Nissan Murano – solid fun but with a face only a mother could love

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Nissan Murano’s grinning grille has turned into a toothy skeletal scowl for
2009 and we think it’s one of the most unusual front-end designs in the business.

Unfortunately, people who are so turned off by the gap-toothed grin that they easily dismiss the Murano from their purchasing consideration. That’s unfortunate because we think they are going to miss out on what is one of the best mid-sized crossover sport utilities in a rapidly growing segment.

Behind the teeth and a pair of unusually slender horizontal headlight enclosures is a high-riding swoopy vehicle you can happily live with for years. Completely redesigned, the Murano is one of the most rewarding mid-sized crossovers for 2009.

We have no problem with the styling behind the grille, that stayed close to the original design, introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model. The taillights have been reshaped and the body has received a more sculpted look. Absent the grille, the Murano is as up-to-date stylish and as handsome as any of its competitors.

We remember back in 2003 upon taking the keys to one of the first copies of the
Murano how we lavished praise on Nissan for taking a chance in moving away from the squared-up stance of most crossovers and body-on-frame sport utilities of that day.

Here was a product that was outrageously off center. Even though it took some time to get comfortable with the rounded lines, wheels pushed to the corners, stubby nose and raked windshield, we applauded the effort.

Since then the industry has moved in Nissan’s direction. Example number one is the Mazda duo, CX-7 and CX-9. And to one degree or another, Volkswagen, Toyota,
Ford, Honda and General Motors have all moved in the rounded-and-raked-is-better direction.

There are some downsides to the form over function design of the Murano including diminished rearward visibility. But customers vote with their pocketbooks and they have declared the Murano a winner.

Sales rose from nearly 58,000 in 2004 to more than 81,000 in 2006 and have held steady at around 75,000 a year since then.

For 2009 Nissan wanted to preserve its much-copied look while upgrading the vehicle from stem to stern. It appears a job well done.

It’s built on the stiff and agile Altima sedan platform, and it shows. An enlivened 3.5-liter V-6 engine, the most responsive CVT (continuously variable transmission) we’ve driven, a delightfully luxury-like quiet interior, a smooth unobtrusive ride and sparkling driving dynamics push the Murano to the head of the mid-sized under-35-grand class.

The driver’s seat is comfortable and the seating position is excellent. Important to passengers, the rear-seat stretch-out room is abundant and the rear seatbacks recline for long-distance comfort.

If you love the agility, performance and interior amenities, but pull a recreational product such as a light boat, don’t turn away from the Murano. It carries a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, which should be good for hauling most weekend toys.

The Murano conveyed a confident feeling on Arizona highways last winter and on various types of roads in California and North Carolina this summer.

The engine, which received a 25-horsepower infusion from the previous iteration to 265 horses, pulls the two-ton vehicle in with ease in all circumstances.

The transmission is quick to effectively kick down when instantaneous power is demanded. Nissan has got the no-gear CVT just right.

Take the Murano to some of your favorite back road twists and turns and you will be rewarded with sharp, accurate steering and some corner-holding ability not present in many crossovers.

It won’t take but a few minutes inside Murano to notice the quality materials and the excellent fit and finish Nissan has built into its crossover. And it won’t take much longer to find harmony with the gauges and switchgear.

Since we are paid to nit-pick we do find fault with the Murano’s ignition system. To fire up the engine the oblong electronic key is placed into a dash dock and then a starter button is pushed. A few times the key did not want to cooperate and popped out onto the floor. Is it beset by demons?

Probably not, but in the absence of a key that emits a signal from the driver’s pocket )the most advantageous design) we would prefer the old-fashioned system of inserting a standard key into the ignition switch.

Another issue, perhaps one of Murano’s weak links is cargo space. As it stands, the Murano has only a fair 32 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second-row seats and 65 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded flat. Certainly not benchmark numbers.

One neat cargo feature is a lift-up panel in the rear floor. Coming up from the floor are three separate compartments just right for keeping groceries separated or for holding a delicate taller object such as a live plant upright; so kudos to Nissan for compartmental engineering.

And we can hear a small chorus of chants in the background, “where is the third-row seat.” We think much to Nissan’s credit it didn’t try to jam a third row into a smallish mid-sized vehicle already a bit cramped for cargo room and it only would have created a tight spot for small children. If you want a Nissan and need a third row check out the Pathfinder.

The Murano comes in three trim levels, S, SL and LE, with a choice of front wheel or all-wheel drive starting at $27,615 including destination charge. All-wheel drive will add $1,600 to the S and SL and comes standard in the top-line LE, which begins at $37,200.

Standard features in all trim levels are generous including 18-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a sound system with six speakers and a six-disc changer, antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control and side-curtain airbags.

The SL trim level adds power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls and privacy glass for a starting price of $29,165.

Our SL test car came with all-wheel drive and a $1,000 premium package that included upgraded Bose audio, satellite radio and auxiliary audio/video inputs for rear-seat passengers. It brought the bottom line to $31,225.

If you can get past the grille, and we realize it is a matter of taste and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there may be some among you who actually like it, there resides a solid, fun-to-drive crossover.


Base price: $27,615; as driven, $31,225
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 265 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 248 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: continuously variable
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
Length: 188.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,141 pounds
Turning circle: 39.4 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 31.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 64 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21.7 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 23 mpg highway, 18 city
0-60: 7.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Mazda CX-7, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge

The Good
Nicely appointed interior
Excellent performance
Quiet cabin with luxury feel

The Bad
Compromised rear visibility

The Ugly
A front end only a mother could love