Small crossover utility vehicles have surged in popularity, and every carmaker is rolling out new entries. The new Nissan Rogue Sport gives the very popular compact crossover Rogue a smaller, more stylish sibling that's visually similar but is shorter, lower, and slightly more nimble. The very popular Honda HR-V is expected to be one of its strongest competitors.
Both are light-duty utility vehicles more suited to urban and suburban duties for couples or young families. Both offer optional all-wheel drive, and neither is among the fastest or sportiest in the growing market for small SUVs (despite the Rogue Sport's name). In character, the Nissan is conventional, while the Honda is more adventurous.
From some angles, especially the front, you might mistake the Rogue Sport for its bigger brother. Side by side, it's a foot shorter, 6 inches lower, and has a more raked, stylish back end. The HR-V uses standard Honda styling cues—a thick chrome bar at the top of the grille, swept-back front lights, strongly etched side accent lines—and its own raked tailgate to add some pizazz. Both, in the end, are variants on the tall-wagon style of most SUVs.
2017 Nissan Rogue (top) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (bottom)Enlarge Photo
Under the hood, the Rogue Sport offers just one powertrain: a 141-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to a continuously variable transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, but commendably, Nissan offers all-wheel drive as an option on all three trim levels. Honda uses a 141-hp 1.8-liter inline-4, paired with either a continuously variable transmission or a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is an option on the Honda, although only with the CVT.
Neither car is quick, though the Honda felt stronger in high-demand circumstances like highway merges where the Rogue Sport was surprisingly slow. Both are based on car underpinnings and handle well enough, though the Rogue Sport's seat height seemed a bit lower than the Honda's, reducing the impression of body lean in turns. With a top combined EPA rating of 31 mpg, the Honda beats the Nissan on fuel economy; the best Rogue Sport is rated at 29 mpg combined.
One of the points of utility vehicles is their carrying capacity and flexibility, and the Honda beats every other small SUV hands down. Two adults can sit in the rear of the HR-V with generous leg and head room, with two adults up front. Then there's Honda's unique "Magic Seat," which flips and folds the second-row seat like a lawn chair to give multiple storage and seating configurations. The Rogue Sport, by comparison, is comfortable up front but cramped in the rear and much better for two passengers than four. The rear seat folds flat, of course. Drivers and passengers will find both vehicles smooth and pleasingly quiet, at least on good road surfaces.
Neither the NHTSA or the IIHS has rated the Nissan Rogue Sport, though the larger Rogue is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. On the most recent menu of crash tests, the Honda HR-V received has mixed ratings.
The Nissan comes standard with 10 airbags and a suite of active-safety features, but visibility out the back isn’t very good, due to its rising window line, steeply raked rear window, and very thick roof pillars. The HR-V offers a rearview camera and tire pressure monitors as standard, and Honda's nifty sideview LaneWatch camera is an option. But blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control likely won't arrive on the HR-V for a couple of model years.