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Expert Reviews 1 of 10
By Joe Wiesenfelder
December 20, 2007
After it hit the market in 2003, the Murano's sales grew every year through 2006. As dealers clear their lots of 2007 models, it appears that sales have held steady in 2007, too. The fact that sales grew as the Murano aged illustrates how it has ridden the crest of the car-based-SUV wave along with its main competitors, the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Though the Murano was completely redesigned for 2009, it remains a five-seater, where the Pilot has always seated eight and the Highlander has offered an optional third row of seats for a few years.
The 2009s hit dealerships early in January 2008. There is no 2008 model. There are three trim levels: S, SL and LE. The lower two come with front- or all-wheel drive. The LE comes only with AWD. I drove an S and SL — both equipped with all-wheel drive — and toyed with the extra features in an LE. The new generation plays to the strengths of the earlier one, with welcome improvements and updates but no single exceptional attribute. The base trim level brings an impressive level of quality.
As of this writing, prices are not available, but they're likely to hold the line with the previous generation, which now lists for between $27,830 and $31,930 excluding destination charges. Exterior & Styling It certainly isn't easy these days, but Nissan has successfully etched a distinctive brand face for its cars and SUVs. Though bolder than before, the Murano's nose looks like a cross between the previous generation and the smaller Rogue crossover, with new headlight clusters and grille. Fog lights are standard on the SL and LE. The rear end isn't as bulbous; it also resembles the Rogue, but with an oddly shaped rear window styled to improve visibility. LED taillights and dual chrome tailpipes are standard. Black roof rails are optional on the S and SL; the LE comes with silver-accented rails. The crossbars that make it a proper roof rack are optional for all three trims.
The S and SL trim levels come with 18-inch, six-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels; the LE has 20-inch, five-spoke alloys. Ride & Handling The Murano's ride is comfortable and its handling competent, with well-weighted steering. There's some sportiness in the styling, but this isn't a sport wagon like the Mazda CX-7. I found the ride quality softer than the first generation's, and there's some body roll, but it's by no means a problem. Note that my test drives were on the standard 18-inch wheels with all-season tires rated P235/65R18; the LE's 20-inchers and lower-series tires (P235/55R20 tires) are likely to have a firmer ride. Overall, the Murano's dynamics are appropriate, and that's as much as I'd ask of it.
According to Nissan, the rear independent suspension was reworked to improve the backseat ride, which had garnered some criticism. I don't recall the earlier model riding exceptionally rough, but I spent some time riding in this one's backseat and it was comfortable. I even nodded off, which I don't often get to do in a car. Going & Stopping As before, the Murano uses a 3.5-liter V-6 teamed with a continuously variable automatic transmission and can be had with front- or all-wheel drive. (The top, LE, trim level is AWD only.) Now the engine has 265 horsepower and 248 pounds-feet of torque, up from 240 hp and 244 pounds-feet. From the time of its debut through present day, the first-generation Xtronic CVT was one of the best we've driven — possibly the best. To be fair, it has benefited from the same advantages as have conventional automatics and larger engines — they make each other look good when compared to high-revving four-cylinders. Beyond that, Nissan's use of a torque converter to launch from a standing start makes it feel perfectly natural to anyone who's driven an automatic. (The torque converter, which most automatics use to connect the engine to the transmission, gives a smooth power transfer. Some CVTs use an automated clutch that can jerk a bit on launch and when braking to a stop.)
The new Murano has the second-generation CVT first employed by the Altima sedan and coupe, which share this model's platform. It improves by responding more quickly to the accelerator pedal and to whatever situation you happen to be in: passing, cruising, accelerating. Previously it occasionally felt like there was a rubber band connecting the pedal to the throttle — not the weakest rubber band on a CVT, but a rubber band nonetheless.
There's plenty of power for off-the-line starts, and decent oomph when passing. Again, it's partly because the engine is larger and needn't rev as high, but there's no real problem with excessive and inappropriately timed engine noise like you find in some four-cylinder/CVT pairings. I have no doubt that many casual drivers could operate the Murano indefinitely and never know it's any different from any other automatic.
Higher fuel economy is a claimed advantage of CVTs, but there's never been any other transmission in the Murano, so we can't verify this. The 2009's mileage is certainly competitive, though, and it's the same as the 2007 (using the EPA's more-accurate 2008 calculation method) except for a 1 mpg improvement in city driving for the AWD model. Premium gasoline is recommended but not required.
Midsize Crossover Gas Mileage
EPA-estimated mpg, city/highway
Hyundai Santa Fe* (2.7-liter; 3.3-liter)
Nissan Murano (2009)
*Automatic models Source: EPA
Interior Cars.com's editors named the new Murano our big winner of the 2007 Los Angeles auto show. Considering that we didn't actually drive it, the honor was mostly based on the new model's high-quality interior, which comes in one of two colors — Cafe Latte or Charcoal — and can incorporate double-stitched leather, aluminum or wood trim. The aluminum trim is the real thing, and as I always say, it's worth whatever Nissan spent on it.
