Wherefore art thou, turbo?

Our Ciprian Florea recently said the Nissan Rogue Sport unveiled at North American International Auto Show was a sign of “what’s wrong with the industry.” I disagree – mostly.

I think the Nissan Rogue Sport – Qashqai to Nissan outside the U.S. – is a great idea with the wrong engine.

Size matters...

Florea took issue with the Rogue Sport’s size being too close to that of the Rogue. I say buyers will like that it’s more than a foot shorter than Rogue. And Nissan engineers deserve kudos because they did this without much compromise on the wheelbase, which is only 2.3 inches shorter than the Rogue. This should make for an interior that is surprisingly roomy compared to the exterior footprint.

More importantly, it will slot the Rogue Sport into a sweet spot in Nissan’s lineup. While the Nissan Juke is widely credited with igniting the subcompact crossover segment in America, many find it too small.

Last time my wife was car-shopping, she first test drove the current-generation Rogue. She liked the interior space, but found the vehicle somewhat intimidating to maneuver in tight parking lots. Several years of daily driving a snub-nosed Nissan cube will do that to you, I guess. Mostly, she was intimidated when backing the Rogue, though Nissan’s AroundView monitor was helpful, she said.

Right after she drove the Rogue, she drove a Nissan Juke at my insistence. The Juke is a fun little thing, and it’s not much larger than the cube to which she was accustomed. I thought it might be a winner. She had less trouble parking it and could back it more easily, but the interior was simply too cramped for our family.

She ultimately settled on a second cube, buying one of the last 2014s available in the knowledge that Nissan would not be importing the model to America in 2015. But now that she’s seen the Rogue Sport, she says she would have liked to had a chance to drive it.

The other thing about the Rogue Sport’s size that will be attractive to buyers, including my wife: Smaller tends to mean lighter, which tends to mean better fuel economy. Nissan hasn’t released EPA fuel economy estimates yet, but I would expect it to do better in the real world than the Rogue, which itself gets pretty good fuel economy. The last Rogue I reviewed a couple of years ago averaged miles per gallon in the mid-20s in mixed city/highway driving. The EPA rates the current Rogue at 33 mpg highway, 26 mpg city, 29 combined.

I think the Rogue Sport will be, for a lot of buyers, the Goldilocks of the Nissan SUV lineup: Not too big, not too small, not too thirsty – just right. Keep reading to find out why!

But That Engine Choice…

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior
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So in terms of size, the Rogue Sport should give Nissan a stronger presence in the exploding subcompact SUV segment. But many of its competitors have something it doesn’t: a turbocharged engine.

Let’s take a look at some of the segment’s engines:

  • The Buick Encore has not one, but two 1.4-liter turbo engine options. There is no naturally aspirated option. The hottest of the two makes 153 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque starting at 2,000 rpm.
  • The Chevrolet Trax, being the sister car to the Encore, gets the less-powerful version of that 1.4-liter turbo mill, making 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 148 pound-feet at 1,850 rpm.
  • The Jeep Renegade’s volume engine may be a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four, but there’s also a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine offered in the Sport and Latitude trims. This engine comes straight from the rorty Fiat 500 Abarth and makes 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 pound-feet of torque from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm.
  • The Hyundai Tucson also competes in this segment and offers a 1.6-liter turbo mill in its Eco, Sport, and Limited trims. The engine is good for 175 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm.

An outlier here is the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. It is slightly larger than Rogue Sport will be. Mostly, it’s got more length. The Santa Fe Sport measures 185 inches long on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, compared to the Rogue Sport’s 172.4 inches on a 104.2-inch wheelbase. I’m only including it here because from a marketing standpoint, the larger Santa Fe Sport is what the Rogue Sport intends to be: a smaller, sportier version of a model with which it shares part of its name.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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Nissan is offering the Rogue Sport with only one engine, a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated direct-injection gasoline four.

That said, the Santa Fe Sport’s turbo option is a relative hot rod, with 2.0 liters pounding out 240 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque from 1,450 to 3,500 rpm. That’s pretty stout for a front-drive, five-seat crossover.

