PROS Ample passenger and cargo room, Sporty handling, Powerful and smooth engine
CONS Large turning radius, Mediocre fuel economy
Much like the Lexus RX introduced the concept of a luxury crossover SUVs to well-healed buyers, the Nissan Murano blazed the crossover trail for enthusiast drivers. When introduced in 2003, the Murano was a smartly-sized five-passenger four-door wagon with V6 power and all-wheel drive. It rode on a modified Nissan Altima chassis, didn't pretend to be a true off roader--Nissan left that niche for the Pathfinder and Xterra--and was priced only slightly higher than a midsize sedan. The Murano's forte, though, was agile handling and good straight-line performance.
As you might imagine Murano sold well and quickly became one of the most popular midsize utilities on the market, despite the fact that it couldn't really venture off road. Other automakers rushed to copy the Murano's combination of utility and athleticism. Vehicles like the Dodge Nitro, Mazda CX-7, and Subaru Tribeca rushed to take a slice of Murano's sporty crossover SUV pie.
Over time, the public grew more and more conscious of the crossover market and most competitors began offering sport packages on existing models. Many competitors also rushed to cram third-row seats into the back of existing designs--generally compromising both seating comfort and utility. Nissan did no such thing and stood pat with the original five-passenger configuration.
For 2009, Nissan completely redesigned the Murano. It again rides on a modified Altima chassis that's stretched two inches in wheelbase but is one inch shorter overall. Passenger capacity is five on two front buckets and a three-place rear bench seat. Three models are offered: S, SL, and LE. All use a 265-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). S and SL offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive while the LE comes only with all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. When properly equipped, Murano's towing capacity is 3500 pounds.
Antilock four-wheel disc brakes, brake assist, stability control, tire-pressure monitor, and dual front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags are standard on all models. A rear-view camera is standard on LE, optional on SL. Park assist is not offered.
Standard features of the S include dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt-telescope steering wheel, cruise control, cloth upholstery, driver-seat lumbar adjustment, center console, split-folding rear seat, aluminum interior trim, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection, trip computer, illuminated visor mirrors, rear defogger, intermittent rear wiper, theft-deterrent system, 18-inch alloy wheels. SL adds to S the following equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, eight-way power driver seat, power return rear seatbacks, fog lights, and rear privacy glass.
2009 NIssan Murano SL AWD
Base Price: $29,480
As-Tested Price: $32,825
Built in Japan.
Engine: DOHC 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: CVT automatic
Drive Wheels: all-wheel drive
LE adds to SL power tilt-telescope steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated front- and second-row seats, four-way power passenger seat, memory system, wood interior trim, heated power mirrors, keyless access and starting, Bose sound system, satellite radio, iPod adapter, Bluetooth cell-phone link, rain sensing wipers, universal garage door opener, automatic day-night rearview mirror, power liftgate, HID headlights, roof rails, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
While most features available on the LE are available on other models, key stand-alone options include navigation system with music hard drive, extra-large sunroof, power rear tailgate, power-returning rear seats, DVD entertainment system, and illuminated door sills. Prices start at $26,330 for the front-drive S and climb to $35,910 for the LE. All models have a destination charge of $745 and are imported from Japan.
Get Up and Go Murano's 3.5-liter V6 is one of the smoothest and most powerful engines in the class. Though Nissan doesn't quote a 0-60 mph time, it's likely less than eight seconds. The engine has ample low-end torque, which gives it plenty of pop away from stoplights, and ample giddy-up in passing situations.
Even more impressive that the silky V6 is the performance of the continuously variable transmission, which seamlessly transitions between gear ratios and delivers power quickly and promptly. It' so smooth and shudder free that it makes you wonder why every automaker wouldn't use this design.
The all-wheel-drive system isn't intended for off-road use, but there is a push-button to manually lock the center differential in the event you encounter deep snow or a particularly slippery section of road. There's little indication the system is working as it quickly transfers power from the front wheels to the rear when the need arises.
When equipped with all-wheel drive, the Murano is EPA rated at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. Those numbers are on par with competitors like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. In routine city driving Murano is likely to average about 17-19 mpg. Throw in a fair amount of highway driving and that average can climb to about 21 mpg. In straight highway driving, it's easy to average more than 25 mpg. Nissan recommends premium-grade gasoline for maximum performance and economy.
