Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

When Automakers Threw Sport Badges On SUVs To Mean Smaller

Nissan Rogue and Rogue Sport size comparison

Nissan Rogue and Rogue Sport size comparisonImage: Nissan

There have been a few instances over the years when automakers have been misleading. They’ve varied from subtle to leafant. Often times these creative diversions have to do with SUVs and crossovers, as automakers think of more and more ways to sell to customers in this oversaturated segment.

Every so often, for some reason, an automaker applies a “sport” badge to some SUV or crossover and it doesn’t mean what we think it would mean. In our enthusiast minds, we imagine a special suspension package, a more powerful engine, or at the very least, a more aggressive cosmetic package. But every so often, the “sport” badge simply means “smaller or more compact than the original model.” I can think of seven examples from recent years.

Chevy Captiva Sport

Image for article titled When 'Sport' Doesn't Mean Sport

Image: Chevrolet

the Captiva Sports was a strange offering in the US market with a complicated history. So Chevy sells a Captiva SUV in various parts of the world; it’s been around since 2006. It’s currently on its second generation and looks like a cross between a Chevy Blazer and a Traverse. GM never sold the Captiva here in the US

Other parts of the world, mainly Central and South America, got a Captiva Sport that was based on the Opel/Vauxhall Antara. Saturn received a version of the Antara that was sold here as the second-generation Vue that was only around for two model years — coincidentally, the last two years for the Saturn brand, which folded in 2010.

G/O Media may get a commission

It wasn’t until the 2012 model year that we would get the Mexico-built Captiva Sport, essentially the same vehicle as the Vue but with a few differences. This model was never sold at retail here in the States. GM brought over the Captiva Sport for fleet buyers, so you only ever saw it at rental car agencies. This was done to fill the gap left when the HHR was discontinued, which is weird.

While buyers of the Vue got to choose an optional 3.5-liter 250 horsepower V6 in the Vue Redline, there was nothing sporty about the Captiva Sport. These fleet vehicles only received a 2.4-liter I4 or a 3.0-liter V6 paired with a six-speed auto. The Captiva Sport was discontinued in 2014 after GM realized, “Hey, we don’t need an imported crossover for fleet sales because the Equinox has been here the whole time!” Not long after that, the Captiva Sport started to show up on used lots, and that’s how normal Americans began driving them.

While not exactly the same vehicle as the larger Captiva, the two did ride on the same platform.

Ford Explorer Sport

1994 Ford Explorer Sport

1994 Ford Explorer SportImage: Ford

The Explorer Sport was made for over a decade, from 1991 to 2003, covering two generations. The first generation arrived with the original Explorer. The second generation differed a bit — around 2001, Ford switched the Explorer Sport to use the facia from the Explorer Sport Trac. “Sport” here meant that this Explorer had two doors. There were no sporting pretensions about the Explorer Sport.

2001 Ford Explorer Sport

2001 Ford Explorer SportImage: Ford

Power came from the boat-anchor 4.0-liter V6. And while the second-gen Explorer offered a 5.0-liter V8, you couldn’t get that engine in the Explorer Sport. A Mazda-made five-speed manual transmission was standard in the early years, but you were fooling yourself if you thought this would be any kind of sporty vehicle. At least Ford did enthusiasts a solid in recent years, giving us the current 400-hp Explorer ST.

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

2016 Hyundai Santa Fe SportImage: Hyundai

the Santa Fe sports was actually identical to the regular Santa Fe in every aspect, just with a shorter wheelbase. For a brief moment at the end of its life in 2018, it was sold alongside the new (and current) fourth-generation Santa Fe. Unlike the other SUVs and crossovers here, Hyundai did give the Santa Fe a smidge of sportiness with that Sport badge. But it wasn’t intentional. While the larger Santa Fe had optional V6 power, the Santa Fe Sport had a base 2.4-liter I4 or an optional turbocharged 240 hp 2.0-liter.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Image for article titled When 'Sport' Doesn't Mean Sport


the Outlander sports is the oldest vehicle on this list that’s still actually on sale. If you go on Mitsubishi’s site or find yourself in a fever dream and end up at one of their dealers, the vehicle you’ll see on sale is essentially the same crossover (with a few updates) that debuted for the 2010 model year. It has received four facelifts/refreshes since it’s been on sale.

