Merging onto I-65 south heading away from the heart of Nashville, Tennessee in the new 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport requires a heavy right foot. Matting the gas pedal brings on a screaming engine and leisurely acceleration that makes me check my mirrors hoping for a gap in traffic. Thankfully, there is, and I blend in without drama and am on my way.
To be fair, the Rogue Sport's 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with 141 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque, brings power that's on par with all the competitors that have hit the small crossover SUV market over the past few years. Vehicles such as the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 will never be mistaken for NHRA dragsters, but all pack sufficient power to slice-and-dice through tighter urban environments and offer decent cargo space to appeal to singles and couples.
However, there is an issue with the Rogue Sport's fuel economy numbers. With front-wheel drive, the Rogue Sport receives an EPA rating of 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, while all-wheel-drive versions return 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Sure, those aren't bad numbers when looking at them by themselves, but when compared to its regular Rogue big brother, they are disappointing. The Rogue's 2.5-liter four-cylinder gets a 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway rating with front-wheel drive, and a 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.
Why does the Rogue Sport get worse fuel economy than its larger sibling? Nissan chalks it up to the Rogue Sport's smaller engine working harder to move a vehicle that's only about 200 pounds lighter than the big Rogue, and sportier tuning for the drivetrain and chassis with more aggressive tires.
Fuel numbers aside, the Rogue Sport does boast an interesting size, coming in about a foot shorter than the normal Rogue, making it not as compact as its aforementioned small crossovers competitors, and not as big as vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Its in-betweener dimensions, which align fairly closely to those of the Subaru Crosstrek, do give the Rogue Sport a just-right size with a serviceable backseat for adults, and a generous 22.9 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats that easily swallow two large video equipment cases.
Possibly the best thing about the Rogue Sport is that it is, well, sportier behind the wheel. Steering feels hefty and provides brisk turn-in response when I get off the expressway and find some more entertaining country roads.
The twisty Tennessee ribbons of pavement also showcase the Rogue Sport's excellent suspension with a multi-link setup out back, when competitors come to the party with less costly torsion beam layouts. With the help of my SL test car's 19-inch Bridgestone Ecopia tires, the Rogue Sport hangs on tight through bends with controlled body motions and absorbs midcorner impacts from ruts with aplomb.
More power would make dancing through back roads more interesting, but there is a certain satisfaction that comes from wringing everything out of the small four-cylinder and continuously variable transmission drivetrain combo.
As a daily driver, the Rogue Sport behaves well with a comfortable ride and minimal road and wind noise finding their way into a cabin that features supportive seats. Build quality and materials are up to snuff with others in the segment, with a mixture of soft-touch and hard panels.
Where the Rogue Sport falls behind competitors is in its tech game. The NissanConnect infotainment system has the basics, including a 7-inch touchscreen, navigation, voice recognition and Bluetooth, but the system lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. Disappointingly, the system in my test car also suffered from lag issues when changing radio stations and moving between menus.
Power outlets to juice up smart devices are also limited, with only a single USB port and 12-volt power outlet at the bottom of the center stack.
The lighter offering of technology features is more understandable once you dig deeper into the Rogue Sport's roots. While the baby Rogue is new-to-the-US, it's actually been sold in other markets as the Qashqai since 2014. With the exception of suspension tweaks, not much else was done to turn the Qashqai into the Rogue Sport, which helps explain the lack of the latest-and-greatest infotainment tech.
An optional safety feature menu is up-to-date with items like a 360-degree camera, forward emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane departure prevention and blind-spot monitoring that came in handy for lane changes when sight-reducing drizzle began falling from the sky.
If you're one of the many folks looking for a new small crossover, you now have the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport to consider, which officially goes on sale May 11 at dealers nationwide. Base pricing for a Rogue Sport S model with front-wheel drive begins at $22,380, while a range-topping SL version with all-wheel drive starts at $28,380. Both prices include a $960 destination fee.
With a practical size, impressive handling chops and sharp looks, the Rogue Sport does make a strong case for itself in the small crossover SUV segment. But it has its warts, with not as many tech features compared to its competition.
No matter which small crossover SUV you pick, just be ready for those wide-open-throttle expressway merging exercises.