The Murano landed at The Garage on December 23rd. With Christmas nearly upon us, and I with some final holiday chores to run before I would be able to settle in and enjoy the festivities, I hopped into the Murano and set forth into the wintry mayhem. Although my destination was less than a mile away, I was stuck in gridlock traffic. This half hour of going virtually no where allowed me to find much virtue in Nissan’s mid-size crossover. With the temperature below freezing, I enjoyed the warmth and comfort of the heated leather seats, and the dual-zone auto climate control kept me comfortable. The quiet cabin insulated me from the noise and stress going on around me. The Bose audio tuned to XM Radio’s “Holiday Traditions” sounded as if Dean Martin was seated next to me, his orchestra in the back. Stuck in gridlock, the Murano was comfortable and kept me in the holiday spirit.
The first Muranos were introduced as 2003 models. As Nissan’s first crossover, this was a radical departure from the Pathfinders and XTerras the public was accustomed to. Built on an Altima chassis, Nissan was willing to bet that buyers would take to the Murano’s car-like handling, commanding driving position, available all-wheel drive paired with modern styling and sweeping curves (even at the expense of utility). The gamble paid off, and the Murano has been a huge success.
The Murano was redesigned in 2009, but the changes were purely evolutionary. Nissan wisely chose not to make too many changes to a successful recipe, as the car is instantly recognizable as a Murano in style and silhouette. It is a testament to the design of the original Murano that the car still manages to look fresh, if not familiar, after all these years.
In the recent past, Nissan has been hit hard for having handsome, well-designed interiors that were let down by cheap materials and average-quality workmanship. Nissan has continued the tradition of a handsome interior, but this time goes the distance with quality that can back up the good looks. All controls had a nice, tactile feel to them. The large, color LCD screen did a commendable job of showing HVAC and audio functions-you just need to take a moment to understand how to use it. Nissan has finally thrown the cheap interior monkey off its back. It won’t be missed.
As before, all Muranos have one engine/tranny, a 3.5L V-6, now with 265hp coupled to the XTronic CVT. Buyers have a choice between front and all-wheel drive. No manufacturer believes in the Continuously Variable Transmission more than Nissan, and I still adamantly believe it takes a lot of the sportiness out of what is an excellent engine. That said, the V-6 has enough power and torque to get you to speed quick enough the avoid the ‘motorboating’ effect that plagues most CVT-equipped vehicles. Manufacturers defend their use of the CVT for fuel economy sake, but an all-wheel drive GMC Terrain with a six-speed automatic and V-6 with near identical power delivers slightly better highway fuel economy.
On the road, the Murano is smooth, quiet, and unobtrusive. On Christmas Day we fit four adults and a car seat for our three-year old on a four-hour round trip. At highway speeds the Murano was solid as a rock, with not a whisper of road roar or wind noise. All occupants had plenty of room. All the passing power you needed was there in a moment’s notice, and the brakes always instilled confidence. With the ride and handling so well tuned, I was let down by the Murano’s feather-light and dead steering feel, which seemed out of place with the car’s otherwise excellent dynamics.
Our loaner was the mid-level SL with all-wheel drive, which stickers at $31,200USD. Our generously equipped car had the optional Technology Package for $1,500 (with power liftgate, Bluetooth, auto on/off xenon headlights, heated mirrors and rain sensing wipers), Premium Package for $1,000 (Bose Audio, XM Radio, Rear View Monitor, auto dimming mirror and 7″ display) and Leather Package for $1,600 (for leather heated seats and passenger power seat). Including destination, the total sticker was $36,100. I should point out this car stickers higher than the four cylinder AWDÃ‚Â GMC Terrain we reviewed that included a power moonroof, GPS Navigation, 40 GB Music hard drive and two-screen rear DVD entertainment system-features absent on our Murano.
For what it lacks in features to the Terrain dollar for dollar, the Murano does present itself well as a quiet and utterly competent people mover with some style thrown in for good measure, and I will concede the Nissan comes off as just a bit more upscale, but not by much. In everything I threw at the Murano it proved a vehicle I could trust, and best of all, an oasis in the madness of the holiday season-a feature any crossover buyer could appreciate.