The Nissan Murano is an excellent choice for someone who wants the smooth ride and responsive handling of a car, the cargo space of a wagon, and the high driving position of an SUV.
The Murano is a good example of a crossover vehicle: It's designed to haul cargo like a sport-utility, but ride and drive like a car. However, this crossover handles better than the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, and it drives more like a sports sedan.
Murano integrates aerodynamics and high fashion, with a sleek front end, smooth lines from front to back, and a greenhouse that slopes rearward, ending in a large but graceful C-pillar. Inside, Nissan resisted the temptation to cram in three rows of seats like the Highlander and Pilot do. Instead, like a car, the Murano has just two rows of seats, accommodating four (or at most five) passengers in comfort. It's not a substitute for a minivan, nor does it look like one.
The futuristic look is backed by sporty performance. The Murano is powered by Nissan's beefy 3.5-liter V6, the same engine found in the 350Z sports car, putting out 245 horsepower. It comes with a continuously variable transmission, a high-tech automatic that's smooth and responsive while offering superior gas mileage within its class. Murano's road-tuned suspension offers smooth and sporty handling. The Murano shares much of its underpinnings with the Nissan Altima and Maxima sedans (but is not related to the Infiniti FX).
All-wheel drive is available for better grip and stability in foul weather. A new entry-level Murano S lowers the base price.
The 2005 Nissan Murano is available in three models: S ($26,850), SL ($28,350) and SE ($29,300) models. All three are offered in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($1,600). All models are powered by the 3.5-liter V6 mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission that Nissan calls the Xtronic.
All Murano models come with features above the class standard. Standard equipment on all three versions includes dual-zone automatic temperature control, a high-power AM/FM/CD audio system, power windows with auto up/down feature in front, keyless remote entry, reclining rear seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Murano SE comes with a firmer sport-tuned suspension, a manual shift mode, styled alloy wheels and dark-silver lower bumpers. High-intensity xenon headlights, which have a manual leveling feature, are standard on the SE and optional on the SL.
Safety features surpass the class standard. Among them: dual-stage frontal air bags with seat belt sensors, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-cabin curtain style head-protection airbags, and active front head restraints. Rollover sensors for the airbag system have been added for 2005. Murano comes standard with four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS, Brake Assist and electronic brake-force distribution. Option safety equipment: Vehicle Dynamic Control, which helps the driver correct skids, a Traction Control System, and a tire-pressure monitoring, all part of the Dynamic Control Package ($750), which can only be added to models with the Premium package.
Options come packaged in ascending groups. The S can be purchased with a Convenience package ($800) including a 10-way adjustable driver's seat (standard on the SL and SE models), roof rails, adjustable pedals, and a cargo cover and net. The SL and SE models can be further upgraded with a Premium package ($1,500), which adds a more powerful stereo with subwoofer and auto volume control to the contents of the Convenience package. The Sunroof package ($2,500) adds an electric sunroof to the Premium equipment. The SL and SE Leather package ($3,500) adds leather upholstery and a four-way adjustable front passenger seat. The Touring package ($4,300 on the SE, $4,550 on the SL) adds to the leather package heated front seats with memory, Intelligent Key, heated mirrors, pre-wiring for the Nissan Mobile Entertainment System, and on the SL dark silver lower bumpers.
At the top of the options list is the Technology Package, which includes a DVD navigation system and rear view video monitor ($2,350). The rear-seat DVD entertainment package ($1,720) comes with a 6.4-inch drop-down screen, remote control and two wireless headsets. Satellite radio, Sirius or XM, is a dealer installed option ($400). A chrome wheel package is available for SL models ($1,200).
The Murano is named after the glass sculpted in the islands near Venice, known for its beauty as well as for the high-tech methods used in its production. In the Nissan Murano, this duality is most obvious in the styling.
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. Get used to it, though, and traditional SUVs start looking boxy and dated.
The Murano's huge 18-inch wheels contribute to its muscular styling. Sculpted, vertical-stack headlights define the front corners. The highly styled rear hatchback is made of reinforced plastic because steel won't bend easily in such a complex shape. The windshield and front side windows are tinted green to deflect UV radiation; the rear side and rear windows are near black for privacy.
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 eight color combinations for the exterior two-tone scheme, with three interior hues to mix and match. The colors were chosen carefully to promote a luxury look.
Climbing into the Nissan Murano is easy, easier than other SUVs. The seating position and steering wheel orientation make it feel more like a car than an SUV. Slide into the driver's seat and you'll notice that outward visibility is excellent in all directions. This isn't a small vehicle, though, and you can't see the corners so you'll need to be careful when parking. It's a mild surprise that the view rearward isn't compromised by the stylishly thick D-pillars.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, even for people well over six feet tall. Petite drivers are also able to get comfortable, with the 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.
A prominent pod juts from the center of the Murano's dash presenting audio and climate controls. We aren't crazy about the pod's appearance, but it puts the switches close at hand. Murano's standard dual-zone, fully automatic climate control is a step above the class, and it features rear air-conditioning vents located on the B-pillars.
