Pros: Well built; sharp handling and steering; responsive engine; compliant ride; upscale cabin; plenty of advanced electronics
Cons: Poor rear visibility; no fuel-efficient four-cylinder option; pricey next to competitors
The Nissan Murano is a crossover that stands out in a sea of crossovers. With its modern and stylish design, sporting personality and well-crafted interior, it is a breath of fresh air in a segment that now suffers from saturation of so many entries that resemble one another. The Murano, however, looks and feels anything but homogenized.
Since it first arrived almost 10 years ago, the Murano has had an aggressive-looking outer shell. Its snub-nosed front end and sleek profile give it an athletic appeal that speaks to its performance intentions. At the same time, its large wheels and notable ground clearance give it a crossover feel. The Murano's thick-set back end features an oversize hatch that hints at its more practical side.
For 2012, the Murano offers a new Platinum package on the uplevel LE model that includes navigation and 20-inch wheels. The base S model gets a new seven-inch monochrome display screen.
On the negative side, the Murano is expensive, and there isn't a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine available. These issues will make this CUV a tougher sell during a strained economic period when consumers are trying to cut corners to save money.
But for those looking for a different kind of utility, this may be the one. It's fun to drive, well equipped, comfortable and capable, with a head-turning style that's all its own. The 2012 Nissan Murano is proof that all crossovers are not the same.
Comfort & Utility
The Murano has an upscale, modern, plush and tech-savvy five-passenger cabin. The high-quality dash is home to a sophisticated-looking instrument panel and features a well-designed and uncluttered control layout. This, like a few other Nissans, can easily be mistaken for a product in the carmaker's more luxurious Infiniti lineup.
The Murano's front seats are well padded and supportive. The seating position is nice and high, giving the driver good forward visibility. And there's plenty of head, hip and leg room, too.
The spacious rear seat is designed to provide maximum comfort for up to three passengers. The second row is especially generous on legroom. Even six-footers will remain relaxed on long trips.
Behind the rear seat or in the rear hatch, the Murano offers just under 32 cubic feet of cargo space. That's fairly adequate for ordinary use - groceries, sports equipment, camping gear, luggage. If more storage space is needed, the Murano's 60/40 spit folding rear seats drop forward to create an expanded load floor that is roughly double in size.
The Murano is available in four trim levels: S, SV, SL and LE. Standard convenience features for the base S include push-button start, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and a six-speaker audio system. The SV gets a dual-panel moonroof, power-adjustable front seats, Bluetooth, and an upgraded stereo. The SL adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, a Bose 11-speaker sound system and a power liftgate for easy loading and unloading of cargo. And the range-topping LE includes a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel and heated second-row seats. Most advanced electronics features are stand-alone options.
The Murano offers a wide array of advanced electronics and tech-savvy features. The base Murano S has only a seven-inch monochrome display screen, while the SV adds a seven-inch color screen, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB interface. The SL adds a premium stereo with digital music storage, and the top-level LE benefits from bi-xenon headlights.
Notable technology options include a voice-command navigation system with real-time traffic, Bluetooth audio streaming and a dual-screen rear DVD system.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The front- or all-wheel-drive 2012 Nissan Murano gets its power from a robust 3.5-liter V6 that makes 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. This engine has Continuous Valve Timing Control and Nissan Variable Induction Control and is mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
The Murano's V6/CVT combination offers powerful and responsive performance, whether from a standstill or in mid-drive. Acceleration is strong, and the Murano's overall power is smoothly and evenly delivered throughout the rev band.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the Nissan Murano is 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and a slightly lower 18/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Standard safety features for the Murano include ABS, stability control, traction control, six airbags and active front head restraints. For 2012, the Murano earned four out of five stars in crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Nissan Murano is a crossover with noticeable athleticism. It's an agile handler that stays well planted in corners, thanks to a nicely balanced chassis. Also helping its cornering prowess is the Murano's wide stance and large, grippy tires. Turn-ins are quick and nimble thanks to a responsive and well-weighted steering system. For all of these reasons, the Murano delivers one of the sportiest driving experiences you can find in a mid-size crossover.
At the same time, the Murano's ride is comfortable and composed. Regardless of its sporting personality, it delivers an on-road feel that is relaxed enough for the daily commute as well as for carting the family around town. Nissan seems to have it down in finding that just-right balance between ride and handling.
The Murano also has what it takes to tread in harsh road conditions or unpaved terrain. Large 18- or 20-inch wheels coupled with more than seven inches of ground clearance and optional all-wheel drive grant the Murano enough capability to drive confidently through snow, rain or mud.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Edge - The Murano is more stylish and sporty, but the Edge has more technology and an efficient four-cylinder engine.
Kia Sorento - The Sorento is less expensive, and it has a four-cylinder engine and a third-row option. The Murano does not have either.
Mazda CX-7 - The CX-7 and the Murano are both among the most performance-oriented crossovers. But the Murano's interior is more modern and upscale.
Our recommendation for the Murano is the second-from-the-top SL model. The Murano SL has all the convenience and technology features of the S and SV but adds key upgrades like a power liftgate, leather upholstery and a nine-speaker Bose stereo. To us, the range-topping LE is not worth the premium in price for enhancements like rear-seat heat and wood trim.
In addition to the SL's standard features, the optional navigation system with real-time traffic and weather makes sense for anyone who plans to take the occasional road trip. Unless you live in a warm climate that rarely changes, we also suggest opting for all-wheel drive. The Murano's system is not only capable but has a negligible effect on fuel economy.