2020 Nissan Rogue Sport First Test: A Redefinition of Sporty?
As I write this, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With every browser refresh, there’s more breaking news, and the commentary online ranges from doomsday prognostications to hoax conspiracies. For many of us, sports provide an escape from the serious news of the day, but as every hour brings news of sporting event cancellations, that escape is drying up fast, leading some in the sarcastic corners of the internet to wonder if e-sports will be the only sports left. And that leads others to ask: What even counts as a sport in the first place? The 2020 Nissan Rogue Sport raises similar questions.
(Is this really the most important question of the day? No, of course not. But cars, like sports, provide a mental escape for many of us. Below, you’ll find a pandemic-free analysis of the name Nissan gave its subcompact SUV.)
Is the Nissan Rogue Sport actually sporty?
To get right to the point, no, it’s not sporty by any contemporary definition. It’s sluggish off the line (0–60 in 9.8 seconds), slow through the quarter mile (17.4 seconds at 79.4 mph), and only quick in the figure eight relative to heavy-duty pickups and off-roading Jeeps (28.6 seconds at 0.56 average g). In fact, it scores among the bottom five of all 2020 models we’ve tested in each category. Would we expect a budget-friendly compact SUV with a 141-hp I-4 and a CVT to put up blistering times? No. But we might fairly expect a vehicle with “Sport” emblazoned on the back to offer a little more athleticism than this. “Sport,” by definition, implies some level of fun, right? And cars that move quickly are fun. The Rogue Sport, at least in this respect, falls well short.
(To be fair, we haven’t tested a 2020 Honda HR-V, one of the key competitors Nissan is targeting in this segment, but a 2019 HR-V AWD Sport just barely eked out a 0.2-second edge in 0–60 and tied the Rogue Sport in the quarter mile. The 2020 Rogue Sport, meanwhile, bettered that HR-V on our figure eight.)
What does “sporty” actually mean, anyway?
“Sport,” however, is difficult to define. No, Nissan won’t beat Zion Williamson in a dunk contest any time soon. (He has the time to compete.) But on the rare occasion that I join a pickup game at the gym after work, I still like to tell myself I’m engaging in a sporting activity, even if I’ve never even touched the rim. You don’t have to reach the pinnacle to claim participation. It’s all relative. So rather than just write off the subcompact Nissan as an exercise in false advertising, I wanted to give it a chance with a shifted frame of reference.
In my real-world test driving, I found the Rogue Sport’s manual shift mode on its CVT all but pointless. Some other compact SUVs offer legitimate entertainment when shifting manually, such as the Hyundai Kona and its seven-speed dual-clutch. With the Nissan, though, it really just felt jerky and unresponsive, which is the exact opposite of what people shifting their own gears want. Acceleration for freeway entry and passing also felt sluggish, giving anecdotal support to our test team’s findings (5.4 seconds to get from 45 to 65 mph). Things weren’t looking good, no matter how far I was willing to stretch definitions. Not a bit of this is sporty. And then I hit a few twisty roads.
I don’t want to give the impression that the Rogue Sport excelled there, either. Testing director Kim Reynolds noted “a strong understeer” during his figure-eight testing, and he called it an “easy and predictable (and forgettable) car to drive.” I didn’t exactly get a chance to test the Rogue Sport right up to its limits—that’s not something I’ll ever do on public roads—but I did push it to the point where any more probably would have felt like too much, and that threshold was higher than I’d likely ever drive a car like this. I took a few sharp turns quick enough to send my phone flying into the passenger-side footwell, yet I felt pretty secure the entire time in the driver’s seat.
Was it fun? Or more to the point, was it sporty? We’re still not dunking, but if you lower the rim a few feet and suspend disbelief, you could, just maybe, convince yourself it is. I pushed the subcompact SUV as far as I felt safe going, and it remained easy to drive. It handled itself predictably. Forgettable? If not for the notes I took down immediately afterward, I probably wouldn’t remember a thing. But in the moment, with the appropriate context, and giving it every benefit of the doubt, I actually did have a little bit of fun.
And really, that’s what sports are about, isn’t it? There are competitors who reach the top of their game, those athletes we pretend to be as kids. We can’t do the things they do, and we know we never will. But sometimes, for just a moment, when we’re alone in the driveway, we can pretend. What’s the harm in that?
|2020 Nissan Rogue Sport SL|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$32,510|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/141-hp/148-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,364 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||172.8 x 72.3 x 63.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.4 sec @ 79.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.6 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||27.5/36.1/30.8 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||25/32/28 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||135/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.70 lb/mile|
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