The driver faces bright gauges, illuminated steering-wheel controls and a simply laid-out center control panel. Now standard, a pushbutton engine-start system replaces a conventional keyhole with a slot for the remote-keyless-entry transmitter. (The optional Intelligent Key lets you leave the remote in your pocket or purse.) The ergonomics are mostly good, but I find the optional navigation system peculiar — as I do in many Nissans. It has a 7-inch touch-screen, which I favor, but there's also a rotary knob/button interface positioned immediately in front of it. The touch-screen is a bit too far away for the average driver to reach, but why, then, is the knob not much closer, like on the center console between the seats? Competitors do it this way.
There are comfortable new front seats and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, including a powered version on the Murano LE. Cloth upholstery is standard on the front seats, which are manual, with six-way driver and four-way passenger adjustments. The driver gets a lumbar adjustment. An eight-way power driver's seat is standard on the SL and LE. Heated leather front seats with a power passenger seat are optional on the SL but standard on the LE. Two-driver seat-position memory, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a heated backseat are standard on the LE.
Similar to the smaller Rogue model, the base Murano S that I drove is pretty good in terms of quality — not a completely stripped-down ugly second cousin. The upholstery is inoffensive at worst. The SL trim level is eligible for optional heated front seats. They're standard on the LE, along with a heated backseat.
The backseat is pretty comfortable, with 60/40-split backrests that recline by means of a strap on either outboard side at hip level. At 6 feet tall, I found my knees raised a bit but not touching the front seat's backrest, even with it set to its rearmost position. The floor is almost perfectly flat, which bodes well for center-seat passengers who have clown feet. Safety Being brand new, the Murano hasn't yet been crash-tested. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution are standard. In addition to the required frontal airbags, the Murano has side-impact airbags for the front occupants and side curtains to protect both seat rows. The curtains are designed to deploy in the event of a rollover, too. The front seats also get active head restraints that move forward to cushion the occupant's head in a rear collision. An electronic stability system with traction control is standard and, according to Nissan, it communicates with the all-wheel drive (when equipped) for coordinated control in low-traction situations. Cargo & Towing Being a unibody, or car-based, SUV, the Murano has good ground clearance without the body itself being unreasonably high. This pays off when getting in and out, and when the time comes to load or unload the cargo area. In terms of size, the hatch is competitive but not exceptional.
Midsize Crossover Interior Volume
Cargo volume behind backseat
Cargo volume all seats folded
Hyundai Santa Fe
*Without moonroof; moonroof decreases volume to 105 cu. ft. Source: manufacturer data
More impressive is its usability. Release levers for the folding rear seats are mounted at the rear of the cargo area, and the seats spring forward on their own. A power return feature on the SL and LE lets you raise them again at the touch of a button. Included in the Premium Package option, a cargo organizer flips up from the floor, flanked by underfloor storage bins that are standard on all Muranos. A power liftgate is optional on the SL and standard on the LE.
The Murano can tow a trailer of up to 3,500 pounds, which is typical of this vehicle class. The Toyota Highlander is a notable exception, capable of increasing its 2,000-pound standard towing capacity to 5,000 pounds with an option package. Features Because this review predates the full set of feature data, I'll give some of the basics:
Murano S: The standard equipment not already mentioned starts on the S trim level with: power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry, A/C, cruise control, sun visor extensions and illuminated vanity mirrors, and an AM/FM/six-CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack for connecting an MP3 player. Options are few for the S: rear-window privacy glass, roof rails, a security system and a retractable cargo cover.
Murano SL and LE: The SL adds only a couple more standard features not already mentioned: rear-window privacy glass and front fog lights. It's also eligible for many options not offered on the S that become standard features on the LE: Bluetooth cellular phone interface; rain-sensing wipers; auto on/off xenon headlights with manually adjustable beam height; a Bose 11-speaker stereo with speed-sensing volume; XM Satellite Radio; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; HomeLink; Intelligent Key; and a power liftgate.
Additional options offered on the SL and LE include a dual-panel moonroof; Music Box 9.3GB hard-drive-based MP3 storage (replaces CD changer with single player); a navigation system with a backup camera; and a DVD video system with a motorized, flip-down 9-inch screen.
The sole features that come on the LE and aren't available on the lower trims, even as options, include the 20-inch wheels, power operation for the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, seat-position memory, heated rear seats and an iPod connector that lets you control an Apple iPod through the stereo and its steering-wheel-mounted controls. Murano in the Market Because I don't have official pricing as I prepare this review, I can't be sure, but at first blush it looks like the SL shouldn't cost too much more than the S; it just doesn't add enough standard features. Keep an eye out for that when you price it out.
Already an impressive model, the 2009 Murano is significantly improved. At the same time, there are more crossover models on the market now, and there are still more to come. The question is, will Murano sales continue to grow, or has Nissan's head start done all it can do for the model?