Engine: 3.5L V6 makes 260 hp, 240 lb-ft of torque
Price: Starts at $30,445, or $39,435 as tested.
EPA fuel economy: 20 MPG city, 28 MPG highway
Beside body-on-frame SUVs, the first-generation Nissan Murano looked like a space pod.
But the je ne sais quoi styling started to fade in the second generation as more manufacturers began offering car-based crossovers with rounded bodies. For the third go-around, Nissan sent its design team back to the drawing board with a specific goal in mind: making the next Murano a head-turner.
Bold New Look
By now, you might have already seen some of these in traffic. They’ve been on sale for a few months and frankly they’re hard to miss. Rather than doing much of anything with the powertrain, Nissan focused on stylizing its two-row mid-size crossover to give it maximum visual impact. In fact, it’s really quite remarkable to see how much of the Resonance concept bled through to production.
The end result is a product with a lower drag coefficient than the old model that contributes to reduced wind noise at highway speeds and improved fuel economy. For what it’s worth, Nissan says this thing is as aerodynamically slick as quite a few sports cars.
That might not be obvious, but the re-designed body certainly is. In Nissan design jargon, the boomerang-style front and rear lights are new, not to mention the floating roof design that gives the window panels a wraparound look.
Hard to Argue With the Oily Bits
But Nissan did little – if anything – to upgrade the powertrain. It still uses a 3.5-liter V6 with 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque mated to a CVT in either a front- or an all-wheel drive layout. What gives?
Well the thing is, it’s turned out to be a pretty reasonable formula because the powertrain is supposedly capable of returning up to 28 MPG on the highway, which is pretty darn good. Interestingly, that’s almost the same mileage Ford claims the new four-cylinder Edge offers.
But this thing qualifies for the same rating with a V6. And for that, you can credit the CVT.
Automobile reviewers tend to be pretty quick to malign CVTs, but the truth is that it works very well here. The Murano has plenty of power to accelerate and it doesn’t make any unpleasant noises. In fact, it does a pretty good job of mimicking a normal automatic in how it adjusts ratios. Oh and as always, Nissan’s VQ six-pot makes a velvety purr under acceleration.
Best of all, it’s actually capable of returning the advertised mileage. Apart from traffic jams, I didn’t have any trouble achieving the claimed 20 MPG city and 28 MPG highway fuel economy ratings.
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The suspension is soft, which means the Murano doesn’t feel nimble on its toes, but it’s also very comfortable to sit in over rough pavement.
One of the only downsides is that it can only two a maximum of 1,500 lbs compared to 3,500 lbs with a Ford Edge, which is arguably its closest competitor. That probably doesn’t matter because the diesel Volkswagen Touareg is probably better than anything else in this segment anyway. If you’re really going to tow frequently, buy one of those instead. Otherwise, this is a pretty compelling option.
Rather than worrying about being half of a small truck, Nisasn designed the Murano to be comfortable and that it most certainly is. Both the two front bucket seats and the rear outboard seats in the second row are especially pleasant to sit in. And for good reason, because they’re Nissan’s “zero gravity” seats that you might remember first seeing in the current Altima.
Appealing Interior Regardless of Trim Level
You can get them upholstered in either cloth or leather, although you’ll need the mid-upper level SL trim at minimum to rub up against dead cow skin. The leather is a nice upgrade, but take it from me that the cloth seats really don’t feel cheap either.
This really is a good vehicle for carrying four people out to a golf game. There’s significantly more legroom in the rear than the previous generation and still space to fit everyone’s clubs. The optional panoramic sunroof (part of the $2,260 SL Technology package) does a lot to make the rear seats seem roomier, but that’s not all. You also get adaptive cruise control, a collision warning system and forward emergency braking as part of the package.
Even if you don’t opt for that, there’s a USB port built into the back of the center console that allows back seat passengers to control MP3 playback. It’s very nicely done.
In fact, there’s very little about the interior that feels inexpensive, in large part because the design does a good job of hiding the places where Nissan used hard plastics. They exist, but not in any of the areas you’re likely to touch.
The 2015 Murano keeps the parts it did right before and makes major improvements to the spots that were starting to seem stale. It isn’t a wannabe truck-based SUV and it never has been. Instead, it’s 9-10ths of a luxury crossover for significantly less money.