On The Road

High hatch, low price

After giving a positive review last month to a VW Golf compact station wagon selling for approximately $27,000, a friend who prefers to sit higher in today’s traffic asked about comparably priced compact SUVs.

Courtesy of Ford 
The 2018 Ford EcoSport comes with a 2-liter engine that produces 166 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque.

We had driven a Subaru Crosstrek in January that met those criteria, as did two we drove this month: the Nissan Rogue Sport SV AWD and the Ford EcoSport 4WD Titanium.

The Nissan and Ford are both adaptations of brands the company markets in other parts of the world that have been upgraded to American tastes and standards. The Subaru is an adaptation of one of the Japanese company’s own-market models.

In our view, all three of these vehicles come with compromises to keep their prices under $30,000, but each one has its own advantages.

Rogue ride

We particularly appreciated the capacity of the Nissan Rogue Sport, which can swallow up to 53 cubic feet of cargo – more than some larger crossovers – with the rear seats folded. Higher than its competitors by a couple of inches, improving visibility in the school pick-up lines, it also can handle more unwieldy cargo like big-screen televisions.

We think the only downside of the Rogue Sport is that it’s misnamed – it’s not, well, sporty. Its 4-cylinder engine produces only 141 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque. It has a continuously variable transmission, but that is linked to all four wheels, which makes the car both safer and more predictable in its handling. But then not everyone likes to drive fast. Combined fuel efficiency is rated at 27 mpg (24 city, 30 highway), which should be perfectly adequate for the sensible person (or his or her parents) buying this as an all-purpose car for a high school or college student.

More important, we think, its convenience and safety features put the Rogue Sport in a class by itself. With the optional Technology Package that brings the total retail price up to $28,760, the Rogue Sport is the first compact SUV we’ve driven that offers a 360-degree view of the area around the car. With cameras mounted in the rear, the front and under both side mirrors, it’s possible to tuck this car neatly into the smallest of parking garage spaces without risk of dents or dings. In addition, the Technology Package includes Intelligent Cruise Control, a navigation system and even heated front seats – features found on few other compact crossovers.

Lack of space

In comparison, the Ford EcoSport – essentially a place-holder in this category adapted from a model built by Ford in India and Brazil until Ford can bring in its new Ford Focus compact crossover in 2020 – produces 166 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque from its 2-liter engine. That marginally bests the Nissan in performance, but at the expense of a few miles per gallon of fuel efficiency.

However, reflecting the requirements of its home markets, the EcoSport has almost no space behind the rear seats and consequently only 50 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. The space is accessible with a side-hinged rear door, which might be awkward in some parking lots, rather than a lifting hatch.

On both cars, interior fit and finish is actually quite good for their price levels and should hold up just fine when used as daily drivers by a student or young family.

Our main takeaway is that we’re impressed with how far this category of vehicle has come in terms of safety and convenience while still managing to price out low enough that a parent or new graduate can afford to buy a brand-new car with both a good warranty and up-to-date safety features.

Nevertheless, if pressed for a ranking, we’d still probably opt for the Subaru Crosstrek we drove in January, and give a slight edge to the Nissan Rogue Sport over the Ford EcoSport.

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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