2020 Nissan Rogue Sport Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Jul 10, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Nissan deals!

When a car company adds “Sport” to a vehicle’s name, it suggests heightened performance. But this is not always true. For example, within the Jeep lineup, Sport designates base trim levels. And at Nissan, the Rogue Sport is a small SUV with a big power problem.

The 2020 Rogue Sport is not the same as the Rogue. While the two vehicles share some parts, the Rogue Sport is a rebadged version of Nissan’s Qashqai, which is sold in other parts of the world. The reason for the re-name in the U.S. market is obvious. Few people can say Qashqai let alone spell it.

Slotted between the smaller Nissan Kicks and larger Nissan Rogue, the Rogue Sport competes against vehicles such as the Buick Encore GX, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Compass, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. The Rogue Sport comes in S, SV, and SL trim levels, with a choice between front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD). 

2020 Nissan Rogue Sport SL front exterior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Rogue Sport SL equipped with FWD, extra-cost paint, a Premium Package, carpeted floor mats, and a cargo area mat. The price came to $32,510, including the $1,095 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Nissan deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Rogue Sport, it is helpful to understand who buys this small SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 57% of Rogue Sport owners are women (compared to 58% for the segment). A Rogue Sport owner’s median age is 53 years (vs. 56) and their median annual household income is $77,500 (vs. $78,727). Rogue Sport owners most often identify as Price Buyers (39%), while owners across the segment most often identify as Practical Buyers (31%).

More than a third of Rogue Sport owners (36%) say they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company, compared to 49% of owners across the segment. They’re also more likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (54% vs. 50%).

Rogue Sport owners are less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that in environmentally friendly (48% vs 59% for the segment), they are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (59% vs. 66%), and they are less likely to agree that they need a versatile vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle (77% vs. 83%). Rogue Sport owners are, however, more likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (56% vs. 48%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Rogue Sport are (in descending order) the exterior styling, visibility and safety, driving dynamics, infotainment system, and interior design. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Rogue Sport are (in descending order) the seats, engine/transmission and storage/space (in a tie), climate control system, and fuel economy.

In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Rogue Sport ranked 7th out of 15 small SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Nissan deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Nissan Rogue Sport measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Rogue Sport owners like this SUV’s styling, and there is good reason for that. It’s an appealing vehicle, and until recently was, in my opinion, one of the best-looking models in the entire Nissan lineup. 

2020 Nissan Rogue Sport SL exterior rear view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For 2020, Nissan freshens the design with a new hood, grille, front bumper, and headlights. The SL trim’s 19-inch aluminum wheel design is new, too, and a couple of vibrant paint colors debut. The end result certainly looks sporty, and especially in SL trim. But this SUV does not drive that way.

Interior

Where the Rogue Sport is most like its larger sibling, the Rogue, is with regard to the interior. The front seating area, door panels, and dashboard are essentially identical, and this sharing works to this small SUV’s favor in terms of how roomy it feels and the quality of the materials.

2020 Nissan Rogue Sport SL dashboard interior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For example, the Rogue Sport SL has soft touch material on the upper door panels, making it a good place to comfortably crook your elbow while driving. There is also dense padding on the door and center console armrests. Controls are laid out in a logical manner featuring clearly labeled buttons and knobs, and the gauges are a model of simplicity for quick and easy reference.

Seats

While the Rogue Sport apparently does not get the same Zero Gravity front seat designs as the larger Rogue, the SL trim’s 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat nevertheless proved comfortable during a 3-hour drive. 

On the front passenger’s side, the seating is equally satisfying, even without a height adjuster. That’s because the seat is raised far enough off of the SUV’s floor to provide proper leg support.

If you’re assigned to the Rogue Sport’s back seat, you may be unhappy. The bottom cushion is flat and low, and the backrest angle promotes uncomfortable slouching.

Climate Control System

The Rogue Sport’s dual-zone automatic climate system has controls that are easy to understand and use, and the SL trim includes both Nissan’s Quick Comfort heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. I didn’t need those functions but have no doubt they come in handy on raw winter days.

Tested on a hot summer day, the Rogue Sport’s air conditioning did take some time to cool the SUV’s cabin. Once it reached the desired temperature, the interior remained comfortable for the duration of the test-drive.

It is worth noting that every Rogue Sport includes rear air conditioning vents for back-seat passengers. In the small SUV segment, this is somewhat of a luxury. Also, with the SL trim’s standard remote engine starting (optional with SV trim) you can pre-condition the interior with air conditioning or heat.

Infotainment System

Offering no larger than a recessed 7-inch touchscreen display, the Rogue Sport’s infotainment system is aging fast. It is also slow to respond when using the screen, such as when pinching or spreading your fingers to zoom in and out on the SL trim’s handy door-to-door navigation system.

