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    Defying Expectations with Crossovers

    By Philip Ruth

    My fellow LGBTs in their forties can relate to the extra effort that is required to keep a fit body as the years progress. Slowed metabolism requires unprecedented diet discipline, and regular activity is needed to keep muscles warm and the injuries low.

    Illustrating this point was a lunch I had recently with a college buddy who doesn’t exercise much, but he showed me a shoulder stretch you could do sitting down—and then he promptly tweaked his shoulder.

    That contrasts with a fitness-model friend who has finally landed his first photobook. It is the result of decades of toil, with rarely-missed daily workouts since his teen years. And so he ends up fiercely bucking the trend of middle age equaling middling expectations.

    Those middling expectations can work their way into shopping for a compact crossover, if you value driving fun. For many buyers, the crossover’s high seating position and shorter length is enough to make it more appealing than larger SUVs. As a result, most crossovers layer trendy styling over disappointingly pedestrian mechanicals.

    Two crossovers I drove recently—the Ford Escape SE and Nissan Rogue Sport SV—offer the hope of something more engaging. My SE test car included the $1,295 “SE Sport Appearance Package,” with its dramatic, black-painted 19-inch wheels. Add to this Escape SE’s “Canyon Ridge Metallic” paint, and you have a vehicle that turns heads, even though the Escape’s look has become ubiquitous.

    Ford Escape SE

    If the Escape’s promise is increased curb appeal, then the Rogue Sport’s hope is in the driving. It’s the smaller and shorter version of the Nissan Rogue that competes directly with the Escape. The Rogue Sport lops off two inches of wheelbase and more than a foot of overall length. The Rogue needs that larger footprint to accommodate an optional third row, but the Rogue Sport seems ready to mix it up with a package that, for many buyers, would be just enough.

    But climbing behind the wheels of the Escape SE and the Rogue Sport SV reveals that these expectations are reversed: the Escape is more fun, while the Rogue Sport settles quickly into stylish-cruiser mode.

    Nissan Rouge Sport SV

    Having Sport in its name cues this Nissan’s driver to visualize nipping around slower traffic and cleanly clipping through curves, but neither scenario is on the Rogue Sport’s menu. It drives very much like its larger and comfort-oriented Rogue progenitor—the Rogue Sport is lighter, but it has a smaller engine with less power, so it doesn’t move the inspiration needle much.

    The tested Escape SE felt caffeinated by comparison. While the Rogue Sport trundles along with a non-descript 2.0-liter four-cylinder running through a sleepy CVT transmission, the Escape SE turbocharges its smaller 1.5 liters and clicks out firm shifts with its six-speed transmission.

    So much for how they’d appear to be—the spry-looking Rogue Sport feels settled in for Netflix and chill, while the mature Escape seems ready to tackle a climbing wall, proving that expectations are made to be challenged, with both middle age and crossovers.Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at