Buttons on the stereo 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 either AM or FM stations without having to press the separate mode button first. Controls on the steering wheel allow easy volume adjustments.
The navigation system works well and includes a 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.
Murano's cabin feels airy. The Murano is a five-seat vehicle with similar interior space as the seven-seat Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. The rear seats take advantage of the additional space. As a result, the Murano's back seat is limousine-like. A six-foot, four-inch rear-seat passenger can cross his legs comfortably. The rear seatback easily adjusts for rake by pulling a strap, allowing your back-seat passengers to kick back and enjoy the ride. We found Murano's rear accommodations more comfortable than the second-row seats in many SUVs where passengers sit more upright.
The rear seats flop forward by pulling on a strap as you normally would or from the rear hatch by flipping a clever manual lever accessed from the rear hatch. The seats are split 60/40 and are flipped down individually. Flopping both seatbacks down presents a big cargo area with a nice flat floor. The load floor measures about the same length as the seven-seat Honda Pilot's. Indeed, with maximum cargo capacity of 81.6 cubic feat, Murano dwarfs nearly all of its five-seat competitors and some of the seven-seaters as well. Even with the back seats in place and five passengers aboard, there's still a substantial 32.6 cubic feet of storage space. Moreover, the rear seats split 70/30 when they fold, so the Murano can carry one or two passengers in back with long items like skis laid flat along the other side.
On the downside, at 30.4 inches, the rear load height is a bit higher than the class average. And the Murano's bulky cargo cover seems to flap around and take up room. We'd be inclined to store it in the garage.
We liked the Nissan Murano the first time we drove one, and the more we drive the different models the more we like them. Its smooth ride and powerful engine make for a truly enjoyable vehicle.
Nissan's robust 245-horsepower V6 feels mighty healthy in spite of the Murano's considerable heft at 4,000 pounds. The Murano feels as quick as a sports sedan. Indeed, it's quicker than BMW's X5 3.0, a benefit of its 246 pound-feet of torque. Murano has a towing capacity of 3500 pounds, though towing isn't its forte.
The CVT automatic is responsive, and the Murano handles impressively. Hitting a big bump at the apex of a corner doesn't upset its handling. We found that the Murano rides and handles better than the Pilot, and we liked its ride and handling better than other mid-priced SUVs.
To judge the Murano's zoom, we had to watch how quickly it passed road markers and pavement stripes, because the sensations from the driver's seat suggest that the engine isn't going very fast. Stand on the gas and the acceleration is smooth all the way to terminal velocity, with no perceptible gear changes. The smoothness comes from the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which is an automatic transmission without gears. When you accelerate, instead of upshifting conventionally from lower to higher 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 has no gears, it's stepless, and the CVT changes ratios more smoothly than a normal automatic transmission, and allows the engine to rev at a speed that's most efficient for acceleration. Moreover, this efficiency also improves fuel economy. Murano delivers an impressive 20/24 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 6600 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. From a start or for passing, acceleration is quicker than with a conventional automatic. And the CVT's operation is 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.
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 more than Nissan's Altima sedan, with which it shares some suspension components.
The Murano is not a small car and its front fenders and hood slope dramatically downward and out of view so the driver needs to take care when parking or maneuvering in tight quarters.
The available all-wheel-drive system drives the front wheels until wheelspin is detected. At that point, the center differential automatically sends up to 50 percent
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.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Phil Berg is based in the Detroit area; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Virginia.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Nissan Murano S ($26,850); S AWD ($28,450); SL ($28,350); SL AWD ($29,950); SE ($29,300); SE AWD ($30,900)|
|245-hp 3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6|
|automatic continuously variable transmission|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|ABS, frontal dual-stage airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain head-protection airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front active head restraints, rollover sensors|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|Vehicle Dynamic Control electronic stability system; all-wheel drive|
|5 years/60,000 miles|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Nissan Murano SL AWD ($29,950)|
|automatic dual-zone climate control, rear air conditioning vents, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, dual front bucket seats w/driver-side 10-way power adjust & lumbar support, passenger-side 4-way adjustable, active 4-way adjustable head restraints, rear seats 60/40 reclining split fold-down seatbacks w/cargo area accessible levers, fold-down center armrest & head restraints, remote keyless entry, 100-watt AM/FM/CD6 with six speakers, HomeLink transmitter, alarm, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror w compass, dual overhead front map lights, rear reading lights, cruise control, LCD monitor w driver information center, tilt steering column, leather wrapped steering wheel w audio controls and cruise control|
|Options as tested:|
|SL Touring Package ($4,550) includes leather seating surfaces, 4-way power passenger seat, dark silver lower bumpers, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, roof rails, adjustable pedals, upgraded audio with subwoofer, cargo cover and net, heated front seats, memory for seat, pedals and mirrors, heated mirrors, HID headlights w manual leveler; Dynamic Control Package ($750) includes Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, tire-pressure monitor|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|3.5-liter dohc 24-valve variable valve timing V6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|245 @ 5800|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|246 @ 4400|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|81.6 cu. ft.|
|independent w coil springs|
|vented disc/vented disc with ABS in.|