Nissan Murano: The Social Crossover

By Frank A. Aukofer, January 10th, 2015

strong>Attention, empty nesters: Nissan has designed its 2015 Murano crossover utility vehicle just for you.

The company divines what you're really into: touring wineries and going out for nice dinners with friends. To do that, Nissan figures you need a vehicle with an interior that enhances socializing.

"This is the most social car we've ever had," says Jeremy Tucker, Nissan's vice president for marketing communications.

To the untrained eye, the new Murano looks pretty much like others of its ilk. It's a roomy, midsize CUV that shows a pleasant, nicely executed interior with soft-touch surfaces and tasteful trim. It's also comfortable across the lineup with soft cloth or leather upholstery covering what Nissan calls its space-age "zero gravity" seats.

The socializing part comes when the two couples are gabbing inside and Charlie in the back seat whips his smartphone out of its special storage compartment to play a song for the host and hostess up front. He can plug it in and queue it up from the back seat.

Nissan also has installed what it calls a "communication alley" in the "upscale social lounge interior." The center console was designed low and wide to "encourage conversation between front and rear occupants."

The new third-generation 2015 Murano also sports arresting new exterior styling with swooping curves, a roof that seems to float over the vehicle, boomerang-shaped LED headlights, and distinctive LED taillights.

It's a welcome departure. The first Murano was introduced in 2003 and the second generation arrived in 2009. Both had bulbous bodies and the second generation may have been the most disrespected vehicle in recent memory. That came when Nissan fashioned a two-door convertible Murano, which seems destined to become a collector's item along the love-it-or-hate-it lines of cars like the Edsel from Ford, the Pontiac Aztek, and the American Motors Pacer and Gremlin.

However, it's likely that the 2015 Nissan Murano will be respected not only for its social awakening, but for its other qualities as well. It comes in four versions with either front- or all-wheel drive. The latter adds $1,600 to the price tag and will be especially appreciated in areas with nasty weather. In fact, Nissan says 55 percent of Murano sales already are of the AWD model.

Prices range from $30,445 for the base S model with front drive to $41,485 for the top-line Platinum model with all-wheel drive. Though the Murano does not compete as a luxury vehicle, the Platinum certainly does a fine impersonation with its 20-inch alloy wheels, optional panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, climate controlled front seats, and heated rear seats and steering wheel.

Tested for this review was the S with AWD, a navigation system, and upscale paint. The navigation package, with satellite and HD radio, was pleasantly priced at just $820 so the bottom line sticker totaled $33,920 -- less than some other well-equipped compact crossovers.

The manual-adjusting front seats wear cloth upholstery that is sturdy and comfortable. But in the all-important drive components, it was otherwise identical to the Platinum model.

All versions use a 260-horsepower V-6 engine that develops 240 lb.-ft. of torque. Power flows through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and the combination manages a respectable EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/28/24 mpg.

Nissan has been a pioneer in CVT technology and uses the transmissions in many models. A CVT is characterized by a lack of shift points; the rpms increase and decrease seamlessly. But because some CVTs seem to be slipping as the revs rise in overtaking, Nissan adds a kick-down shift point that feels like the passing gear in a standard automatic transmission.

On the road, the Murano has a hefty feel, with solid straight-line tracking, as well as somewhat numb but responsive steering in cornering. It's no sportster, but acquits itself well for a relatively large vehicle.

It is more than 16 feet long with 108 cubic feet of passenger volume (slightly less if you order the panoramic sunroof). Cargo volume behind the back seat is a generous 40 cubic feet, which expands to 70 cubic feet with the split rear seatbacks folded flat. Folding them takes a simple tug at a strap.

Criticisms hover around the margins. The center rear seating position, as usual on most vehicles, is not comfortable and foot room is restricted by the intrusion of the front console. Bright trim around side air vents reflects in the outside mirrors.

Let the dissenters complain. Those who enjoy socializing with friends on road trips and wine tours are sure to tout the benefits of their Murano.

Specifications

Base price $32,035 (as tested: $33,920)
Curb weight 3,920 lbs.
Displacement 3.5-liter
Engine type 24-valve DOHC V-6
Epa mileage rating 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 19 gal.
Horsepower (net) 260 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 192.8 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 240 at 4400 rpm
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD midsize CUV
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