2009 Nissan Murano Road Test Review
SUVs usually look boxy. Aggressive, but boxy. Even crossover SUVs, even the relatively sleek ones, look mostly like boxes. The notable exception is the racy class of one-of-a-kind concept crossovers, which we can never own, just look at, wish for, and drool overat car shows.
Wish no more! When you lay eyes on the second-generation Murano, you'll want one. When we reviewed the first-generation Murano five years ago, we thought it looked cool. We thought it belonged in the shuttle bay of the Starship Enterprise. Crossover SUVs were still a fairly new idea back then, and when Nissan entered the field with the "sculpture in motion" theme of the Murano, theirs was an easily eye-catching design.
Now that the crossover is more common, being unique becomes more of a challenge, but one well answered by Nissan. The new Murano stands out. Its crisp lines and styling could be happy in an art gallery.
Step inside, and you're surrounded by amenities to improve driver and passenger comfort including lots of room for tall people front and rear, as well as ample room for cargo. Step on the gas, and the Murano sticks to the road with responsive handling and a comfortable ride. In keeping with the Murano spirit, this is a well-styled, competent crossover SUV.
The Murano comes in three trim levels, the base S, the SL, and the premium LE. Those of you familiar with previous models will be pleased to hear that the S and SL cost $1,500 less than before, making them more accessible to buyers. The more luxurious LE model has replaced the sportier SE. Many of the luxury options are not available in the base model, which is what makes it so affordable.
Mechanically, the S model is identical to the higher trim levels. This means that you get the same engine, transmission and running gear. Their main differences are amenities. Each model gets the extremely competent Nissan 3.5 liter engine, which has been upgraded to produce an increased 265 horsepower. The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) has also been refined, and now downshifts faster and provides more consistent acceleration. The previous CVT had received criticism for its lag and "rubber-band" feel.
The All Wheel Drive (AWD) system, optional in the S and SL models and standard in the LE, has also been revised, distributing equal torque to all wheels during acceleration. During cruising it routes most power to the front wheels for increased fuel economy. The AWD connects to the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system, integrating yaw sensors, wheel slip sensors, and steering angle sensors to redistribute torque between the front and back as needed to maintain vehicle stability, a boon during bad weather.
All this combines to give a smooth, strong powertrain. The new engine and CVT are also more efficient, and together with the torque management of the joined AWD and VDC, the result is improved mileage.
The Murano's acceleration is more than adequate. Nissan is not marketing this vehicle as a sports car, nor a sporty SUV. Their target demographic is the empty-nester and the baby-boomer, who we think will be satisfied.
The SL that we drove had a firm but comfortable ride, and stuck to twisting country highways with competence. The steering was responsive and gave a good feel for the road; in fact, the new hydraulic power steering was speed sensitive, stiffening at higher speed.
Road noise was quite low, wind noise was moderately low, and quiet conversation can be had at highway speed. In short, this is a great car for long distance travel.
Nissan did not skimp on comfort and convenience features in the SL and LE, with an 8-way power driver seat, 4-way power passenger seat (standard in the LE, optional in the SL), and standard reclinable foldaway rear seats. Heating for the front seats as well as the outboard rear seats are standard in the the LE. The SL makes front seat heating available as an option. Rear seat air conditioning is provided by pillar vents. A dual panel moonroof is available, one panel over the front seats and one over the rear seats, with one-touch open and close for the front. The sliding shade opens automatically.
As in previous models, the new Murano seats only five, but does so comfortably and leaves plenty of cargo space. The foldaway rear seats split 60/40, and power assisted rear seat return is standard in the SL and LE. Powered lift gate assist is standard in the LE and optional in the SL. Both the trunk and the foldaway seats have controls at multiple points in the car for easy access. A cargo organizer in the trunk pops open at the touch of a button to hold the equivalent of four bags of groceries securely, and it folds away neatly to consume almost no space. Did we mention that the rear seats recline? This is a nice touch.
Entertainment is a major focus in this car, with 11-speaker Bose sound, AM/FM/XM/CD/iPod/MP3/Aux-in audio jack or AV inputs standard in the LE, optional in the SL. If you wish, a 9.3 GB hard drive juke box can be added to the stereo to store the contents of several CDs. Also optional is a rear DVD entertainment system with a 9-inch display and wireless headphones. Note that the overhead-mounted DVD entertainment system is not available if you order the moonroof.
An optional navigation system utilizes XM's subscription-based NavTraffic to provide alternate routes around accidents and traffic congestion to drastically reduce the length of a drive.
The steering tilts and telescopes with optional power assist. The indicator cluster has been revised, with the speedometer dominant above a crisp new driver information display that is very easy to read. The layout of driver controls is sensible and controls are easy to see and reach. New in 2009 are illuminated steering wheel controls, with audio-/phone-hands-free-/voice-control on the left, and cruise-control on the right.
The center console displays information for the audio system and optional navigation system. For assistance when the Murano is in reverse, the display can include an optional rear-view monitor displaying a predicted vehicle path that changes as the steering wheel is turned (and a safety reminder to physically turn and look before backing up).
We find the center console control intuitive and easy to use. It is placed relatively high on the dashboard so that it doesn't pull the driver's eyes too far from the road.
The climate control is dual zone, which allows the driver and front seat passenger to set their own temperature. Another nice touch in the Murano is a diffusion screen on the top of the dashboard to permit dispersing conditioned air rather than blowing directly into the occupants' faces.
Other options include a hands-free Bluetooth phone system, an intelligent key that can be left in the pocket while you drive, leather seat surfaces, rain-sensing front wipers, high-intensity discharge xenon headlamps, heated outside mirrors, and roof-rails. Push-button ignition is standard in all models. Of interest to modern electronics junkies are 12-volt outlets in the dashboard, console, and cargo area, also standard across all models.
Finally, the LE model has available 20-inch wheels, providing a startling visual effect compared to standard 18-inch wheels. They somehow make the Murano embody that "made for the road" feel. We're not sure how Nissan achieves this emotional effect, but it works.
For all new models, safety remains a major focus. The Murano has earned five stars in side-impact ratings. Dual-stage supplemental front air bags, seat-belt sensors, front seat side air bags, front and rear side curtain air bags, and front seat active head restraints remain standard. Front seat belts have pre-tensioners and load limiters. The center rear seat has three-point restraints. There are tether anchors for child seats.
Tire-pressure monitoring is standard (no more circling the car in freezing weather at the gas station!), and the concert of yaw sensors, wheel slip sensors, torque distribution, traction control, and anti-lock brakes will help keep the vehicle under control in bad weather or emergency maneuvering.
All told, this is a beautiful, elegant, safe crossover SUV. It should drive well across the board, is affordable in the base S model and well-appointed in the luxury LE model. Updated and refined, it continues to stand out among the crossover class, and the Murano certainly catches the eye.