NASHVILLE – Music City has gone and got itself trendy.
The downtown here still marches to a honky-tonk beat, which seemingly emanates around-the-clock from whiskey-soaked bars such as Tootsie’s and Robert’s. But a few blocks away lays The Gulch, an area of redevelopment where gleaming boutique condominiums, vintage shops and gourmet restaurants open and close to the sound of jackhammers and circular saws polishing the neighborhood for yet another wave of Millennial-aged hipsters.
Nissan, another Nashville institution, also is hell-bent on appealing to the Peter Pan generation, which experts say are ready to open their wallets wide for new vehicles when not preening their beards or performing hot yoga. Specifically, the cohort wants to buy CUVs, those high-riding, cargo-swallowing crossovers that look like a pickup-based SUV but drive like a car.
Among the newest offerings is the Nissan Rogue Sport, which borrows its name, as well as just about everything else, from the larger and newly redesigned Rogue. But the Rogue Sport occupies the fastest-growing segment of the CUV-crazy market where city-centric, as-yet childless, Millennial buyers want small, more maneuverable variants with interior versatility and all-wheel-drive capability.
On that front, the Kyushu, Japan-built Rogue Sport delivers in spades. It rides on a wheelbase 2.3 ins. (58 mm) shorter than the Rogue and measures 21.1 ins. (536 mm) shorter overall. It zips through parking lots and around traffic circles of suburban city centers here with the ease of a compact car.
It boasts a degree of agility, too, thanks to a 4-wheel independent suspension, where stabilizer bars up front and in the rear keep body roll in check. There is an unfortunate dearth of steering feel from the electrically assisted rack-and-pinion unit, but a “Sport” setting adds weight to the wheel for a degree of on-center performance.
Motivation comes via an overworked, naturally aspirated 2.0L 4-cyl. engine mated to a CVT, which under throttle combine to sound like a mewing tomcat. The powertrain works and sounds most agreeable in Eco mode, where the Rogue Sport turned in 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) in mostly city driving and 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) with highway miles added. Nissan has a turbocharged 1.6L 4-cyl. that would work wonders in this application, as well as give the car’s Sport moniker some authenticity, but pricing probably would creep too far into Rogue territory where demand is so high the automaker hardly can build enough.
The AWD system works on-demand by reading road conditions, which helps maintain fuel economy, and it can be locked in at speeds below 25 mph (40 km/h).
The Rogue Sport is 5 ins. (127 mm) shorter in height than the Rogue, so headroom is tight. At the same time, the Rogue Sport does not feel cramped. Designers did an excellent job of creating a sense of spaciousness in such limited quarters. The seats are comfortable enough for multiple hours in the saddle.
The second row offers a modicum of roominess, which is rare in this segment, and there is 22.9 cu.-ft. (648 L) of cargo space in the rear. Folding the second row opens up 61.1 cu.-ft. (1,730 L) through a relatively wide liftgate. It easily would swallow the gear of two people out for a day trip or an overnighter.
Interior Lacks Some Tech
The lack of connectivity, however, is downright baffling given the demographic the car courts. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not offered and there is only a single USB port in the entire cabin. Forget about a wireless hotspot, too, although Nissan product planners promise one is coming soon. Smartphones link up easily enough, though.
The Rogue Sport’s connectivity disconnect is juxtaposed against one of the industry’s better human-machine interfaces. Gauges are brightly lit and easy to read, while Nissan’s familiar floating 5-in. (12.7-cm) driver information screen occupies the center of the IP. Buttons and knobs on the center stack are logically laid out with excellent tactile feel, but the 7-in. (17.8-cm) color touchscreen seems small by today’s standards and the navigation map looks a bit dated.
The center console does double duty as an armrest for both driver and front passenger. It also provides some storage space and there is additional room for bottles and papers in the door panels. The primary cupholders behind the transmission shifter lack rubber bolsters, or a rubber mat, so drinks knock around noisily. But there is a heated steering wheel.
Perhaps the biggest headscratcher inside is the manual parking brake that’s mounted in quite possibly the worst spot of the driver footwell. It will catch your foot and scuff the top of your loafers every time. The doors seem flimsy, too, which does not inspire confidence.
There is a boatload of available advanced-safety items, though, including blindspot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-departure prevention.
The exterior design really pops, especially with colors such as Monarch Orange, which with the car’s black grille and 19-in. aluminum-alloy wheels with black spokes it looks a lot like the butterfly itself. Glacier White, Palatial Ruby and Caspian Blue are other fun colors offered.
Splash guards along the sill of the Rogue Sport and at the front and rear lend it a go-anywhere spirit, while masculine haunches over the wheels suggest ruggedness and LED daytime running lamps offer an air of sophistication. Every automaker playing this segment at this price point offers a similar design mix, but stylistically the Rogue Sport stands out the most.
The Rogue Sport is hardly perfect, but for context it should be thought of as an evolution of the compact or midsize car rather than the downsizing of an SUV. In other words, pricing keeps a lid on how much Nissan can do as far as creature comforts and driving dynamics.
But the Rogue Sport looks good and will carry cargo and passengers through 50-state weather in relative comfort. For that fact alone, Millennials likely will flock to Nissan dealers for it in coming weeks like hipsters to a vintage shop.
'17 Nissan Rogue Sport SL Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger AWD compact CUV|
|Engine||Transversely mounted, naturally aspirated 2.0L GDI 4-cyl. with aluminum block/head|
|Power (SAE net)||141 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||147 lb.-ft. (199 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||84.0 x 90.1|
|Wheelbase||104.2 ins. (2,647 mm)|
|Overall length||172.4 ins. (4,379 mm)|
|Overall width||72.3 ins. (1,836 mm)|
|Overall height||63.3 ins. (1,608 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,415 lbs. (1,549 kg)|
|Fuel economy||24-30 city/hwy (9.8-7.8 L/100 km)|
|Competition||Honda HR-V, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-3|
|Superb urban mobility||Overworked 4-cyl.|
|Surprisingly agile||Short on connectivity|
|Attractive interior, exterior||Joins boiling sea of CUVs|