On Autos: Nissan subcompact crossover delivers refined flavor

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The new 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport is a subcompact crossover priced from $22,380. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Most of today’s subcompact crossovers are brimming with personality. There are sporty models like the Fiat 500X, Nissan Juke and Mazda CX-3. There are rugged ones like the Jeep Renegade and Subaru Crosstrek. And there are those that make a strong styling statement, like the Kia Soul, Toyota C-HR and, to some extent, the Honda HR-V.

The new 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport takes a more conservative, restrained approach. Especially given that it already sells the fun and quirky Juke, Nissan was able to introduce a vehicle that preserves the flavor of an ordinary crossover — while simply making it a little bit smaller.

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The Rogue Sport was originally designed for the European market, where its tidy dimensions made it more appealing than the Rogue, Nissan’s best-seller in the U.S. The Rogue is about a foot longer and six inches taller than the new Rogue Sport, which gives it additional space for cargo and rear-seat passengers. But the lighter Rogue Sport is nimbler, more maneuverable and, with a base price of $22,380, about $3,000 less expensive.

Like the larger Rogue, the Rogue Sport delivers a pleasant and refined driving experience. It has a smoother ride than most of its competitors, and at least at low speeds, it offers firm, responsive steering and peppy acceleration. That’s a nice contrast to most competitors, as many subcompact crossovers are bumpier and noisier. The Rogue Sport also beats most competitors’ interior space.

The Nissan Rogue Sport has a user-friendly interior but not the latest tech features or flashy styling. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Another Rogue Sport advantage — shared by most Nissans — is a handy system of cameras that stitches together an overhead view of the vehicle showing all nearby obstacles. This feature helps avoid damage to your car and others nearby in crowded urban conditions.

Keep in mind that the Sport name doesn’t actually mean this is a performance car. Like several other automakers, Nissan uses “Sport” to simply mean “small.” The Rogue Sport’s subdued styling gives a preview of the car’s driving experience: pleasant but not zippy. Although it has some life around town, the acceleration and the handling abilities diminish once you’re pushing the car harder on the open road.

Gas mileage is also unexceptional. The EPA estimates that the Rogue Sport will achieve 27 mpg in mixed driving with the tested all-wheel-drive system, which is 2 mpg behind an HR-V, CX-3 or Crosstrek. It’s even short of the larger Rogue, whose bigger engine likely doesn’t need to work as hard as the Rogue Sport’s little 141-horsepower four-cylinder.

The 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport delivers a similar flavor to the larger Rogue, but it’s less expensive and more maneuverable. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Perhaps the closest competitor to the Rogue Sport is the Chevrolet Trax, another model that doesn’t focus on standing out in a crowd. The Trax is less expensive if you take advantage of its frequent discounts, and it has a slicker infotainment system, but the Rogue boasts a roomier interior and easier-to-fold rear seat. The HR-V is another leading challenger, beating the Nissan’s price, fuel efficiency and interior room — but this Honda doesn’t have the Rogue Sport’s smooth ride, and it has some mediocre crash-test scores. And neither the Honda nor the Chevrolet has the handy Nissan surround-view camera.

If you’re looking for the feel of a normal compact crossover but don’t want to carry around quite as much bulk, the Rogue Sport will likely impress you. If you don’t benefit a lot from the reduced size, though, seriously consider spending a little more for a slightly larger model. The best crossovers in the compact class — including the Rogue, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 — deliver appreciably more space and a more upscale experience, along with similar or better gas mileage.