Before the recent redesign, the Outlander Sport really was just a smaller, more compact version of the larger Outlander. Both had old bones, riding on the ancient GS platform. Any sporting intention this model started out with has long been abandoned. Power comes from a 2.0-liter I4 that’s paired to a CVT. There’s a larger 2.4-liter version of the same engine that’s standard on the so-called GT trim, but it’s still paired with a CVT.

The current non-sport Outlander rides on a platform jointly developed with Nissan (and shared with the Nissan Rogue). the unfortunately named Eclipse Cross was introduced in 2018; Despite being newer than the Outlander Sport, the Eclipse Cross still rides on the old GS platform. S0 the Outlander Sport’s position in Mitsubishi’s lineup has sort of become redundant, with so many crossovers so close to each other in size. You have to wonder if the Outlander Sport’s days are numbered.

Mitsubishi Montero Sport

2004 Mitsubishi Montero Sport

2004 Mitsubishi Montero SportImage: Mitsubishi

the Montero sports is probably the only SUV on this list that was an actual SUV, meaning it had some off-road chops. It was body-on-frame with a 4WD system with a low range like a proper Montero should have. It was sold around the world in various markets and under different names. And while it’s still on sale in a few markets, the US only received the first generation, sold here from 1996 to 2004. Engine choices were either a base 134 hp 2.4-liter I4 paired to a 5-speed manual or a 3.0-liter 173 hp V6 with a 4-speed auto. For some reason, the top Limited trim came with an extra 27 hp. I did some digging and found that the 4WD models could be had with the 5-speed manual, though I couldn’t find out whether that was with the I4 or the V6.

Nissan Rogue Sport

Image for article titled When 'Sport' Doesn't Mean Sport

Image: Nissan

Nissan just recently discontinued the Rogue Sport. Another one of those “sport” models that carries the model name of its bigger sibling but is a slightly different vehicle, the Rogue Sport was a Nissan Qashqai that the brand brought to the US in 2017 for more sales volume. It did look like a smaller, last-generation Nissan Rogue. But as the years went on things changed. Nissan introduced a smaller-than-Rogue-Sport Kicks crossover and the larger Rogue received a much needed redesign, moving to a platform jointly developed with Renault/Mitsubishi. So the Rogue Sport became sort of pointless, and it was axed. What’s worse is the price rose in recent years. It cost more than the Kicks and overlapped the larger Rogue in higher trims.

And like all the others on this list, the badge said “Sport” but it was devoid of sportiness. Power came from a 141 hp I4 paired with a CVT. This meant a zero to 60 mph time of eventually.

Subaru Outback Sport

2001-2003 Outback Sports

2001-2003 Outback SportImage: Subaru

The Outback Sport is probably one of the least remembered vehicles on this list. While the regular Outback was based on the Legacy and sold to a more mature crowd, Subaru wanted to reach younger buyers. That’s how the Outback Sport came to be. It was sold on the first three generations of the Impreza. Subaru threw on two-tone paint, gave it some mud flaps and a roof rack, larger tires, and a slightly higher ground clearance.

2009-2011 Outback Sport

2009-2011 Outback SportImage: Subaru

But at its core, it was still just on Impreza hatch. Eventually, Subaru decided to put more effort into a smaller-than-Outback offering for younger buyers by replacing the Outback Sport with the Crosstrek in 2012.

Hopefully, with most of these models gone, automakers get out of this habit and realize sport doesn’t necessarily mean smaller.

Comments are closed.