On the Road Perhaps the biggest complaint from owners of the original Murano was that the ride was slightly too firm. Not that it was harsh, but that it leaned too far toward sport and needed a trifle more impact absorption. Nissan took that criticism to heart and developed a considerably more complaint suspension for the '09 model. The ride is never flaccid or soft, but there's considerably more impact absorption than the previous model. Overall the ride is firmer and more sporty than Highlander or Pilot, but still complaint enough to be comfortable on long trips. Interestingly enough, there's little difference in ride quality between S and LE models despite the difference in wheel size.
The crossover-SUV formula calls for a vehicle that drives like a car but hauls like a wagon, and the Murano doesn't disappoint. Steering is accurate and nicely weighted. Brakes have plenty of stopping power and the pedal is easy to modulate. Body lean is modest and the tires have plenty of grip. Large bumps occasionally upset the chassis, but Murano feels considerably more maneuverable than competitors like Chevy Equinox, Pilot, and Highlander. Is the Murano as nimble as a Honda Accord or Nissan Altima? No.
Interior noise levels are greatly reduced when compared to the previous model. The biggest annoyance is wind noise at highway speeds. Tire noise is nicely suppressed and the engine only intrudes in hard acceleration.
Behind the Wheel The '09 Murano sports a completely redesigned interior. The layout will be familiar to owner's of current Nissan products and features plenty of soft-touch plastics and padded surfaces. Standard aluminum trim adds an upscale flair missing in many competitors. Gauges utilize amber lighting that's easy to read day or night. Radio and climate controls are simple and have a sophisticated look. The optional navigation system is easy to operate and programming destinations is a snap, though it could benefit from voice recognition to reduce driver distraction.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2009 Nissan Murano
|Front Impact, Driver ||4 stars|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||4 stars|
|Side Impact, Driver ||5 stars|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||5 stars|
|Rollover Resistance ||4 stars|
Front seats are large and comfortable. Six-footers have ample head and leg room, even with the optional sunroof. Most drivers will find it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel thanks to the tilt-telescope feature. Since the Murano rides slightly higher than a sedan, the overall view of the road from behind the wheel is excellent. Thick rear pillars are offset by large outside mirrors. While the backup camera is a nice touch, it would be nice if Nissan also offered park assist--at least to the rear. Passengers will find a slight step up when entering, but it's not nearly as off-putting as the step in on a traditional SUV.
Because Nissan chose to do without the third-row seat, there's no compromising second-row seat comfort. Murano offers genuine adult-size leg and head room for back-seat passengers. The seats are nicely padded and adult comfortable. The small driveline hump is a boon for foot space. Wide rear doors mean no-hassle entry-exit.
Murano features a wide and low cargo floor, though the steeply sloped rear tailgate does eat into overall cargo space. Standard on the LE and optional on others is a popup rear cargo organizer that makes loading groceries hassle free. Rear seats fold in a snap and there's no need to remove the headrests. Interior storage is highlighted by an extremely large glove box and door map pockets. There's also a multi-tier center-console bin and a few open storage spaces.
Bottom Line Marked improvements in ride quality, powertrain smoothness, and interior décor move the Murano to the head of the midsize crossover class. Where Honda Pilot feels too big, Murano feels maneuverable. Where Toyota Highlander feels too soft, Murano feels nimble. Where Chevrolet Equinox feels unrefined, Murano feels polished.
Forgoing a third-row seat actually works in Nissan's favor. It allowed engineers to create a vehicle that delivers true five-passenger comfort without compromising fuel economy or maneuverability. True, there are some shoppers that crave the utility of that extra-passenger capacity, and for them, Nissan offers the Pathfinder.
Prices are reasonable and certainly in line with competitors, though a loaded LE can tip the scales at close to $40,000. Obviously, you'll want to shop around with nearly every automarker offering steep discounts on crossovers and SUVs. There's little debating the utility of the wagon body style and for some buyers that's a must. If you fall into that group, be sure to visit your Nissan dealership before you buy. You'll find plenty to like in the new Murano.