The Murano shares aspects of SUVs and cars. It accelerates like a sports sedan and handles much better than your average midsize SUV. Named after a region of Italy known for its famous glassware, Murano emphasizes refinement and on-road confidence. Getting in and out is easy and the back seats are roomy enough for a couple of basketball players.
Yet, as with an SUV, the driver sits relatively high. Flop the back seats down and there's more than 80 cubic feet of cargo space available, which is a lot. It's much bigger than it looks, bigger than a midsize sedan, nearly as big as a Ford Explorer. You sense this on back roads, a feeling magnified by fenders that fall away and can't be seen from the driver's seat.
Also, while the Toyota and Honda were designed to offer seating for seven, Nissan resisted the temptation to cram three rows of seats where two fit more comfortably. As a result, the Murano accommodates five full-size adults nicely, just like a luxury sedan, and offers a nice, big cargo space.
The Murano was ahead of its time when it was introduced. It eschews the square look of a truck in favor of a modern aerodynamic design. The Murano features a sleek front end with smooth lines front to back, and a greenhouse that slopes rearward, ending in a graceful C-pillar. Inside, the instruments and controls seem to float in pods that appear barely attached to the dashboard.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine, the same basic powerplant used in the 350Z sports car, delivers hearty performance, tuned here to produce 240 horsepower. In short, the Murano scoots. It comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT, that's smooth and responsive while offering good gas mileage for the class. Murano shares basic underpinnings with the front-wheel-drive Nissan Altima and Maxima sedans (but not, despite popular misconception, the Nissan 350Z-based Infiniti FX). As a result, its road-tuned suspension delivers smooth and sporty handling. All-wheel drive is available, for good grip and stability in wintry weather and hard rain, and we recommend getting it.
The Murano is unchanged for 2007, except for the addition of a tire-pressure monitor as standard equipment. Nissan freshened Murano's appearance a bit for 2006.
Nissan Murano S ($27,750); S AWD ($29,350); SL ($29,300); SL AWD ($30,900); SE AWD ($31,850)
The Murano is designed to blend the look of a car and a truck. The top half of the body is sleek like a car, while the bottom half is bulky like a truck. Overall, the look is much sleeker than tall box-shaped SUVs. At first it looks a bit over the top, but most people quickly get used to it and traditional SUVs start looking boxy and dated by comparison.
Big 18-inch wheels contribute to Murano's muscular styling. Sculpted, vertical-stack projector headlights define the front corners. The windshield and front side windows are tinted green to deflect UV radiation; the rear side windows and backlight are darkly tinted for privacy.
The highly styled rear hatchback is made of reinforced plastic because steel won't bend easily in such a complex shape. The hatch is heavy, however, and the lift point isn't ideally located, so it takes some effort to raise and lower, and this is perhaps our biggest complaint with the Murano.
As its looks suggest, the Murano is an aerodynamic machine. Details in the design help it slip quietly through the air. Airflow-improving devices include an underbody engine cover, front and rear tire deflectors, a rear spoiler, and aerodynamic mirrors. Combined with the low frontal area and roof, these enhancements increase fuel efficiency and limit wind noise at high speeds.
To finish the high-fashion look, Nissan offers 10 exterior colors with four interior hues to mix and match. The colors were chosen carefully to promote a luxury look.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, even for people well over six feet tall. Petite drivers are also able to get comfortable, with optional power-adjustable pedals that help ensure a good driving position without getting too close to the steering wheel where the air bag is housed. The overall interior fit and finish are good. Murano's instrument cluster is garnished with genuine brushed aluminum trim that gives it a younger, sportier look. Wood-tone trim is available in the SL, but the aluminum trim seems more appropriate here. The gauges have a classy grayish background with amber backlighting. Steering wheel audio controls are illuminated.
A prominent pod juts from the center of the dash presenting audio and climate controls. A seven-inch color LCD screen enhances usability and access to vehicle information. We aren't in love with the appearance of the pod, but it puts the switches close at hand. The dual-zone, fully automatic climate control is a step above the class, and it features rear air conditioning vents located on the B-pillars, a useful feature for pet owners as well as those who regularly carry rear-seat passengers.
The stereo controls are on the small side, but easy to use once you get the hang of them. The preset buttons, for example, can be programmed to select your favorite stations regardless of whether they are AM or FM; this eliminates the need to press a separate mode button when switching from your favorite FM music station to your favorite AM talk radio station, making life easier and reducing distraction while driving. Controls on the steering wheel allow easy volume adjustments.
