NASHVILLE, Tennessee—The auto industry is undergoing a changing of the guard. The current consumer trend has seen long-time sedan buyers migrating to the land of extra ground clearance and cargo space found in utility vehicles.

Currently, compact SUVs have become the top-selling segment in Canada – led by the Nissan Rogue through the end of March – and the subcompact SUV segment has followed that ascension, too.

Enter the 2017 Nissan Qashqai crossover, new to the North American market (and to be dubbed ‘Rogue Sport’ in the United States). The Qashqai has been around since 2007, and has successfully become one of Europe’s best-selling SUV/crossover vehicles in that time.

For a while, Canadians have heard rumours about the Qashqai’s arrival, but in reality, it was too similar to its larger Rogue sibling, both in price and size. However, with the influx of compact and subcompact crossover buyers, that talk has changed, and now Nissan Canada believes there’s a void the Qashqai can fill.

During Nissan’s product presentation, the Qashqai was placed next to the Rogue, and from the front, not much difference could be found. Both crossovers use Nissan’s chrome V-Motion grille with swept-back headlights featuring LED signature daytime running lights on the top trim, and roof rails.

The only two noticeable differences were in its fog lights and the size of the grille. The Rogue uses a cool-looking slithering fog light design, while the Qashqai gets a banal circular treatment. The opposite could be found in its grille, as the Qashqai takes on a thin, sleek, and clean design, while the Rogue gets more bulk and expands closer to its front bumper.

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We can look at all the subtle changes between the Qashqai and Rogue, but the clear difference comes down to its actual size. The most significant difference is found in its length, clocking in at 4,380 mm, 250 mm smaller than the Rogue.

The rest of the dimensions aren’t so drastic, with a reduction in height by 98 mm, width by only two mm, and a 60-mm smaller wheelbase.

A sporty tone is set by its character body creases and curvy hatchback rear. Its finished off nicely with sleek boomerang-shaped taillights, another Nissan staple.

The Qashqai will be marketed towards younger, more active SUV buyers. Brent Smith, chief marketing manager, crossovers at Nissan Canada, even suggested the Qashqai “can be cross-shopped with hatchbacks.”

I was pleasantly surprised by the headroom and legroom found in both rows. The roofline appears to be low, but in actuality my six-foot frame had no issues sitting on either flank of the rear.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the middle seat, which would be best suited for a small child, but that’s to be expected from a compact crossover.

Nissan was able to create that unexpected cozy 60-40 back seat by keeping second-row cargo volume close to the Rogue, at 1,730 litres compared to Rogue’s 1,982. That all changes when the second row is folded upward, as Qashqai space totals 643 litres compared to 1,113.

The rest of the cabin in the top SL Platinum trim provided is nicely appointed with soft leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that has available heating in the upper trims. The trims below SL will not have leather, but come standard with heated seats and a rearview camera.

Heated seats can be a big bonus, but those base luxury touches are few and far between. Outside of SL Platinum, the Qashqai possesses manual seat adjustments, and no power lift gate. I guess they’re really after the active and not-lazy buyer, and that can be expected at a starting price of $19,998.

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A key feature Nissan wanted to show off was its Intelligent Around View Monitor, which uses four cameras to create a 360-degree view around the vehicle.

To test this out, Nissan provided a demo Qashqai with all of its windows blacked out, and had me drive it using only the four-camera system. It was a tad scary, but easy to use with the help of a split-screen close-up as another visual option. In the end, I was able to perform a successful perpendicular parking job in between the lines.

In addition, the system will provide audible alerts when other cars or moving objects are around. This technology has become more commonplace in the industry, but it’s rare for the crossover compact segment.

The rest of the Qashqai’s safety technology can be found in its SL Platinum trim at $32,198. It’s at this level where Intelligent Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Intervention and High Beam Assist all come into play.

Powering the Qashqai is only one engine offering: a 2.0-litre inline-four producing 141 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque. In Canada, Nissan has ordered the six-speed manual transmission – not available south of the border – for the base S trim, but the rest of the crossovers are matched to its Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Front-wheel drive comes standard, and all-wheel-drive is available and eventually standard as you work up the different trim levels.

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The program took us through the smooth roads around the outskirts of Nashville. The Tennessee roads complemented the equally smooth drive the Qashqai provided. Only at initial acceleration did the ute bring out that CVT whine, but it was subtle and quick, and probably not detectable by the average crossover consumer.

Getting up to speed wasn’t an issue, and upper highway speeds were achieved without me even noticing we were above the limit.

As relaxing as the cruising highway drive was, I found city driving to be aggravating at times. The need for steering correction was abundant, especially on sweeping turns, and responsiveness was equally disappointing. As with any new vehicle, it takes time to get adjusted, and after a longer driving spell, steering became simply a minor burden.

Fuel economy is paramount in the subcompact crossover segment, and the Qashqai doesn’t disappoint. For the all-wheel-drive version used on this program, the crossover rated at 9.1 L/100 km in the city and 7.5 L/100 km on the highway. The front-wheel-drive options are 10.0 and 8.1, respectively, for the manual transmission, and 8.8 and 7.3 for the CVT.

Setting up a price below $20K puts Nissan in a great marketing position to sell the Qashqai. It’s not the cheapest in the segment – the Jeep Renegade and Chevrolet Trax hold those honours – but when matched up against its closest competitors – the Mazda CX-3 starting at $20,695; and the Honda HR-V at $21,150 – the Qashqai comes out to the naked eye a lot better.

However, when you dig a little deeper, the CX-3 starts with an auto transmission, and the most base Qashqai CVT version begins at $21,998. Regardless of the war over pricing, all of these options are reasonably priced for the value received.

The bigger question may very well be whether consumers choose the SV front-wheel-drive Qashqai at $24,598; or opt for the larger and roomier base Rogue at $25,248.

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The 2017 Nissan Qashqai will hit dealerships in June and Nissan is hoping it vaults up the subcompact crossover sales chart on the same trajectory as the Rogue. It brings a practical and comfortable ride to both couples and small families looking for that little extra height.

Timing is everything, and so Nissan has set the stage for the Qashqai to take advantage of a booming crossover market. It will be interesting to see whether its unusual name slows the process down.

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Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.