Thumbs Up: Luxury amenities at a near-luxury price.
Thumbs Down: Nissan’s CVT is as good as they get, but we’d still rather have a conventional transmission.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for a crossover vehicle with its own unique sense of style.
Crossover vehicles have become a necessary evil of modern life. Like their forerunner, the SUV, crossovers are capable of hauling passengers and cargo through all kinds of weather. Unlike true SUVs, crossovers generally provide the ride quality of a sedan and the driveability of a car, not a truck. Sure, they give up some capability when the road runs out of pavement, but most SUVs never go further off-road than a gravel parking lot or a sandy beach.
The trouble with most crossovers is that they offer bland box-on-box styling, and get power from an engine optimized for fuel economy, not towing or hauling a carload of passengers. If you’re in search of a crossover that breaks from this stereotypical model, you may want to give Nissan’s Murano a look.
Introduced to the U.S as a 2003 model, the Murano re-defined what a crossover segment vehicle was (and wasn’t). The Murano added a dash of style to the conventional box on box crossover, and likely became the first segment vehicle that customers purchased on looks alone. It was right sized, and perfect for two, three or four passengers plus cargo. It wasn’t meant for off-roading, but buyers could opt for AWD if winter-time traction was a concern. It wasn’t a luxury car, but it could be optioned out to near-luxury levels. Unlike most in the crossover segment, it didn’t come with a fuel efficient but underpowered four-cylinder engine; instead, Nissan built the Murano only with their superb 3.5 liter V6.
Nissan gave the Murano a thorough redesign for the 2009 model year, and not much has changed since aside from a bit of freshening up here and there. For 2012, the biggest news is the addition of the Platinum option package on range-topping LE models, like my Nissan-supplied press fleet tester. The $2,020 package adds an HDD navigation system with a 7-inch touchscreen display and voice recognition; Bluetooth streaming audio; XM Traffic; 20-inch aluminum ally wheels; a rear bumper protector and a Platinum rear badge.
Nissan is getting very good at building mainstream vehicles with near-luxury levels of content, and nowhere is this more evident than inside the 2012 Murano LE. The dash is shaped to be both functional and attractive, and the navigation system borrows the same superb controller you’ll find in Nissan’s Infiniti model range. Controls for audio and HVAC are easy to access, and the leather wrapped (in upper trim levels, anyway) steering wheel has a great shape and easy-to-access switches for audio and cruise control. In fact, the only thing we don’t like inside the Murano is the cheesy fake wood used to trim the doors and center console: please, Nissan, kill this with fire.
The Murano’s instrument cluster is also visually pleasing and functional, featuring a central speedometer flanked by a tachometer and multi-gauge display. All are contained in chrome-trimmed pods, covered by a deep hood for visibility in bright sunlight.
Front seats are wrapped in leather for both driver and passenger, and heated for winter comfort. The driver gets an eight-way adjustable power seat, complete with lumbar support, while the passenger must make do with a four-way powered seat and no lumbar support. Neither will complain about the accommodations, since the Murano serves up a generous helping of both head and leg room for front seat occupants.
Rear seats can be folded from the hatch, ensuring that cargo loading is as simple as possible. Unlike many in the non-luxury segment, the Murano’s rear seats are also heated, which will make you the carpool driver of choice when the weather turns nasty. As with the front seats, there’s plenty of head and leg room for rear seat passengers, too, and if you opt for the $1,515 Dual DVD package, rear-seaters can pass the hours in a video-induced daze.
Even with the rear seats in place, the Murano delivers a decent amount of cargo space in the hatch. Fold the seats flat, and there’s plenty of room to haul the trappings of modern life, as long as you’re not expecting to haul sheets of plywood or drywall. The space should prove sufficient for even your most ambitious runs to Costco or Sam’s Club, which seems to be the natural habitat of the crossover vehicle.
One odd shortcoming of the Murano is its lack of a cargo cover to keep valuables out of sight. Sure, one is available as an accessory from Nissan, but why should you have to pay an additional $230 for an item that comes standard on just about every other vehicle in the segment? Call us paranoid, but we wouldn’t drive off the dealer’s lot without adding the cargo cover, so plan on adding another $230 to your as-configured Murano price.
Under the hood lies Nissan’s tried and true 3.5 liter V6, good for 260 horsepower and 240 ft lb of torque and mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). We’re not fans of CVTs from any manufacturer, but Nissan builds the least-worst CVTs in the industry. Besides, the V-6’s power is enough to overcome many of the CVT’s normal shortcomings, and we’re sure it helps boost the Murano’s fuel economy. The EPA says to expect 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, and we saw an indicated 21.3 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road, the Murano drives more like a sedan than a conventional crossover, which many buyers will find to their liking. We’d stop short of calling the Murano fun to drive, but it has a personality that’s lacking in many crossover segment vehicles. Despite the CVT, acceleration is better than you’d expect, and even the Murano’s handling will surprise those accustomed to more conventional crossovers. The steering is decently weighted, too, and the Murano’s brakes had no trouble in scrubbing off any velocity I was willing to attempt.
While my press-fleet tester came driving the front wheels only, Nissan does offer the Murano in all-wheel-drive versions, too, giving those who live in snow belt states added winter peace of mind. The upright seating position delivers and excellent view of the road ahead, and we’d have no problem at all recommending the Murano as a safe family vehicle.
Our 2012 Murano LE Platinum tester had a base price of $39,110, including a destination charge of $810. Options on our Nissan-supplied tester included the $1,515 Dual DVD Head Restraint Monitors, the $2,2020 Platinum Edition Package (detailed above) and the $195 Floor Mat Kit (which also includes a cargo area mat), for a total sticker price of $42,840.
For comparison purposes, a similarly-equipped Toyota Highlander Limited would run you $42,743, while a comparable Ford Edge Limited would sticker at $40,345.