Customers can order either XM or Sirius satellite radio as an addition to the Touring package. Though you do have to pay an annual subscription fee, we've found satellite radio to be a nice feature to have in a car, allowing us to listen to 24 hour news stations, such as Fox News and CNN, as well as every imaginable type of music, comedy, and sports; and there's no need to ever switch stations should you decide to drive from, say, Atlanta to Seattle.
The optional navigation system works well and includes a nifty three-dimensional birds-eye view that's sometimes more fun to follow than the flat map.
Useful features make the Murano a satisfying car for day-to-day use. A large center console separates the front seats, enhancing the sports sedan feel of the interior. The center console features a two-tiered lockable storage box with enough room for a laptop computer or a purse, cell phone, sunglasses, coins, cups and bottles. The door pockets flip out for easy access, and there's a hidden storage tray and two bins under the cargo floor. There are also three power outlets: front-passenger footwell, center console and rear.
The cabin is roomy and feels airy. The Murano is a five-seat vehicle with similar interior space as the seven-seat Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
As a result, the back seat offers limousine legroom. We found that a six-foot, four-inch passenger could cross his legs comfortably in the back seat. The rear seatback easily adjusts for rake by pulling a strap, allowing your back-seat passengers to kick back and enjoy the ride (though they may need help finding the rake adjustment). We found Murano's rear accommodations more comfortable than the second-row seats in many SUVs where passengers sit more upright. The optional DVD rear-seat entertainment system
Nissan's 240-hp V6 feels mighty healthy in spite of the Murano's considerable heft at just under 4,000 pounds. The Murano feels as quick as a sports sedan. Throttle response is strong any time you tap the pedal, a benefit of 244 pound-feet of torque. Towing isn't its forte, as with others in this class, but the Murano can tow up 3500 pounds.
The continuously variable transmission is responsive and fuel efficient. Unlike a four-speed automatic, there are no perceptible gear changes. It works steplessly. As you accelerate, instead of shifting through gears, the CVT uses variable-diameter pulleys connected by a complex steel belt to change ratios continuously and transfer engine torque to the driveshafts. It changes ratios more smoothly than a normal automatic does, allowing the engine to rev at a speed that's most efficient for acceleration. This also improves fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive Muranos delivers an impressive 20/25 mpg city/highway, according to EPA estimates.
The CVT in the Murano has just three ranges: D for normal driving, S for sportier acceleration and L for the lowest range. Shifting from D to S raises engine revs 2500 rpm at a given road speed. Dropping from S to L increases engine speed by another 1000 rpm. Rev the engine near its 6600rpm redline and the ratio automatically reduces, thereby lowering the engine revs as the Murano's speed increases. Engine braking is programmed into the electronics that control the CVT, so when you're coasting down a steep hill, accelerometers sense this condition and increase the effective gear ratio, which is akin to downshifting a conventional transmission.
Fortunately, you don't need to understand any of this, or even be aware of it, to drive the Murano. We are particularly impressed with how quiet this transmission is compared to conventional automatics. Acceleration is quicker than with a conventional automatic and it's impressively smooth. Indeed, at first it may feel too smooth. It's surprising how deeply we're conditioned by the operation of an engine and conventional automatic transmission. The Murano's sensation of acceleration without an increase in the engine's pitch or speed takes some getting used to.
Handling is impressive. We found that the Murano rides and handles better than a Honda Pilot, and we liked its ride and handling better than other mid-priced SUVs. Murano's road manners are as impressive as its smooth drivetrain. The steering feels quick during turn-in, and the big 18-inch tires refrain from squealing until they are truly at the edge of cornering adhesion, increasing the driver's confidence that Murano will respond like a well-sorted sedan. It does just that up to about 8/10ths of its performance envelope, at which point it begins to understeer. Hitting a big bump at the apex of a corner doesn't upset its handling.
All-wheel drive takes much of the stress out of driving under rainy or snowy conditions. It improves overall traction and reduces the likelihood of skids, so it's well worth having for bad weather or emergency lane-change maneuvers. The Murano's all-wheel-drive system drives the front wheels until wheelspin is detected, at which point the center differential can redirect up to half of the power to the rear wheels.
The brakes are highly effective and easy to modulate for smooth stops. The braking system includes four-wheel vented disc brakes with Brake Assist, which helps ensure maximum braking force in a panic stop, and electronic brake-force Distribution (EBD), which reduces stopping distances and improves stability by dynamically distributing the braking f
The Nissan Murano offers the roominess and practicality of a sport utility with the handling, power and smoothness of a sporty sedan. Murano comes well equipped and its luxurious ambience gives it the feel of a luxury SUV.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Phil Berg is based in the Detroit area; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Virginia and Steve Siler reporting from Los Angeles.