Of the “Big Three” Japanese automakers selling cars in America, Nissan is the brand willing to take the most risk with styling. When buyers visit Nissan showrooms, they will find expressive vehicles with passion and out-of-the-box designs that Honda and Toyota just do not build. Think the small Juke, the departing Cube, the sporty 370Z, even the all-electric Leaf. The giant Armanda SUV and the Quest minivan are certainly distinctive, if not necessarily eye-pleasing, while the latest Murano seen here bridges the divide between contemporary and aggressively fresh. This emphasis will help the third-generation Murano stand out in a crowded field of midsize, five-passenger crossover wagons.
The latest Murano’s stance results in a slightly larger wagon inside, while the floating roof design of the rear portions of this vehicle signal a greater European influence — maybe the Renault connection that is part of Nissan. Swoopy sheet metal in the rear quarters, blacked out roof pillars and a rising beltline before the multi-dimensional taillights give this Murano a look that will not be confused with others.
Painted a Nissan color favorite — Pacific Sunset — our pre-production Murano in top Platinum trim was poised and polished. The spirited 260-hp 3.5-liter V-6 remains in the engine bay — for all models, front or all-wheel drive — while a redesigned CVT automatic transmission delivers enhanced fuel economy. Nissan claims a four-mile-per-gallon jump on the combined EPA cycle, from 20 to 24 mpg. In over 700 miles of use, the Murano averaged a real-world 26 mpg with a peak number of 27.9 mpg.
Ride and drive dynamics in the Murano are satisfying in that they do not intrude on the overall trip experience. Steering feel, cornering attitude and acceleration delivery are all more than pleasing and generated no complaints. Using a front-wheel-drive biased platform, the new Murano has abandoned the locking AWD button, thinking that buyers really aren’t taking these “trucks” off-road. They are right; however, Snowbelt customers might still want the assured traction that locked AWD ensures.
Some competitors might be better at some characteristics than the Murano, but none are more rounded in their overall driving performance. In a pack that includes the Ford Edge, Cadillac SRX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes ML, Lincoln MKX and VW Touareg that is not faint praise.
This holds true inside as well, as the airy, spacious cabin provides an inviting space to travel. Platinum trim, starting at $40,600 with AWD, carries a lot of standard features that let this crossover battle the luxury wagons on their turf — for a lot less money. Heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping action, 20-inch sport wheels and LED headlamps are part of the package. The beige interior of our sample Murano also featured the softly colored wood panels woven into the door and dash trim; some observers completely missed this detail while noticing convenient controls, comfortable seats and the 8-inch info screen. Rear seat riders pay no penalty on adjustable perches, while the larger cargo area is aided by a power liftgate.
The sample Murano also included the Tech Package, $2,260, which adds the huge dual-panel Panoramic sunroof, intelligent laser-guided cruise control, forward collision warning and emergency braking, plus predictive forward collision warning. The sunroof draws raves; the driving aids help ensure that those comments are often repeated.
With no fewer than five cameras on board — four for the around-view monitoring when you back-up, plus one for the laser-cruise — the Nissan packs a lot of new features into a value-priced package. Laser-aided cruise is showing up in lots of new vehicles as we see greater hints, plus trickle-down economy of features, of the autonomous car. Like other such systems, the Nissan can accelerate and brake itself with laser-guided cruise — all you do is steer.
Other notables include a stellar Bose audio system, with conventional controls on the dash and the steering wheel, an auto-climate system, push-button access and ignition, as well as convenient ingress and egress over a small threshold that is concealed by wrap-around doors that help prevent road grime from marring your pant legs. From the equipment list to the ride dynamics to the pricing and the comfort inside, the Murano checks many desired boxes.
Shoppers also must consider the vehicle’s increased fuel economy. Whatever the special sauce is, Nissan has a current edge on fuel economy gains right now, achieving the largest fleet improvement in the industry in 2013. The Murano proved to be the third recent Nissan that out-shined its respective class competitors — including Altima and the compact Rogue — on fuel economy.
At 192 inches long, the Murano is a tick larger than all of its rivals and even 1 inch longer than the Toyota Highlander. Thankfully, Nissan did not jam a third row seat into the Murano as the Toyota has, leaving the longer Pathfinder for that seven-passenger duty.
Also thankfully, the Murano weighs less than all of its rivals — some by more than 500-pounds. Perhaps this is a large part of the fuel economy “special sauce.”
Murano pricing starts at just over $30,000 for front drive S models. AWD adds $1,600.
There is nothing shy about the new Murano. It is expressive in an artful fashion, competent in its performance and confident in its content. Drivers who used to think that they needed the Lexus RX to make a statement might find themselves surprised that the new Murano will deliver the same rewards for less money.