Cars.comparison: Midsize Crossovers

Midsize crossovers remain a popular way for families to get around: With taller stances, carlike ride and handling, and spacious interiors, crossovers blend the best aspects of cars and SUVs. In this comparison, we take the Honda Pilot — a winner from a previous crossover comparison — and size it up against the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano.

 = Category winner
The Contenders
2009 Ford Edge Sport AWD2009 Honda Pilot Touring AWD2009 Nissan Murano SL AWD
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Price as tested
The Edge falls somewhere in between the Pilot and Murano; it offers stronger performance than the Pilot but can't match Nissan's speedster.The modestly powered Pilot feels sluggish when you need to accelerate on the highway, partly due to downshift lag in its transmission, but its V-6 feels plenty capable at slower speeds. The Murano feels the quickest of the bunch thanks to its strong V-6 engine and quick-reacting continuously variable automatic transmission. It offers the best acceleration at highway speeds.
Gas mileage (city/highway, mpg)
Its automatic transmission has one more gear than the Pilot's, and this crossover doesn't weigh as much, but the Edge's city gas mileage falls just shy of the Honda's.
The V-6 is equipped with Honda's fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation system, but the Pilot's 4,590-pound curb weight is the highest of the group by a significant margin.
The lowest curb weight and a transmission that can infinitely vary gear ratios help the Murano achieve best-in-test EPA mileage. Nissan does, however, recommend premium fuel for maximum performance.
Ride comfort
The Edge Sport has standard 22-inch aluminum wheels and low-profile tires. Despite the aggressive setup, ride quality is tolerable.The Pilot's suspension soaks up the worst of the bumps, but its overall ride quality is the firmest; it jostles occupants a little, and you definitely feel the road. Our test car had good ride comfort that was very carlike, but the suspension responds a bit more loudly to bumps than the Pilot's.
The Edge handles the most athletically of the three, with precise steering that manages not to feel too heavy-handed at low speeds. It has the least body roll in the group. The Pilot feels very planted for a taller crossover. Responsive steering provides a bit of nimbleness, but the steering wheel feels heavy and it's not sporty overall.The Murano isn't trying to be a sports car, but it exhibits good road-holding and composure on twisty roads. The steering returns smartly to center after a turn, but isn't so sensitive that it requires constant correction.
Interior quality
The Edge's controls are simple to use, but the inconsistent materials quality and excessively large panel gaps aren't inspiring. The dashboard LCD screen has high-quality graphics but is relatively small.
For a complete redesign, the Pilot falls short in both quality of materials — which aren't especially noteworthy — and in the layout of its center control panel, which in the Touring trim level involves a morass of buttons.
As with its drivetrain performance, the Murano separates itself from the Edge and Pilot with its upscale cabin. You wouldn't be at all surprised to see a badge from Nissan's luxury brand, Infiniti, on the steering wheel.
The Edge's front bucket seats are the softest of these three crossovers, with cushioning that's somewhat spongy. The rear bench seat's backrest can recline way back, and comfort is good overall. Legroom is ample, though the seat sits a little low. The Pilot's front seats are the most formed, offering firmer, supportive cushioning. Like the others, the Pilot's second row reclines, though the handle to release the backrest is up high and hard to reach when seated. The Pilot has the only third row in this test; it's small, but well-executed. The Murano's seats strike the best balance of the three, with more support than the Edge and not too much side bolstering. Though it doesn't slide forward and back, the backseat is roomy enough and easy to recline.
Cargo space, versatility
Like the Murano, the Edge's raked styling limits its cargo area, which measures 32.2 cubic feet. The hatch's opening, however, is quite large, and the optional powered liftgate button is on the side, where it's easily reached by shorter folks. The Pilot's boxy shape pays dividends, as it offers 47.7 cubic feet of space behind its sliding second row of seats when the third row is folded flat. There are useful storage cubbies and a deep bin under the floor. The Honda also has the only rear window that opens independent of the liftgate, and the best overall utility. The Murano's 31.6-cubic-foot cargo space is slightly smaller than the Edge's and similarly shaped, with a well-executed cargo organizer. Folding the backseat from the hatch is simple thanks to spring-lowering and optional power-raising.
Overall value
Though our test car was the priciest of the three, the Edge's base trim level undercuts the others by about $1,000. Still, this is a case of getting what you pay for: Even when loaded up, the Edge just feels like the lowest-rent choice.People cross-shopping the GMC Acadia or Mazda CX-9 might insist upon a third row, and only the Pilot can offer that. Its lower trim levels aren't so expensive, but our top-of-the-line Touring didn't feel worth its hefty price tag, especially when the less expensive Murano offers better interior quality. Consider the Murano's relative cabin quality, gas mileage and highway athleticism, then factor in its lowest-in-test price. It simply walks away from the others … quickly.
Editors' choice
There's no question the Edge is a competitive entry, as its solid sales show, but that's not good enough when a Murano is among the competition. Good but not great, the Pilot leaves room for improvement in terms of engine performance and interior quality, though it does offer good utility and flexible seating. Overall, our Murano felt like a step up from the Edge and Pilot in most respects. It's playing in another league, but for around $8,000 less.
© 6/1/09
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