Nissan goes a little Rogue with Qashqai

2017 Nissan Qashqai: A ride for the homesick American?

Price: A basic front-wheel-drive version of the Rogue Sport (the U.S. name for the Qashqai) starts at $21,420 in the States.

Marketer’s pitch: “Nissan Qashqai – the original urban crossover.”

Conventional wisdom: Top Gear liked the “bigger passenger compartment, improved refinement, efficient engines” but not that the “lower-powered versions are rather sluggish.”

Reality: It’s a Rogue Sport, but with a distinctly European flavor.

Traveling abroad: Suppose you find yourself in a European country and you need to rent a car. Having spent some time in Spain or France, you’ve seen all sorts of strange names — Citroen, Peugeot, Vauxhall, and Seat (that’s Say-aht, not seat, for the uninitiated), and they’re all tiny.

So the time comes and you’re filled with tasty French food and wine, and drawing a blank on what to pick, when suddenly Nissan pops into your brain’s recesses. But what in the world is a Qashqai? It’s pronounced Cash-kai (sounds like squash-cry).

The remade-for-2017 Qashqai is actually the all-new Rogue Sport here in the States, a small crossover that seems to be just the right size.

A Nissan spokesman says, “The Rogue Sport has updates to the chassis and steering tuning, a new tire spec, the addition of a sunglass holder and use of the Rogue center console.”

The 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport is more than an extension of the popular Rogue, which accelerated past the Nissan Altima sedan in calendar year 2016 to become Nissan’s No. 1-selling model. While sharing the Rogue name, platform, and numerous advanced safety and security features, Rogue Sport stands on its own as a stylish, nimble, fun-to-drive, and affordable compact SUV.

Up to speed: It’s lucky things are measured in kilometers in Europe, or this would really feel slow.

The 96-horsepower 1.6-liter diesel engine feels exceedingly slow, and getting up to 130 km on La Languedocienne (the A9 crossing southern France) means getting a good running start. (A 2.0-liter gas-fed version with an automatic is the only choice here. It has 141 horses.)

Shifty: Mr. Driver’s Seat and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat enjoyed three cars while driving through Europe, all but one of them had sticks. (I was offered an upgrade to a BMW automatic at the car rental agency in Barcelona, but I turned it down; I miss clutches. And I’m cheap.)

At first, I found the Qashqai shifter to feel loose and a little wandery, but after a couple hundred kilometers we found a happy agreement.

On the narrows: We hadn’t come across any real winding roads on our adventures through Spain and France. When things get old-timey in les boonies, the roads narrow down pretty quickly and hairpins are common, so 30 km (under 20 mph) is plenty fast, let me tell you.

Even on the highway, wide-open spaces are rare. The A9 (one of the main highways) has none of the 12-foot-wide lanes we enjoy in the States, and feels rather like a parkway with eight lanes and cars going 150 kmh (almost 95) in the left lane.

I wouldn’t want anything bigger than the Qashqai over there. The lane to our bed and breakfast near Avignon wound through the tables at the local café — seriously! — and was skinnier than our garage door at home, setting off every sensor in the car as I passed between two buildings.

Driver’s Seat: At first, I found the seat bottoms of the top-of-the-line leather seat to be a bit on the firm side, but after some 292 miles, I emerged rested and refreshed. Of course, there could be an emotional component mitigating my usual pain, as the views throughout Provence — the walled downtown of Avignon, the towering mountains in the distance, the Venice-like appeal of L’Isle Sur La Sorgue — will improve even the sourest mood.

But, in the end, no, it wasn’t about Monsieur Driver’s Seat being more cheerful on le holiday. We drove 400 miles from Nice to Barcelona on our last full day in Europe, and emerged without pain of any sort.

Fighting the wind: Of course, tall mountains near the sea mean some wicked winds can blow, and we were there on a day worthy of California’s Santa Anas. The Qashqai mostly held its own as we passed by full windsocks on the highway.

Friends and stuff: I found the rear seat comfortable and roomy (though leggy Sturgis Kid 4.0 might have disagreed, he was left on this side of the Atlantic). Cargo space (in the Rogue Sport) is 53.3 cubic feet with the second row folded down.

Play some tunes: Nissan’s familiar stereo controls require no translation here. Buttons get you from radio to CD to map, and the sound was excellent.

Fuel economy: The trip computer bafflingly told me the car consumed an average of 6.4 liters/100 kilometers. This translates to 36 mpg, an astounding number for a small crossover riding close to 100 mph. Great when the cost fuel is between 1.34 and 2 Euro/liter.

Where it’s built: Kyushu, Japan, for the Rogue Sport, Sunderland, England, for the Qashqai.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Rogue Sport’s reliability will be a 3 out of 5, but mainly on reputation.

In the end: Comfortable for long trips, with a nice interior and decent ride. Too bad the great fuel economy and stick shift aren’t available on this side of the water.