On the Road Review: Nissan Murano SV

Crossover vehicle sales are hot, very hot. Compact crossovers are getting lots of consumer attention, while midsize crossovers such as this week’s Murano are still gathering growing sales too. With relatively low fuel prices, buyers are gravitating to what they want to drive, rather than what bureaucrats want us to drive.

Nissan’s Murano is a much-improved new wagon for 2015 with a larger cabin, more refinement, more features and a distinctive new exterior design that helps differentiate this model from the central pack. If you look at the new Murano and you don’t come away with an impression — good or bad — then check your pulse.

The new Murano also achieves higher fuel economy due to improvements to both the 3.5-liter 260-hp V-6 engine and the CVT automatic that funnels power to the front drive-biased chassis that is also available with AWD. EPA mileage estimates are up a healthy four miles per gallon with the newest Murano. In over 1,000 miles of use, our Silver Murano SV — the second level of four available trims — returned 27-plus miles per gallon.

The five-passenger Murano has gained 33 percent more sales so far in 2015. Competing against, in order, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Lexus RX and Cadillac SRX, the Murano has earned a larger sales gain that any of these rivals. Despite that success, Nissan sells more than four compact class Rogues for every Murano sold.

Key to the Murano’s revival is the styling; the swoopy lines, the more aggressive face, the floating rear roof arches, and racy alloy wheels all add up to a more visually exciting car. Throw in the huge panoramic roof option and the Murano really has a new dynamic.

With a slightly larger platform, the Murano rides and handles nicely. It is nimble when you need it to be, smooth all of the time, and composed when pressed. Quiet too, the Murano feels like a more refined vehicle than its predecessor.

Certainly the powertrain feels more refined. The V-6 engine is quieter, yet more responsive. The CVT is smoother, and quicker, with its reactions to your right foot prods. Indeed, midrange punch is stronger than several rivals and with no apparent fuel economy penalty.

A driver unhappy with the cost, performance and reliability of her full-size SUV queried me about how the Murano stacks up against some rivals, such as our recent Hyundai Santa Fe. The Hyundai — and its sibling the Kia Sorento — make big points on value per dollar quotients; there is a lot of content in these Korean brands and it’s not just gadgets. Both of these crossover wagons have recently upped their game, considerably, and are serious contenders in this class — as evidenced by their elevated sales against some very good competition. Buyers who used to think that they needed the “image” of some luxury brand crossover wagons in their personal portfolio, have realized that they can get all of the luxury that they want and keep thousands of Benjamins in their pockets.

The Murano counters with a smoother powertrain than these two rivals, better fuel economy, and just a slight edge in overall refinement and competence. Features and content are very close, while ride and handling differences are minor and really come down to personal taste. That is how close this class has become — close enough that buyers can really cross-shop a Murano, or a Sorento, against a Cadillac, Lincoln or a Lexus.

With pricing that starts at $30,000 for front-drive models, and ranges to $45,000 for new Platinum editions, the Murano is covering a broad range of buyers. However, such are the advances that we are seeing in electronics and computers; our new cars are capable of much greater performance in braking, driver-assistance dynamics, and entertainment that a solid base platform can render multiple models that reach various consumer buying points.

Our SV-trimmed Murano carried remote starting with automatic climate controls, eight-way power driver’s seat, plus Nissan’s ConnectSM touch screen for navigation, entertainment, and information. A user-friendly setup augmented by voice controls, the Nissan system offers complementary steering wheel controls (thumb-oriented buttons that could be better) plus conventional stereo knobs to make basic tuning easier. Add a nine-speaker Bose audio system with Sirius and the Murano rocks.

The ledger shows many plus symbols for the Murano; great styling, smooth road manners, quiet and roomy cabin, responsive acceleration, plus enhanced fuel economy. The cargo hold easily swallows multiple sets of golf clubs, flat, on the deck, and the adjustable rear seat accepts three adults in comfort. The chassis did not display any negative torque steer under heavy throttle, meaning that the AWD system is pushing enough power to the rear wheels that the car pushes and pulls when the urge strikes. This is good for winter practicality.

The feel of the Murano, the way it works, the way it drives all lend to an air of confidence and security for the driver. That little “it” factor cannot be overlooked when considering your next crossover wagon.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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