segment in which the Rogue Sport competes is so murkily defined that it's hard to really nail down how big a crossover in this part of the market "should" be. We often struggle to classify these offerings in our own copy; simply pigeonholing them all as "subcompact" crossovers is often disingenuous.

There are a handful of offerings out there that fit this definition. Take the Mazda CX-3 or Honda HR-V for instance. Both are derivatives of their companies' subcompact cars (the Mazda2 and Fit, respectively), and tend to top out around the 3,000-pound mark, give or take. Then there are the Subaru Crosstreks of the world, which theoretically compete in the same space but are actually based on compacts (the Impreza, in Subaru's case), and for each car like it, there seems to be a counterpoint in the form of a compact-derived crossover aimed at the next size class up (see: Ford Escape).

With the Rogue Sport, Nissan is employing the "call a larger car small" approach, a la Subaru et al. In this case, however, it's even more egregious, as the Rogue Sport and the larger Rogue are based on the same platform. Nissan's own lineup also sort of awkwardly forces the Rogue Sport up the size ladder a bit because it is book-ended by the "we can call it a crossover if we want to" Juke on one side and the not-Sport Rogue on the other.

A "true" competitor to the smaller crossovers in the segment would be somewhere between the Juke and the Rogue Sport. With the way this market is going, don't be too surprised if they actually end up building such a thing, too.

Confused yet? Welcome to the club.

Moving onThat's the long way around to saying that the Rogue Sport is kind of big, and that leads us to our next point: it's also kind of underpowered. Unlike the Rogue, which borrows its powertrain from the midsize Altima sedan, the Rogue Sport makes do with the Sentra's. If you've already done the math on that, you're probably cringing.

For those who aren't familiar, that means the Rogue Sport is offered with a 2.0L, naturally aspirated four-cylinder that produces just 141 horsepower and 147lb-ft of torque; and yes, it's paired to Nissan's Xtronic CVT. That combination is charged with moving anywhere between 3,200 and 3,400 pounds, depending on whether you choose front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, and whether you like things like moonroofs and premium audio systems.

SportSo if it's heavy and somewhat lacking in the underhood department, what about the Rogue Sport is, well, sporty? For starters, it benefits greatly from the fact that its original mission was to serve as a medium-sized family SUV overseas. That means you get a lot of the features you'd expect from a larger car--such as a multi-link rear suspension--despite the Rogue Sport's smaller package.

While a fancy (speaking relatively, of course) independent rear suspension may contribute to the Rogue Sport's healthy curb weight, it's a welcome contribution to its road manners. In fact, the Rogue Sport is one of the more pleasantly surprising Nissans we've driven recently, striking an excellent balance of sharp-enough handling and remarkably good ride quality. It's no back-road bomber, but it doesn't feel like some rush-job penalty box. Noisy CVT and paltry acceleration aside, the Rogue Sport offers one of the more premium driving experiences in Nissan's lineup.

Still, it has enough gusto for the average commute, and Nissan claims it'll do between 30 and 32 mpg on the highway (AWD vs. FWD) and 24-25 in the city. For a 3,200-pound crossover, that's about right, but its subcompact-based competitors are knocking on the mid-30s for highway numbers, and that's something buyers are going to notice.

Leftlane's bottom lineWe're not completely in love with the Rogue Sport, but we don't hate it either. We'd probably like it better with the turbocharged four-cylinder from the Juke, but even with that, its "Sport" attributes would be limited. Sharp styling, good-not-great dynamics, a comfortable ride and a convenient size will have to be enough, and we imagine it will suit quite a few buyers. It certainly beats a Sentra.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport base price, $21,4202017 Nissan Rogue Sport SL AWD base price, $27,420; as tested, $28,380Destination, $960

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd; interior photos courtesy of Nissan.

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