2017 Nissan Rogue Sport: first drive

May 9, 2017

With small utility vehicles selling in record numbers, now often replacing compact and mid-size sedans, automakers have launched more and more models to expand their lineups.

The 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport joins a growing pool of smaller utilities that includes the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, and Mazda CX-3.

They're smaller than the segment leaders, which may still be viewed as "compacts" but in some cases have now grown enough to qualify as mid-size utilities. Those include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan's own Rogue, which now offers a nominal third-row seat.

Last month, we spent a day driving a top-level 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SL through the green and rolling hills around Nashville, Tennessee.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport, first drive, Nashville region, April 2017

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport, first drive, Nashville region, April 2017

Qashqai for Canada

It's actually an Americanized version of one of Europe's most popular Nissans, known there as the Qashqai (KASH-kye), which is what it's called in Canada too. Nissan has thoroughly revised the European model's powertrain and interior, however, and all Rogue Sports and Qashqais for North America are built in Japan.

The 2017 Rogue Sport shares underpinnings and an interior with the larger Nissan Rogue, but Nissan says every body panel is unique even though they share some trim, including badges and door mirrors.

The Sport is a little dressier, with its top SL version getting standard 19-inch alloy wheels that are an option on the more family-oriented Rogue.

The difference between the two Rogues is most evident from the rear: not only is the regular Rogue a foot longer and 6 inches taller, it sits upright, whereas the Rogue Sport has a shorter area behind the rear door and a more steeply raked tailgate.

From the front, however, with Nissan's V-shaped grille and swept-back headlights apparent in both models, you might be forgiven for mistaking one for the other if they weren't sitting side by side.

2017 Nissan Rogue (top) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (bottom)

2017 Nissan Rogue (top) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (bottom)

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (left) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue (right)

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (left) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue (right)

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (left) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue (right)

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport (left) vs 2017 Nissan Rogue (right)

From inside the Rogue Sport, which shares more than 90 percent of its interior trim and controls with the larger Rogue, you'd be even more hard-pressed to know which one you're driving.

The shared interior is pleasantly styled and made of mixed soft-touch and harder plastics. It's a distinct improvement on the grim, plasticky interiors used 10 years ago in Nissans.

On the road, the Rogue Sport feels like a smaller vehicle (as it should), with less sense that there's a lot of car out behind you. It's fully a foot shorter than the "regular" Rogue, and you can tell.

Slightly sporty but slow

It's not necessarily sporty to drive, despite its name, but it's sportier—which may be enough these days to attract the younger and first-time buyers interested in style and digital capabilities who Nissan feels will flock to the Rogue Sport over its more family-oriented bigger brother.

Unfortunately, it's slow. With corporate average fuel-economy rules steadily increasing the required EPA ratings of every class of vehicle, we're starting to see new vehicles with smaller engines and advanced transmissions that don't accelerate quite as fast as earlier models. We didn't do any 0-to-60-mph acceleration runs, but with your foot on the floor, you'll wait in vain for anything beyond a gradual gathering of speed.

The 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport offers just one powertrain, a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is (commendably) available as an option on all trim levels.

The engine puts out a meager 141 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque, making Rogue Sport not only slow to accelerate from a stop but also noisy when pressed. It's otherwise relatively quiet inside, reflecting the greater advances in noise suppression made in all new vehicles over the same decade they've gotten slightly slower.

In roughly 100 miles of driving along a preset route, we weren't able to get useful data on the Rogue Sport's fuel efficiency. The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive version of the Sport at 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined, and the all-wheel-drive model at 24/30/27 mpg. That's only average for the segment, and it's only getting more crowded now.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Comfortable and quiet for two

We found the Rogue Sport's seats comfortable for our few hours behind the wheel, and there's more than adequate room in the front two seats even for larger adults.

There's useful space for phones, sunglasses, changes, and other oddments, including multiple cupholders, bins, a flat tray, and a covered compartment under the armrest.

The rear seats are usable by adults wiling to do some bargaining with the folks up front, but with shorter rear doors and a wheelbase that's 2.3 inches shorter, the Rogue Sport doesn't offer the lavish leg room and easy second-seat access of the larger Rogue.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport, first drive, Nashville region, April 2017

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport, first drive, Nashville region, April 2017

Cargo volume in the Rogue Sport takes a hit too, at 22.9 cubic feet with the seat up and 61.1 cubic feet with it folded down. The larger Rogue offers about 9 cubic feet more in both arrangements.

Safety and features

Safety remains a prime selling point, of course, although the Rogue Sport hasn't yet been crash-tested by the IIHS or NHTSA. A rearview camera is standard.

Nissan points out that the Sport offers all the active-safety features available on the larger Rogue. However, they're bundled into a package with a four-figure price tag that's by far the model's priciest option.

Those optional safety systems include blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and the addition of pedestrian detection to the automatic emergency braking.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Three trim levels are offered: the base S, the mid-level SV that will likely be the most popular, and the top SL version.

All Rogue Sports come standard with a 12-volt outlet, a digital information panel between the tachometer and speedometer, a rearview camera, and cruise control. The base Rogue Sport S comes with steel wheels and wheel covers, a manually adjustable driver's seat, and cloth upholstery.

Move up to the volume SV model, and you get 17-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button ignition, and a variety of appearance items.

Safety packages only at top end

The optional safety systems packaged together on the SV trim level include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alert.

At the top of the heap is the SL version, which adds 19-inch alloy wheels, leather-trimmed interior, Nissan Connect mobile services and apps, a surround-view camera system, and remote starting.

Options on the SL include a power moonroof, LED headlights, and an expanded bundle of safety systems, which adds pedestrian detection to the emergency braking, as well as active lane control, and adaptive cruise control.

By far the priciest options are the Platinum packages for the mid-level SV and top-level SL trims, which bundle those various active-safety systems into a single option.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Base prices for the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport start at $22,360 for the base S trim level with front-wheel drive, and range up to $28,360 for the Rogue Sport SL with all-wheel drive. (All prices include the mandatory $960 destination fee.)

Six factory options are offered, including an all-weather package, premium paint colors, and some appearance items. More trim embellishments can be installed to dress up the car between the factory and the dealer.

Conclusions

Overall, the Rogue Sport is a good addition to Nissan's growing lineup of crossover utilities, which are usually priced competitively and often come with more generous incentives than those from other makers.

While its visual similarity to the larger Rogue may cause some confusion, Nissan is hardly the only maker to slot a smaller entry into its SUV lineup and call it a "Sport." (Consider the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, smaller than its three-row Santa Fe, for instance.)

There's also the new Jeep Compass, which slots between the subcompact Renegade and the mid-size Cherokee, and feels similar to the Rogue Sport in size and positioning—even if it's more focused on off-road ability than style.

We just wish that the Nissan Rogue Sport came closer to living up to the "sport" part of its name.

But in the end, the image of sportiness may be enough for those younger buyers Nissan is targeting—along with the right price.

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