First introduced in 2003, the Nissan Murano was on the vanguard of the move to crossovers, with buyers not so much coming out of SUVs but passenger cars. Trailing in its wake came the Toyota Venza, the Ford Edge, and the Honda Crosstour, to name a few. Redesigned for 2009, the Murano’s styling became more, well, pronounced — with a pointy, shovel-faced grille and a rounded rear — but it retained the same general proportions.
Based on the Altima
The Murano’s mechanical package has changed little in all that time. This crossover is based on the midsize unibody architecture that also underpins the Altima (and, now, the new Pathfinder as well). Nissan’s familiar — and ubiquitous — 3.5-liter V-6 provides the motivation. The normally aspirated engine’s 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque are hardly headline-making numbers, but they prove to be adequate for motivating the Murano, which weighs 4163 pounds in its top-line, all-wheel-drive trim.
CVT Engineered to a T
Nissan is particularly committed to the continuously variable automatic transmission, which has been offered in the Murano since the beginning, and is the only transmission choice today. Fortunately, Nissan’s considerable experience with this transmission means that the company’s engineers have been able to tune it to pleasantly emulate the operation of the conventional automatic. Under acceleration, instead of zinging the tach needle to the top of the rev range and holding it there, the CVT lets engine revs climb naturally as the car gathers speed. The result is less annoying engine droning — but also fairly quick acceleration, although off-the-line performance leaves something to be desired.
Fuel Economy No Longer Fab
Whereas in its early years, the CVT helped the Murano post some of the best EPA numbers in its class, most all of the newer entries have now passed it by. The Murano’s 18 mpg city figure may be par for the course for six-cylinder crossovers, but its highway ratings of 24 mpg (front-wheel drive) and 23 mpg (all-wheel drive) lag behind nearly all comers, including the Edge, the Crosstour, and the Venza.
The Murano interior, on the other hand, gives away nothing to its competitors. The cabin doesn’t have the widebody feel of a Ford Edge, but actually seems more space-efficient, as there’s lot of room for legs, feet, and heads, both up front and in the rear seats. Ingress and egress are super easy, with a low step-over height and narrow door sills. The Murano prioritizes for passenger space more so than ultimate cargo capacity; the luggage floor is high and the rounded rear end restricts the size of bulky objects that can be carried. The rear seatbacks, however, fold easily.
The cabin of my LE test car was quite plush, as well it ought to be given this fully loaded, top-of-the-line Murano’s sticker price of $44,000. There are big, soft chairs, and armrests and door panels are deeply padded. The huge, dual-pane sunroof brightens the interior considerably. The wood trim, however, seems like kind of an afterthought, and is unlikely to keep Audi designers up at night. The very straightforward layout of all the controls is welcome, and Nissan persists with its touch screen supplemented by a redundant center knob controller and lots of buttons for specific functions. Although this approach may not wow showroom goers in the same way as the iPad-style MyFord Touch or Cadillac’s new CUE interface, it’s actually far more intuitive and much easier to use while driving. Here’s hoping Nissan resists the pressure to scrap it in favor of a trendier, less functional alternative. The navigation system works well, but is pricey at $2020, where it’s the major component in the Platinum Edition package, along with Bluetooth audio (Bluetooth phone is standard on all but the Murano S), 20-inch wheels, and a rear bumper cover. (Navigation also can be had outside of the Platinum Edition package for $1850.) A backup camera is standard — again, on all but the S — but some of the latest driver aids, like a blind-spot warning system and lane departure warning, are missing. They will be joining the options list for 2013.
Nissan is wise in attempting to keep the Murano as up-to-date as possible, because this early entrant in the crossover derby is still a quite capable all-rounder. Highway fuel economy could be better, but otherwise the Murano offers sedan buyers seeking a higher perch much of what they’re looking for.
2012 Nissan Murano
Base price (with destination): $40,710
Price as tested: $44,440
3.5-liter V-6 engine
Continuously variable automatic transmission
20-inch aluminum wheels with titanium finish
6 air bags
Active head restraints
8-way power driver’s seat
4-way power passenger’s seat
Heated front and rear seats
60/40 split-fold rear seatback with power return
Reclining rear seats
Leather appointed seats
Wood-tone interior trim
Heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel
Power tilt and telescoping steering column
Memory for driver’s seat, steering column, and mirrors
7-inch color display
Bose AM/FM/XM/CD audio system w/9 speakers, aux audio/video and USB inputs
Bluetooth hands-free phone system
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Keyless entry and ignition
Dual-pane power moonroof
Ambient interior lighting
Bi-xenon headlights w/auto on/off
Front fog lights
Rear privacy glass
Roof rails w/silver accent
Dual exhaust with chrome finishers
Options on this vehicle:
Platinum Edition package – $2020
HDD navigation with 7-inch touch screen and voice recognition
Bluetooth streaming audio
XM Nav Traffic and Nav Weather
20-inch aluminum wheels
Rear bumper protector
Dual DVD headrest monitors – $1515
Floor mats and carpeted cargo mat – $195
Key options not on vehicle:
Fuel economy: (city/hwy)
18 / 23 mpg
Horsepower: 260 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 240 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Continuously variable automatic
Curb weight: 4163 lb