Nissan is offering the Rogue Sport with only one engine, a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated direct-injection gasoline four. According to Nissan’s official NAIAS press release on the Rogue Sport, the engine is rated at 141 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 147 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. It’s on par with the Trax, but the other options out-power what is supposed to be Nissan’s sportiest crossover since the Juke.

A Perfect Engine Awaits

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport
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For another couple of reasons, it’s doubly confusing why Nissan chose to offer this engine in the Rogue Sport: First, it will be the only 2.0-liter naturally aspirated, direct-injected gasoline engine in Nissan’s U.S. lineup. Nothing else has this engine in America.

Second, Nissan has a nearly perfect turbocharged engine that could easily be sold in the Rogue Sport: The 1.6-liter direct-injected gasoline turbo engine from the Nissan Juke.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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Nissan has a nearly perfect turbocharged engine that could easily be sold in the Rogue Sport.

That engine was recently transplanted into the Nissan Sentra SR Turbo and the Nissan Sentra NISMO. It makes 188 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque spread in a wide, flat curve from 1,600 to 5,200 rpm. That torque curve makes it a fun engine in real-world driving.

2015 Nissan Juke Drivetrain High Resolution
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Nissan Rogue Sport Nissan Juke
Engine 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder 1.6-liter Inline 4-cylinder
Compression ratio 11.2:1 10.5:1
Horsepower 141 HP @ 6,000 RPM 188 HP @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 147 LB-FT @ 4,400 RPM 177 LB-FT @ 1,600-5,200 RPM
Drive Configuration Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
Transmission Xtronic with Eco Mode Front engine/ FWD or AWD

While not as fast as the 2.0-liter turbo in the larger Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, the Juke’s 1.6-liter turbo engine could put the Rogue Sport at or near the top of its segment’s performance charts. The only thing that would come close would be the Tucson’s 1.6-liter turbo, which Nissan’s 1.6 beats by 11 horsepower – though admittedly Hyundai ekes out 18 more pound-feet of torque than Nissan.

By any measure, the Nissan 1.6 turbo would be hotter than the GM and Fiat/Jeep 1.4 turbos. It would handily trounce the Honda HR-V’s naturally aspirated 141-horse, 127-pound-foot 1.5-liter engine, too.

2015 Nissan Juke Drivetrain High Resolution
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The Juke’s 1.6-liter turbo engine could put the Rogue Sport at or near the top of its segment’s performance charts.

Here’s one last confusing thing about the engine choice: As I noted in the beginning of this piece, the Rogue Sport is known as the Qashqai in Europe and elsewhere. It is one of Nissan’s most popular models globally. In Europe, the top-dog gasoline engine is – you guessed it – the 1.6 turbo we know and love.

So if the engine is already engineered to fit in the Qashqai/Rogue Sport, and the engine is already federalized for legal sale in America, and Nissan is putting it into more models in a push to revive a bit of its once-sporty image, why not put the 1.6 turbo in the Rogue Sport in America?

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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2017 Nissan Rogue Sport High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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Well, I asked that question of Nissan North America Corporate Communications Manager Steve Parrett.

“You’re right, many have loved this engine in the Juke. That said, the market for Juke is different than that of Rogue Sport, and – along the same lines – customer demand is different in Europe than it is in the U.S.,” Parrett said.

“Rogue Sport was updated and optimized specifically for the U.S. market, and we fully expect it to attract new customers – especially city-dwelling younger buyers. As for the future, nothing is off the table completely, but...we do not discuss future product, including engine offerings,” he concluded.

Parrett also was mum on another question: If Nissan is in the mood to bring new engines to America, why not bring over the 1.2-liter, 114-horsepower, 140-pound-foot gasoline turbo four that has found many fans in Europe? It, too is offered in European Qashqais, as well as the European Juke and Pulsar (basically a Sentra hatchback). While perhaps not a perfect fit for American performance expectations in the Rogue Sport, that engine would be great in the Versa Note here.

That, as they say, is a horse of a different color. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the MR16DDT 1.6-liter turbo to show up under the hood of a Rogue Sport soon. As Parrett said, “Nothing is off the table.” And it shouldn’t be.

Read our full review on the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport here.

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