However, that criticism aside, the Rogue Sport supplies standard Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming, a hands-free text messaging assistant, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio. And if all that is too sophisticated, there is a CD player, too.

Upgrades with SL trim include door-to-door navigation, which continues providing directions to your destination via smartphone app even if you need to park a fair distance from where you’re going. The SL also has NissanConnect Services with free subscriptions ranging between six months and three years, and is available with a decent-sounding Bose premium sound system.

Storage and Space

Because the Rogue Sport is fairly wide and shares much of its interior with the larger Rogue, it supplies good storage space in the cabin relative to most competitors.

Cargo room behind the back seat is tight, a common problem with small SUVs. Including the space beneath the cargo floor, it ranges between 20 cu.-ft. and 22 cu.-ft., depending on trim and drivetrain. Note that Nissan’s Divide-N-Hide cargo organizer is available. 

Maximum cargo capacity is more generous, ranging from 53 cu.-ft. to 61.1 cu.-ft. depending on trim, drivetrain, and whether the SUV has a sunroof or not.

Visibility and Safety

Thanks to clear front sightlines, large side mirrors, and a standard reversing camera, drivers should have no issues seeing out of this SUV. With SL trim, a surround-view camera is also standard to assist with reversing and other maneuvers.

Standard safety equipment includes a rear seat reminder system designed to prevent drivers from leaving children, pets, or other important things in the SUV. Nissan Safety Shield 360 is also standard, providing a useful collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

Upgrade to SL trim, and the Rogue Sport adds ProPilot Assist. This is a Level 2 ADAS that includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and a lane-centering assistance system. It is not a self-steering technology, such as Ford Active Drive Assist.

With ProPilot engaged for 45 minutes of freeway driving, it worked better than I recalled of other Nissans, but that is likely a function of Sunday evening traffic conditions. The system regularly emits beeps and boops, presumably as traffic conditions ahead change and the technology acquires and releases new targets to follow. Occasionally, the driver must wrestle a bit with the steering assist, but not too often.

As far as crash-test ratings go, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had not rated the Rogue Sport as this review was published. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the SUV top marks in frontal- and side-impact tests, but the organization had not completed all of its evaluations as this review was published.

Engine/Transmission

Nissan equips the Rogue Sport with a 141-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and it is clearly the weak link for this SUV, which weighs a minimum of 3,343 pounds. It uses a continuously variable transmission to power the front or all four wheels.

Under normal, urban, part-throttle driving conditions, the engine and transmission aren’t a significant liability. But when you need power, such as when accelerating onto the freeway, or trying to pass slower traffic, or getting quickly up to speed after turning onto a fast-moving highway or boulevard, this powertrain delivers lots of noise but no action. 

The Rogue Sport is begging for a turbocharger. So equipped, Nissan would solve the power deficit and it would actually deliver the performance this SUV’s name promises. 

Fuel Economy

Rogue Sport owners rank fuel economy as their least favorite thing about the SUV. According to the EPA, the test vehicle, an SL with FWD, should return 28 mpg in combined driving. It averaged 27.7 mpg on the testing loop, meeting expectations.

Driving Dynamics

Nissan includes two helpful brake-based technologies designed to improve the Rogue Sport’s driving dynamics. They are Intelligent Trace Control (ITC) and Active Ride Control (ARC). The ITC system acts like a torque-vectoring system, braking a front wheel to help tuck the Rogue Sport’s nose tighter into a turn. The ARC system helps to smooth out bumps for a better ride quality.

Over the speed humps that lead to my child’s elementary school, ARC performed brilliantly. In fact, I could take them at 30 mph without any excess body motion or suspension boom (don’t worry, school was out). 

As for ITC, it’s hard to ascertain how effective it is. The Rogue Sport’s steering is lifeless and wooden, and though it had SL trim with 19-inch wheels, the test vehicle’s grip was merely average on 225/45 all-season tires.

With that said, the Rogue Sport does have a 4-wheel-independent suspension design, unlike many of its competitors. Suspension tuning is firm, connected, and communicative, but the ride is never harsh. Also, on undulating and imperfect pavement, the Rogue Sport feels remarkably stable without any of the excess body motions and resulting occupant head-toss that plagues SUVs in general.

With a turbocharger, better steering, and more aggressive tires, my bet is that the Nissan Rogue Sport would be genuinely fun to drive. As it stands, it is not.

Final Impressions - Find the best Nissan deals!

Among small SUVs, the Nissan Rogue Sport is a potential gem in spite of its advancing age. In many ways, it offers “class-above” design, materials, technologies, and functionality. But without more power, it is likely destined to continue ranking mid-pack in overall appeal.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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