When Nissan debuted the first-generation Murano crossover circa 2003, it turned heads thanks to an exaggerated athletic stance coined "sculpture in motion" by the Japanese automaker. Murano successfully cracked the bland code of once boxy sport utility vehicles. In the same breath, Murano's stylish exterior aged sleek-full-y throughout the ensuing decade.
Based on a mid-size Altima sedan platform, the Japan-assembled Murano is available in a wide variety of trims (eight to be exact). Once shoppers pinpoint one to their liking, the purchasing process simplifies as only two factory option packages are available in select trims. Changes to the five-door, two-row crossover in 2012 are minimal. This eight count excludes a funky-looking, two-door convertible variant, dubbed the CrossCabriolet, or CC for short, debuting last year.
Because the mid-size Murano is based on a unibody auto platform (not truck underpinnings), concrete on-road paths are the trails of choice. Those thirsting for off-road undertakings can choose one of Nissan's off-road intenders including Xterra and Pathfinder Sport Utilities. For those seeking something in a compact size, Nissan also offers a car-like five-passenger Rogue crossover.
The sole powertrain in all trims is a 3.5-liter V6 generating 260 horses mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Nissan's CVT technology rates as one the best in the business available on a wide variety of vehicles, helping tweak fuel economy upward with seamless movements between the infinite forward gear ratio range. Regular, 87-octane fills the 21.7-gallon tank. Nissan currently offers no gas-electric Murano hybrid; instead, the automaker champions all-electric motive (zero gas needed) benefits available in the plug-in Leaf.
Fuel economy rates average at best with our all-wheel-drive SL averaging 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. If opting for front wheel drive, and one mile per gallon more on the highway.
Trim choices include S, SV, SL and LE with standard front-wheel drive. Each can be had with Midwest helpful all-wheel drive doubling the four trim offerings to eight. One of the few new nuggets in 2012 is a Platinum Edition optional only in top-level LE with Sapphire exterior paint, akin to ordering every conceivable ingredient available on a personal supreme pizza.
The lowest priced model, a front-drive S starts at $29,540. At the spectrums opposite end, an all-wheel drive LE checks in at $40,310. The only two factory option packages are the $2,020 LE Platinum edition and $1,850 in-dash navigation solely an SL offering. Our tester, a SL with all-wheel drive, started at $38,000. With the aforementioned navigation package ($1,850) and dealer carpeted floor mats ($195) the bottom line swelled to a comparatively pricey $40,855 including $810 destination charge.
An illuminated dashboard push-start button comes standard in all trims as does cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, air conditioning, compact disc player and rear defroster. The SV trim adds a dual panel sunroof, XM Satellite Radio and eight-way power driver's seat. Heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 11-speaker stereo and power lift gate are SL additions. Top-line LE adds heated rear seats, power steering column function, and 20-inch wheels.
Inside, creature comforts are inviting and welcoming with intuitive driver controls. The steering wheel is home to secondary audio functions and cruise control. To the left and down are two rows of push panels handling fuel-tank release, traction control disengagement, heated steering wheel and power hatch activation. The dual-panel sunroof offered both rows ample solar exposure. Between bucket seats is a large bi-level arm rest with portals for portable electronics. To the front are side-by-side beverage holders with retracting cover. The foot-operated parking brake opens up more room between the front buckets. The straight-across dash includes four interspersed vertical vents. A long, narrow glove box is capable of accommodating lap top computers. Below the eight-inch navigation screen, doubling as a rear-view camera display, are audio and ventilation functions. Stereo functions incorporate a wheel/axle profile with volume and tuning knobs at each end flanking rectangular buttons in between. The ventilation row below borrows the same design cue.
Murano's distinctive back end is an eclectic combination of an arrow-head window between C and D pillars and a deck lid topped off with a spoiler. Narrow, boomerang-shaped tail light housing extends out from the frame. The slender, half-moon shaped grille includes a trapezoidal center ensconced with the circular Nissan logo with honeycomb back drop. Pronounced wheel arches add to a profile ready to pounce. Our SL featured chrome plating over the strap-like handling and dual exhaust. Side view mirrors, average in size, are minus helpful blinker band cues.
The silhouette is shared with the Nissan's up level Infiniti division's FX. While Murano gets by with a single 3.5-liter V-6, Infiniti's FX offers two powertrains: including a thundering V-8 delivering 390 horses in the 5.0-liter FX50.
Murano's driver's door is home to power window, lock and mirror controls placed at a convenient 45-degree angle. The deep-set instrument panel includes a large three-quarter circle analog speedometer gauge flanked on both sides by half-moon gauges. At night, the center console illuminates with an orange-red back glow. Up level trims SL and LE feature double-stitched leather-appointed surfaces.
Three average-sized adults can enjoy the ride in the second row, although leg room is less than what's offered in some rivals. If less than a trio is present, a fold-down arm rest is available with cup holders. Backs fold down with a 60/40 split, although cargo room is average, it's large enough to transport a wheel chair with second-row seats prone. While some mid-size rivals like Toyota's Highlander offer an optional third row, Murano is quite comfortably content with a mid-size optimal two.
The rear lift gate, hinged at the top, opens with enough head clearance for those six-feet, two inches and under with glass opting for a half-oval shape rather than traditional square dimensions. A temporary spare tire situates under the flat cargo floor beneath a sound-barrier plate.
Murano's nimble handling adds to a very pleasurable driving experience joined by precise steering and responsive braking. Drivers sit higher up than conventional sedans, but side and rear visibility remains subpar. The peppy, V-6 is one of the strongest in a crowded mid-size crossover genre. Murano remains one of the few offering six-cylinder exclusivity. This segment includes models opting for four-cylinder exclusive power including the Mazda CX-7 ($22,190) and Ford Escape ($21,440) while others feature four and six-cylinder variants including the Hyundai Santa Fe ($23,225) and Kia Sorrento ($21,250). Murano rates as one of the more pricy vehicles in the non-luxury crossover arena, but historically has done well holding resale value. At a glance:2012 Nissan MuranoPrice as tested:
18 mpg city, 23 mpg highwayLength:
67.0 inchesCurb weight:
3,814 poundsPowertrain warranty:
Five-year or 60,000 milesAssembly: