Gas price instability and the economic downturn got shoppers rethinking how much SUV they really need, with most deciding a compact SUV was enough. Consumers with a few kids, who needed more room, chose a three-row crossover. That left the midsize, five-seat SUV an unwanted commodity by most.
The redesigned 2015 Nissan Murano is a quiet, comfortable, roomy five-seat SUV, perfectly executed for empty-nesters or others who prize a spacious cabin and cargo area, but who have no desire for a third row, where kids routinely wind up.
There may not be much excitement in the Murano driving experience, but these shoppers want a solid road-trip vehicle, not a rally car.
I tested a variety of Murano trim levels and powertrain configurations around the mountain roads and highways of northern California. Compare the 2015 and 2014 models here.
Exterior & Styling
While the Murano delivers on the practicality and electronic wizardry its target buyer may demand, its styling panders to folks who may be more daring than those shopping this segment.
The radical front end, with curvaceous fenders and a grille that drops down in a V pattern, is in-your-face to an extreme for the class. It makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee look stately and Ford's upcoming Edge redesign look a bit staid in comparison.
It gets wilder farther down the profile, where the rear glass wraps around to the rear window creating a futuristic, solid-black look. The company did the same for the Quest minivan, with a less likable impact.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard and look appropriately sized for the vehicle. The 20-inch wheels on the Platinum model seem a bit too big, visually, and I'm not a fan of their pattern, either, but there will likely be plenty of people who opt for them.
The wild styling also compromises visibility. One would presume rear visibility would be an issue, but even though there's a blind spot over the driver's right shoulder, the large side mirrors negate much worry there. Rather, I was more surprised by just how huge the A-pillar is where it meets the dashboard. It stretches a considerable way from the hood to the driver-side window, creating a large blind spot to the driver's left. That means you could be blocked from seeing vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians when coming to an intersection; on my drive it blocked oncoming traffic when taking a tight looping turn to the left, where I should have been able to see cars approaching my side of the car.
How It Drives
Nissan's venerable 3.5-liter V-6 remains the workhorse under the hood, producing 260 horsepower and 240 pounds-feet of torque. It's teamed to a continuously variable automatic transmission that uses artificial shift points to make it seem like a traditional automatic. The experience feels more CVT than automatic, but power comes on fast and won't leave drivers wanting much, whether the engine is mated to front- or all-wheel drive.
The brakes are also solidly predictable, and when it's running on its standard 18-inch wheels and tires, the Murano is one of the smoothest non-luxury SUVs I've driven. Mileage is only average, however, at 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined for both front- and all-wheel-drive versions. A V-6 Jeep Grand Cherokee gets identical mileage with all-wheel drive and 22/30/25 mpg with rear-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive-only Outback gets 20/27/22 mpg when equipped with a V-6 engine. Compare them here.
Where the Murano faltered in my eyes was in its surprisingly relaxed steering response. You have to turn the wheel considerably more than you would expect to get the desired reaction. This was apparent on two cars I tested with the 18-inch wheels — one front- and one all-wheel drive. My co-driver agreed with the assessment and was equally unimpressed.
Moving to a Platinum model with 20-inch wheels and all-wheel drive, the steering sharpened up and reacted in a more responsive manner. Those wheels, though, impact the Murano's superbly comfortable ride, resulting in a just-kind-of-comfortable ride with increased road noise and sharper reactions to road imperfections.
Otherwise, the Murano cabin is as quiet as can be. After driving up the Pacific coast in a rainstorm that made national news, I pulled over to take some pictures on a bluff and was almost knocked over by the high winds. In the car, I hadn't even noticed those winds — upward of 50 mph — because the cabin was so quiet. The car also didn't suffer many, if any, effects of wind buffeting, which is remarkable.
In the past, Nissan has made a few interiors that felt close to its Infiniti luxury brand, and the Murano follows suit. In its highest, Platinum, trim, which offers a dark brown leather interior, there are few areas that distinguish it from an Infiniti. That's good, because the Platinum starts at $39,885, including a destination charge.
Even on the more accessible SV trim, at $33,505, there are still swaths of leather everywhere from above the gauge cluster to on the armrests on the doors. Even if you're sitting in a cloth driver's seat, you're seeing and touching leather.
Both the front and rear outboard seats are what Nissan calls Zero Gravity seats. I've been a fan of these in the Altima sedan — though a few other Cars.com editors are not — and I thought they were incredibly comfortable in the Murano, as well. The cloth versions don't have as much lumbar support as the leather, and the passenger seats don't have height adjustment, but my driving partner and I thought they were quite pleasant after a three-hour haul from Napa to the coast and back.
Space is considerable in the backseat, which Nissan expects to be used for adults on a double date, not preteens being shuttled to soccer practice. The outboard seats are also Zero Gravity types, and on the Platinum trim they're also heated.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Nissan should get an award for its center console, a near-perfect mix of physical buttons — I counted 17 — four knobs and a touch-screen. Buttons are either piano black with illuminated text and icons, or chrome-covered plastic with the labels above.
The 8-inch touch-screen — standard on SV trims and higher — has terrific resolution and has been completely rethought from the previous generation of Nissan systems, which I always found easy to use. Luckily, everything is still laid out in a straightforward way that should cause few headaches for the tech-averse.
There are separate screens for music, navigation and various other functions, as well as a home screen that gives brief glimpses of many systems that are active. However, I found that screen to look a bit unfinished compared with the competition.
The base stereo has good sound, and you can connect two devices via USB — one for front passengers and one for rear. Either can pipe music through the car's stereo.
An upgraded Bose stereo is optional on SV trims and standard on SL and Platinum versions. I was a bit shocked to discover how poor this system sounded and my co-driver agreed. There was no frequency range in the music; it all seemed to be midrange, with not much treble and even less bass. And nearly all the sound was coming from the five speakers arrayed on top of the dash. There were only basic sound settings, and nothing significantly altered this distasteful aural experience. In reality, the base stereo sounded significantly better.
Cargo & Storage
For an interior as spacious as the Murano's, there could be more storage for front occupants. There's a nice covered tray between the cupholders and a cubby in the center console that can do duty as a smartphone bin; otherwise, the driver will have to rely on the door pocket to stash frequently used items like loose change and other miscellaneous things. The cubby under the armrest itself is a decent size, but it's not as cavernous as others in the class.
There's also a small tray behind the cubby for rear passengers to put items, namely smartphones, into, because the rear USB ports are directly beneath it. It's difficult to tell if it will be used in such a manner in real life. I tend to clench my phone when in a backseat in fear of forgetting it's on my lap and dropping it when I get out.
A generous cargo area is another benefit of moving up to an SUV this size. At 39.6 cubic feet, the Murano doesn't disappoint, providing plenty of room for four good-size pieces of luggage or a mix of luggage and golf bags. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, Subaru Outback and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport pack slightly smaller dimensions at 36.3, 35.5 and 35.4 cubic feet, respectively.
The rear seats fold flat via release handles by the liftgate, a feature I've always appreciated; this expands cargo room to 69.9 cubic feet. This is ahead of the Grand Cherokee's 68.3 but behind the 73.3 cubic feet in the Outback and 71.5 cubic feet in the Santa Fe Sport.
A backup camera is standard on the Murano, while Nissan's Around View Monitor is standard on SL and Platinum trims. When activated, it offers a bird's-eye view of the SUV by using cameras in front, back and in the side mirrors. It's a feature I've always appreciated due to my home's very narrow side driveway leading to my garage.
Blind spot warning is standard on SL and Platinum trims, as is a system to detect objects moving behind the car, called Moving Object Detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. Intelligent cruise control, forward collision warning and forward emergency braking are part of an optional Technology Package on those two trims, as well. See all the Murano's standard and optional safety equipment here.
Value in Its Class
Despite the issues I uncovered in terms of steering and the stereo, the Murano is a remarkable all-around SUV that delivers on two aspects I've always said mattered to the mainstream car shopper: comfort and space.
However, starting at $30,445, including a destination charge, it's more closely priced to the Jeep Grand Cherokee than the Outback or Santa Fe Sport, which can be had at their top trim levels for around $34,000. For 2015, the Murano adds that new top trim level, Platinum, for $39,885 with plenty of bells and whistles. Ford will field a redesigned Edge in the spring, but pricing hasn't been announced yet.
There's a happy medium or two in the Murano lineup for shoppers looking to spend between $33,000 and $35,000, but the competition's more traditional looks and lower prices may pose a problem for Nissan's new SUV.
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