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 benchmark for performance among SUVs.
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. While its ground clearance exceeds the Volvo Cross Country's, the Murano rides and handles better than the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and other SUVs.
We have to judge the Murano's zoom by how quickly it passes road markers and pavement stripes, because inside the sensations suggest that the engine isn't revving very quickly. When you stomp the accelerator in the Murano, it feels like it stays in one gear all the way to terminal velocity. That feeling comes directly from the CVT, which is an automatic transmission without gears. Engineers call these transmissions "stepless." When you accelerate, instead of the conventional upshifting from lower to higher gears, the CVT has variable-diameter pulleys that act like variable gears without teeth, and changes ratios continuously. A complex steel belt is squeezed between the pulleys and transfers engine torque to the driveshafts. 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 comes with just three ranges: D for normal driving, S for sportier acceleration and L for the highest ratio, or lowest "gear" 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. The Murano's transmission works smoothly and silently. We are particularly impressed with the silence. From a start or for passing, acceleration is quicker than with a conventional automatic. And the CVT's operation is impressively smooth. Indeed, it may feel too smooth, at first. 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. The CVT works great, but we strongly recommend a test drive to experience it for yourself.
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.
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 of the power to the rear wheels. This makes the all-wheel-drive system extremely valuable in bad weather or in emergency maneuvers. In the hands of a careful driver, the AWD Murano takes a lot of the stress out of driving through a snow storm. It improves overall traction and reduces the likelihood of skids. Moreover, all-wheel drive helps Murano achieve a truck-like towing capacity of 3500 pounds.
Vehicle Dynamic Control or VDC further improves vehicle stability in slippery situations by automatically applying brake pressure to individual wheels and reducing the power whenever it detects the tires are beginning to lose grip in a corner. This can help the driver maintain control of the car.
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 force between the front and rear wheels.