It’s generally a good thing when technology gets smaller. Recent history shows that as products start to shrink – phones, cameras, computers, even engines – they also become better, faster and more affordable.
Nissan Motor Corp. thinks the same can be true for trucks.
Enter the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport. The all-new model will make its U.S. debut this month, aimed at buyers looking for a smaller, more affordable version of the Nissan Rogue crossover.
The Rogue Sport gives up 2.3 inches of wheelbase, 12.1 inches of length and 5.6 inches of height to its bigger sibling, yet its stature is hardly diminutive. The back seat provides ample space even for adults, and the rear cargo hatch packs 22.9 cubic-feet of space, or up to 61 cubic-feet with the rear seats folded flat.
Nissan has offered the vehicle globally as the Qashqai since 2006, selling more than 2.3 million units in Europe alone. It comes stateside at a time when U.S. consumers are trending away from cars and toward crossovers and other light trucks.
Total industry sales dropped by 2.4 percent through the first four months of 2017, yet sales of crossovers increased by 10.1 percent, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
The rush toward SUVs has created demand for new types of large vehicles, said Dave Sargent, vice president of Global Automotive for J.D. Power. The Rogue Sport enters a blossoming category of sub-compact crossovers that includes only a few competitors.
“There is an opportunity to come in with a strong design and make a name for yourself in this segment,” Sargent said.
While sub-compact crossovers do not sell in large numbers, their figures are steadily rising. Sales of the Honda HR-V are up 26 percent through the first four months of 2017; the Chevrolet Trax has increased by 36 percent.
The sub-compact crossover segment will continue to grow, fueled by customers who are looking for alternatives to compact sedans and hatchbacks, Sargent said.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer to bring in the Rogue Sport,” he said. “The investment would have been relatively little because they’re building gobs of these things already.”
As it turns out, smaller doesn’t necessarily equal better when it comes to the Nissan Rogue.
The Rogue Sport is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 141 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque, providing enough speed to the front wheels, or all four on all-wheel drive models.
While competent, the Rogue Sport is far from sporty. The engine holds its muscle high up in the powerband, with maximum horsepower available at 6,000 rpm. The selectable “Sport” steering mode offers little discernible difference from the standard electronic power steering.
Nissan pairs the engine with its Xtronic continuously variable transmission, or CVT, in the name of improved fuel economy. Yet the Rogue Sport posts average Environmental Protection Agency ratings of 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway for front-wheel drive models, and 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for all-wheel drive.
Both figures are less economical than the larger, heavier, more powerful Rogue.
The Rogue Sport does provide a smooth, drama-free ride – even on the 19-inch wheels that come standard on the top trim. On a recent drive through Tennessee backroads, the Rogue Sport allowed little outside noise into the cabin. Its performance, while less than exhilarating, was adequate for a sub-compact crossover with a short wheelbase. Its cornering and braking performance is more akin to a car than an SUV.
It’s clear, however, that the Rogue Sport is meant for urban settings. In dense Nashville, Tenn., gridlock, the Rogue Sport felt punchier off the line and zipped between lanes with ease. Its compact size becomes an asset, whether parking on the street or squeezing through rare openings in traffic.
Pricing starts from $21,420 for the Rogue Sport S base model with 16-inch steel wheels. The Rogue Sport SV adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, a roof rack and more, and is priced from $23,020. The highest Rogue Sport SL trim with navigation and heated leather seats will run $26,070. All-wheel drive is available on all trims and adds $1,350 to the sticker.
The Rogue Sport SL AWD tested by Trucks.com included the SL Premium Package with a power moonroof, LED headlamps, and safety equipment such as emergency braking and blind spot warning for $2,280. It also featured the Platinum Package with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, and emergency braking with pedestrian detection for $570.
Including destination and handling, the vehicle nets out at $31,365.
An SUV-Heavy Future
Nissan was an early adopter of the sub-compact SUV craze with its quirky Juke that launched in 2011. The new Rogue Sport is the brand’s latest entry, but it won’t be the last.
Nissan will also introduce another sub-compact SUV, the Kicks, by the end of this year, said Ed Kim, a vice president at AutoPacific, an industry consulting firm. It will be smaller than the Rogue Sport, but larger than the Juke.[vox id=”7616″]“Nissan seems to think that the small crossover space is going to grow enough that it can support three different models within the sub-compact segment,” Kim said.
Ford is also expected to release a sub-compact crossover model soon, Kim said, that will provide direct competition to the Rogue Sport and signal that the segment is here to stay.
“Anything that Ford does is going to be high-volume stuff,” he said. “So clearly this is a market space to pay attention to.”
As the segment begins to crowd, one area the Rogue Sport can stand to improve is its available technology. Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera are standard, but the vehicle comes with only one USB port, and even the largest 7.0-inch color touchscreen is not compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Competitors such as the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR have similar issues, but the problem is one that Nissan should confront head-on, Kim said. For a vehicle aimed at millennial buyers, the Rogue Sport will enter the market behind the times.
“In my opinion it’s something that Nissan really needs to address quickly,” he said. “The [infotainment] system is old and out of date, the graphics look ancient, the map in particular looks like something out of a 15-year old car.”
The Nissan Murano and Maxima feature the brand’s newest generation infotainment system, Kim said, which the company will likely begin to spread to additional vehicles sooner than later.
In the meantime, the Rogue Sport may serve another purpose. It’s likely that in future sales reports, Nissan will combine figures of the red-hot Rogue and the brand new Rogue Sport into one, Kim said.
Rogue sales have already crested 128,000 units in 2017, a 39.7 percent increase over the same period in 2016. Adding sales of the Rogue Sport could ensure the Rogue bests the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 for the title of best-selling SUV in the U.S.
Besides, traditional car sales are falling fast. Nissan cars have declined by 13.8 percent so far this year, but the company has managed an overall increase because sales of light trucks are up by 20.3 percent over the same period.
The sub-compact Nissan Versa declined by 13.7 percent through the first four months of the year, while the larger Sentra dropped by 12.7 percent. Those are vehicles that would have once drawn the eye of buyers who may now look to the Rogue Sport.
“We do expect this sub-compact crossover space to continue growing at a very healthy rate, but it’s going to be at the expense of taditional compact cars,” Kim said.