Editor's note: This review was written in July 2013 about the 2013 Nissan Murano. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2014, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The aging 2013 Nissan Murano is a high-quality, comfortable SUV that struggles to compete with the value and fuel economy of fresher competitors.
Nissan's current version of the Murano is five years running without significant changes, and that's too long considering just about every other five-seat midsize SUV on the market has received a significant redesign in that segment. SUVs like the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2014 Kia Sorento now rival the Murano in areas where the Nissan previously triumphed, such as an interior that was nicer than anything else in the segment. Compare the Murano with its competitors here.
Still, the Murano's onetime greatness keeps it from being a complete dog even among brand-new SUVs. There's still a lot to like in its sophisticated ride and leather-upholstered trim levels, which excel in offering a premium experience. Unfortunately, the cloth interior on base trims takes away much of the niceness, and it's the only seating material offered until you get to the expensive SL trim level, which goes for $36,235, including destination charge. I tested a cloth-seated SV with all-wheel drive. Compare Murano trim levels here.
The $37,770 as-tested price of our SV with cloth interior was out of line with what buyers can get for that money in competing models. There's nothing wrong with the cloth seats, but a leather interior is expected at this kind of luxury-car price. The cloth proved extremely comfortable in both rows of seating, however. The deep cushions have superior levels of comfort, with support similar to what I would imagine a giant cloth baseball glove chair would offer.
The beige interior as a whole has a homey and welcoming vibe, though the Murano's black interior is the classier choice and hides the aging design better. Competitors are catching up to the Murano's near-Infiniti quality, which used to be unique in this segment. For similar or less money, the Grand Cherokee is classily appointed, with high-quality, soft-touch materials; the Sorento is available with Nappa leather seating; and the Santa Fe Sport offers luxurious saddle-colored leather that oozes personality and quality.
The Murano still has nice touches, like real aluminum interior trim. The interior style is more functional than eye-popping, with a traditional layout of controls. You'll find high-quality knobs and easy-to-read buttons in the Murano rather than the hard-to-use capacitive touch buttons some automakers are adopting in order to give iPad-like usability … and save manufacturing money.
Competitors are catching up to the Murano in terms of roominess as well as interior quality. The Murano holds its own, with plenty of room for front and rear occupants. I could sprawl out in the backseat even with the front seat in my driving position. A nearly flat floor makes the interior feel extra roomy and gives ample legroom for a middle passenger. Those looking for maximum cargo room, though, may have to look elsewhere. The Murano's 31.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat is less than the Grand Cherokee's 35.1 cubic feet, the Santa Fe Sport's 35.4 cubic feet and the Sorento's 36.9 cubic feet. The seven-seat 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which is priced similarly to the Murano and shares many of its driving and comfort characteristics, has more cargo room behind the sliding second-row seat (when the third row is folded), offering a maximum 47.8 cubic feet.
Quick-release handles in the cargo area drop the Murano's backseat flat with no effort. Frequent users will appreciate the quickness.
Features & Technology
Our near-$38,000 Murano included navigation, a V-6 engine, all-wheel drive, an optional Bose stereo and a power liftgate. It's what isn't present that seriously hurts the Murano's value: no sunroof, no leather seats, no heated or cooled seats, no sliding second row and no blind-spot or lane-departure warning systems on trim levels below the $36,235 SL. Many of these features are available for the same price or less on competitors. The Murano's features are well-executed. The 7-inch touch-screen, part of a $2,270 Value Package, is intuitive and has easy-to-read graphics, but it's positioned too far forward to reach when driving. However, there is a center knob below the display that works well for controlling navigation and other menu functions when the touch-screen is out of reach. An impressive nine-speaker Bose stereo is part of that package, as is a power liftgate and streaming Bluetooth audio.
How It Drives
The Murano is a guaranteed comfortable experience no matter where or how it's driven. The Murano was far ahead of its time in offering a smooth, quiet, refined ride back when SUVs were more about utility and trucklike ride and handling, and its ride quality is just as impressive today. The Toyota Venza and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport are more athletic crossovers for those seeking a fun-to-drive option, while the Murano leans into corners like a big, comfy sedan. That's not a huge knock, considering how refined and well-composed the Murano feels while cruising down the road.
Refinement is the name of the game for the standard 3.5-liter V-6, which makes 260 horsepower. The continuously variable automatic transmission is perhaps the best version of this type, easily fooling drivers into thinking it's a standard, fixed-gear transmission without the typically sloppy acceleration common to CVTs. Acceleration is effortless.
What hurts the Murano is its EPA-estimated gas mileage at 18/23/20 mpg city/highway/combined with all-wheel drive and 18/24/20 mpg with front-wheel drive. Compared with the competition's innovative technology, the Murano is lacking. Turbocharged four-cylinder engines, eight-speed automatic transmissions, Eco driving modes and diesel engines — none of which were commonplace when the Murano was last redesigned — often give the others an efficiency edge.
A Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with its base engine and all-wheel drive is rated 20/26/22 mpg, and with front-wheel drive is 21/29/24 mpg. The Santa Fe Sport's optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, closer to the Murano's V-6 in power, still beats the Murano's gas mileage: 19/24/21 mpg with all-wheel drive and 20/27/23 mpg with front-wheel drive. Unlike the Santa Fe, Sorento or Ford Edge, the Murano doesn't have a more efficient engine choice. Even the larger Pathfinder is rated with better gas mileage than the Murano, at 19/25/21 mpg with all-wheel drive.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Murano got the top score of Good in front-, side- and rear-impact tests, but scored Marginal in a roof-strength test — below Good and Acceptable, but above Poor. Only one other model subjected to this test in the agency's Midsize SUV class scored Marginal; two scored Acceptable and 17 earned Good scores.
The Murano received four out of five stars overall in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. Standard safety equipment includes front airbags, side-impact airbags for front occupants, side curtain airbags for front and rear seating, an electronic stability system and antilock brakes. See more safety features here, and see how well child-safety seats fit in the Murano in our Car Seat Check.
In the Market
What the Murano lacks in value could easily be countered by a good deal. Despite its age, the Murano's seating, ride comfort and roominess are exceptional. However, in addition to the competition that's stepped up its game, the Nissan Pathfinder is similar to the Murano in price and offers more room and better gas mileage ratings. At its sticker price, there's not enough value in the Murano's feature content, cargo room or gas mileage, which are three biggies for crossover SUV shoppers.