After the lukewarm reaction that I had to the Infiniti EX35, I wasn’t prepared to like the Nissan Murano much given the similarities in provenance and size. My sense of trepidation was amplified because the Murano tester I had was equipped with a CVT transmission—a technology that has disappointed more often than not. But I enjoyed the Murano, all the while hearing my mother admonishing, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”
The Murano works, within the bounds of its SUV/Crossover package, because of some pretty basic engineering. First off, the steering is direct rather than sloppy, and though it isn’t sports-car communicative at least it doesn’t get in the way. Secondly, the CVT, which inherently wants to slip as it adjusts its gear ratios, actually feels more hooked up and responsive than many a traditional automatic. Fortunately, the tendency of the CVT to hold an rpm level is mitigated by two wise choices that Nissan made. The Murano carries lots of sound deadening, so you don’t really hear the engine droning away, though technically that’s what it is doing. On top of that, when you want more than a gradual change in speed, the CVT adjusts its ratio progressively, so you have some feeling of rising rpm to match your subconscious desire for appropriate feedback.
Handling is nothing to write home about, but—with the EPA mandated eight-inches of ground clearance—SUV handling is rarely first rate. I don’t want this to come across as damning with faint praise, but I would put the Murano in about the 75th percentile of SUV handling. I prefer the handling of the Mercedes GLK at a similar price point, and the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne at much higher numbers, but really if handling is what you want, then a sports sedan is a better choice.
The physical package of the Murano has its appeal as well. The seats are firm but comfortable and the ride is pretty good. Space in rear seat is ample though not in the limo class, and with the seats folded there is cargo room typical of vehicles this size.
From a design standpoint, I think the electronic controls on the Murano were workable, but make no special contribution to ergonomics. iDrive or MMI now seem more usable to me, but a lot of this comes down to mastering (with time) the inevitable quirks of each vehicle. The interior materials seem good, though Nissan plastics could use some updating. As for the exterior, well, I don’t get it. But after a week with the Murano, I found the front end intriguing and I realized that I didn’t hate the design either nor. You may love it, and I presume you’ll know your own mind if you do.
So, I came way thinking that the Nissan Murano is less generic than many of its competitors. It is enjoyable to drive, comfortable and distinctively different without being outright weird. Another nice piece of work from Nissan.
—Tom Martin, Editorial Director
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