Nissan Murano — Adding style to the crossover ranks

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When Nissan introduced its first crossover more than a decade ago it stormed into the market with a flashy, aerodynamic design penned in its North American studios. The 2003 Murano broke new styling ground with a rounded eye-catching appearance that looked ahead of its time. The design has aged well through two generations, but even with some significant updates, it has become dated.

To the rescue is an all-new 2015 Murano with styling that is just as trend-setting as the original, standing out in the mid-sized crossover class with sculpted sides and boomerang-like headlights and taillights. One design highlight is something Nissan calls the "floating roof." This look is created by the use of black exterior trim pieces on the pillars and wrap-around liftgate that give the roof the illusion that it is suspended above the body. An engaging sculpted shape.

But we discovered that the Murano is much more than trendy styling. It offers an engaging driving experience, a very appealing interior layout including roomy passenger and cargo space, and advanced technology and safety systems.

The new Murano is slightly wider (75.4 inches vs. 74.1 inches) and longer (192.8 inches vs. 189.9 inches) and sits closer to the ground than the outgoing model. The stretching and widening of the car gives the Murano a big boost in two important areas — rear seat legroom and cargo capacity. Rear passenger legroom grows by 2.4 inches to 38.7 inches. And luggage space behind the seats has been increased a whooping 8 cubic feet from 31.6 to 39.6. Overall cargo capacity with rear seatbacks folded flat is 69.9 cubic feet compared to last year's 64 cubic feet.

What hasn't changed is the engine and transmission. This is not a bad thing because Nissan's tried and true 3.5-liter V-6 makes a decent 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. But what was class leading several years ago is average at best in 2015 with the ever increasing horsepower and torque from turbocharged engines, most of them more fuel efficient than previous offerings. That being said, the Nissan V-6 adequately moves the Murano in all driving situations.

While Nissan sticks by its long-running decision to outfit everything short of its cutting-edge sports cars with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), we generally favor the new traditional transmissions now with 7, 8 and 9 speeds. Nissan’s newest CVT imitates a conventional automatic with seven stepped "gearshifts" and we think it will be hard for the average driver to determine the difference from a standard automatic.

The combination of V-6 engine and CVT yields 0-to-60 performance of 7.5 seconds, about average for the mid-sized crossover segment. Nissan deserves a big pat on the back for above average gas mileage of 21 city, 28 highway and 24 mpg combined on regular gas for either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. This is commendably better than the outgoing Murano.

A highlight of the interior is Nissan's "NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats," introduced a couple years ago in the new Altima. The seats have now made their way into the Murano (including the second row) and proved very comfortable. Beyond the seats, the interior is remarkably quiet even at higher speeds, and is handsomely styled and functionally laid out.

Interior features include standard dual-zone climate control, Nissan Intelligent Key with push button ignition, available leather-appointed seating giving the crossover an up-market appearance, heated steering wheel, steering wheel position memory, driver's seat and outside mirror memory, power folding rear seats and remote engine start.

Advanced safety features abound on the higher trim levels. Available are such systems as blind-spot monitoring, moving object detection, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent cruise control, predictive forward collision warning, and forward emergency braking. A back-up camera is standard and Nissan's 360-degree camera display is available to aid in parking maneuvers.

The Murano comes in four trim levels — S, SV, SL and Platinum — starting at $30,445 including destination charges. The S can be purchased with the navigation package as an $860 option, something not usually available in a base model. Standard equipment across the lineup includes 18-inch alloy wheels, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a rearview camera, and a six-speaker sound system with CD player and satellite radio.

The SV trim starts at $33,505, the CL at $37,835, and the Platinum at $39,885. All-wheel drive can be added to all trim levels for $1,600. Our front-drive SL test vehicle came with the $2,260 Technology Package that includes adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking, predictive forward collision and a moonroof. Bottom line: $40,095.

Base price: $30,445; as driven, $40,095
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 260 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 240 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
Length: 192.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,847 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 39.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 69.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 21 city, 24 overall
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Volkswagen Touareg

The Good
• Stylish exterior
• Spacious, upscale interior
• Wide range of safety features
• Excellent gas mileage

The Bad
• Very little towing capability

The Ugly
• One trim pattern resembles bathroom tile