There are quite a few small, "sub-compact" SUVs these days, but to be perfectly honest, they aren’t that good. Each is saddled with fundamental flaws that make them questionable. However, this pair — the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek and 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport — stand apart as alternatives to the segment, going about their business in ways that differ from the norm, succeeding where others fail. Let’s take a look at each to help you figure out which might be better for you.
2018 Subaru Crosstrek
The Subaru Crosstrek was completely redesigned for 2018, and although you may initially struggle to see the visual differences, there is enough evolution in most respects to equal a clear improvement. See all 2017 Subaru Crosstrek models availble near you
Read more about these changes in 2017 vs. 2018 Subaru Crosstrek: What’s the Difference?
2017 Nissan Rogue Sport
The Rogue Sport was officially a new model for 2017, but it had been on sale in other markets for several years. It’s also mechanically similar to the regular Nissan Rogue and shares the same interior design and many features. See all 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport models available near you
Read more about these differences in 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport vs. 2017 Nissan Rogue: What’s the Difference?
The regular Nissan Rogue has had its fair share of customer complaints, but overall reliability ratings have been relatively average during that nameplate’s history. However, the Rogue Sport is technically a different vehicle, so one can only fairly assume so much.
The Crosstrek is new for 2018 with significant mechanical and electronic changes that could impact reliability. For what it’s worth, its predecessor was average in this regard (as was the Subaru Impreza upon which it was based) with comparatively few customer complaints.
The Crosstrek comes with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard and manages to make that underwhelming amount of power feel a bit more vigorous, but it does come with a significant fuel economy penalty over the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Fuel economy stands at 27 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with the CVT. The manual returns 25 mpg combined, equating on average to an extra $200 in gas every year.
The Rogue Sport also has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, but it’s of a different configuration and is paired exclusively to a standard CVT. The Rogue Sport also comes standard with front-wheel drive, and with all-wheel drive as an option — it’s standard on every Crosstrek.
Fuel economy stands at 24 mpg city/30 mpg hwy and 27 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive improves to 28 mpg combined. This equates to an annual fuel cost deficit between it and the Crosstrek of about $50 to $100.
The Crosstrek has a clear advantage here. Both come standard with the same basic features of stability and traction control, and a complement of airbags that includes front, front-side and side-curtain. From there they diverge, due to the availability of advanced accident avoidance tech.
Optional on all but the base Crosstrek is the EyeSight package that includes forward-collision warning and automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist (steers you back into your lane should you not heed its warning). Blind spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems are included with EyeSight in the Premium trim level, and are standard on every Limited. That top trim also gets a rear collision warning and automatic braking system. This all means you can get a car with accident avoidance tech for as little as $25,905.
The Rogue Sport can be equipped with blind spot and rear cross-traffic systems on the Premium trim level, but all of the other safety tech described above is split between a pair of packages exclusive to the range-topping SL trim (minus the rear collision items, which Nissan does not offer). Therefore, to get a Rogue Sport that matches the Crosstrek’s safety equipment, you’d need to spend at least $29,895.
Finally, the 2018 Crosstrek was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Not many vehicles on the road do better. The Rogue Sport has yet to be crash tested by a third party.
Another win for the Subaru here. Every Crosstrek comes standard with a touchscreen interface that impresses with its quick responses, sensible menu layout and easily viewed and pressed virtual icons. Whether you get it in the standard 6.5-inch size or the Limited trim’s 8 inches, it’s one of the best on the market. They also come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — features that are not available on any Rogue. Besides the advanced safety tech mentioned above, all but the base Crosstrek trim also comes with STARLINK emergency communications.
The Rogue Sport also comes standard with a touchscreen, but it’s small at 5 inches and comparatively rudimentary. An available 7-in screen improves things somewhat, but continues to pale in comparison to the newer and more user-friendly Subaru system. It won’t frustrate as some other brands’ tech interfaces will, but it won’t impress as the Subaru’s does.
When you take a look at these two crossovers’ spec sheets, you’ll see that they’re incredibly similar, with most interior dimensions within an inch of each other. However, this is a bit deceptive, because in practice, the Rogue Sport is the larger vehicle.
This is particularly true when looking at the cargo area, which is deeper, wider and therefore more useful. It’s more akin to a small SUV, whereas the Crosstrek’s is literally that of a compact hatchback (the Impreza to be exact). Of particular note is the "Divide-N-Hide" cargo system. Effectively a split, moveable load floor, this feature that comes standard on the Rogue Sport’s SV and SL trim levels helps you hide valuables and/or prevent groceries from sliding about. It’s very useful, but it also reduces the Rogue Sport’s overall cargo capacity number — without it, the base trim has 61.1 cu ft. of space, besting the Crosstrek’s 55.3 cu ft. and every sub-compact SUV. The SV and SL have 53.3 cu ft.
Now, the numbers would also indicate the Crosstrek has more rear legroom, and we’d agree that it does have a slight advantage in the real world. The Crosstrek’s cargo area is also bigger and more useful for 2018, plus its standard chunky roof rails allow for any number of accessory racks.
Driving Experience and Off-Road Capability
Neither of these crossovers is especially memorable to drive, even though they’re both nimble in comparison to larger SUVs and certainly easier to maneuver (the Crosstrek does have superior visibility). The Crosstrek’s hefty suspension lift effectively eliminates the sharp reflexes of the Impreza hatchback upon which it’s based, so don’t expect much fun or precision either way.
On the upside, however, that lift grants the Crosstrek a whopping 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is taller than virtually every compact SUV. The Rogue Sport manages only 7.4. So that, plus its standard all-wheel drive system and X-Mode (prioritizes the vehicle’s various powertrain components to best deal with low-traction situations) quite simply allows you to take the Crosstrek far more rugged places than its Nissan competitor.
In terms of performance, both SUVs are slow and will struggle to get up to speed on a highway on-ramp (especially when fully loaded with people and luggage). They at least have surprisingly sharp throttle response, however, which makes them feel a bit quicker around town than they actually are.
The Crosstrek costs a few hundred dollars more to start than the Rogue Sport, but when you consider its standard all-wheel drive, it’s effectively cheaper. That remains the case no matter what trim level or packages you consider. Even a fully loaded Crosstrek, which includes features not offered by Nissan, still manages to cost less.
You may be able to get a better deal on the Rogue Sport, but if we only go by MSRP, Subaru has another advantage.
Though we think the Rogue Sport is a smart alternative to the Honda HR-V and other sub-compact SUVs, it ultimately comes up short to the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek in a number of fundamental ways. Definitely check out both, but for most buyers, the Subaru should be better.