Nissan has been selling the Qashqai subcompact crossover for several years in other parts of the world. Now it’s coming stateside, but it won’t retain the global name, which is difficult to pronounce and spell. Instead, it will borrow the well-known and profitable moniker from its larger sibling, the Rogue, with the word “Sport” tagged onto it.
Nissan is marketing the Rogue Sport as slightly smaller and sportier than the family-friendly Rogue, which is its best-selling US nameplate. The smaller part is not up for debate. The Sport is a foot shorter in overall length with a 2.3-inch squatter wheelbase. It’s 5.6 inches shorter in height, and at just over five feet tall, one can see right over the thing while standing next to it. Total cargo space is down by 8.9 cubic feet, with most of that coming from behind the second row of seats. Front legroom is virtually unchanged, but rear legroom is down by 4.5 inches in the Sport. It’s marketed toward younger, more urban buyers compared to the Rogue – generally, people with no children who are looking for “just enough space,” Nissan says. It’s definitely compact, especially when you behold it from the outside.
In the driver’s seat we get the sense we’re in a bigger vehicle thanks to the upright position and a beltline that doesn’t creep too high. The front row feels spacious, and had we not seen the car from outside beforehand, we could’ve been fooled into believing we were sitting in a CUV from the next segment up in size. Even with the moonroof, headroom feels ample. As for the rear seat, there are no illusions there. It’s a bit more cramped, particularly when it comes to legroom, but it seems a perfectly comfortable place to ride around town for an evening, if not for an extended road trip.
The “sportier” part of the equation is arguable, especially considering the Rogue Sport has a smaller engine than the Rogue. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor produces a modest 141 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque. Even less sporty, that power is sent to the wheels through a CVT.
Despite feeling like a larger vehicle, it definitely drives like a smaller car. With its target market in mind, the Rogue Sport is designed more for urban duty than the suburban lifestyle of the larger Rogue. It’s maneuverable and at home on Nashville’s narrow and crowded streets. We were impressed with the Rogue Sport’s ability to navigate a tightly packed garage with the help of an outside bystander. It’s a little hard to see the corners of the car, which adds to the illusion of size. To make the most of its tight packaging in a confined space, the Around View Monitor camera system is available (it’s standard in the SL) making helpful bystanders obsolete. While it is still as wide as the larger Rogue, we found that the Rogue Sport’s shorter length and wheelbase made it easier to get into tighter parking spaces, even if there wasn’t more room on the sides to get in and out of the car.
Out on the open road, the Rogue Sport feels nicely planted and stable, at least with our tester’s 19-inch wheels. It tracks straight on the highway and can trace a corner without needing corrections mid-turn. The electric-assisted steering doesn’t offer much in the way of palpable communication from the front tires, but a modest amount of progressive heft corresponds to the steering angle, which helps provide some sense of feedback. The ride from the independent suspension is taut enough to feel the smaller bumps in the road without transferring much motion into the cabin.
We spent a good portion of our drive in the countryside outside of Nashville, including lazily curving rural roads, and a downhill portion of the tree-lined Natchez Trace Parkway. Winding our way along the repeating arcs of pavement, the Rogue Sport was happy to carry speed with composure. While we weren’t testing the car’s limits on a scenic public road shared with numerous cyclists, we found it to have an excellent sense of balance. We were reminded again that this vehicle is smaller than it looks with a center of gravity that feels low and around which the car rotates without wallowing from side to side.
Also helpful in the hills was the option to manually switch transmission ratios by sliding the shift lever to the left and bumping it forward or rearward to shift “gears.” We didn’t find much to get excited about with the manual mode for the Rogue Sport’s CVT, but we did find it useful in this instance. In most situations, we were happy just to leave the transmission to manage itself, especially since there wasn’t much engine drone making its way into the cabin.
It doesn’t feel particularly slow either, even though in AWD form, it kind of is. To be truthful, we were surprised when our (very rough and unscientific) count as we accelerated from a stop took north of 10 seconds. Ironically, the only time in our drive when we thought the car felt sluggish was when we attempted to time it. The fact that the rest of its driving characteristics beat our expectations helped to color our perception of speed, making the car seem quicker than it actually is. That’s a trick well wrought, an illusion that we didn’t mind falling for. Way to go, Sport.
The weather was nice in Nashville, so we didn’t have an opportunity to test grip of the all-wheel-drive system in the rain or snow. We did find a display option in our menu between the gauges that showed front/rear bias in real time as we drove. At least in normal conditions, the Rogue Sport favored sending power through the front wheels, but would transfer more power to the rear under hard acceleration. The AWD lock button didn’t make a difference for our drive, but it could be useful for customers who encounter winter weather every year.
The base Rogue Sport – the S trim with front-wheel drive – starts at $22,380. Upgrading to all-wheel drive costs $1,350, regardless of the trim level. Our tester was the line-topping SL AWD, starting at $28,380. That includes leather seating, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, foglights, remote start, heated front seats and steering wheel, and a seven-inch touchscreen navigation system. Our car was also equipped with $2,280 SL Premium Package, and the $570 Platinum package. Together those add a power moonroof, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, and a number of driver assist and safety features that help keep you in your lane and out of accidents.
It feels like a quality vehicle, too, at least at the $31,365 price point of our tester. We liked the solid feel when opening and closing the doors. The leather seats were kind both to the eyes and to the touch. The thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel was good to hold, and helped add to that perception of sportiness. Going down the road, the suspension soaked up bumps and irregularities, even with our tester’s 19-inch wheels, and the cabin was quiet. Convenience features like push-button start, heated leather seats, even a heated steering wheel make you feel like you’re driving a grownup vehicle.
And that’s exactly what the Rogue Sport is. You may wonder why Nissan needs another small crossover in its lineup, since it already offers the Juke. The Rogue Sport, though, feels mature, where the Juke is more juvenile. Drivers likely won’t feel like they’ve outgrown this car unless they add children to the mix. Plus, the subcompact crossover segment has been growing, which means there’s probably room for another one in the market. Being able to offer its own right-sized CUV geared toward urban buyers, especially adopting the Rogue name, could mean good things for Nissan.