The look is almost ubiquitous on the road now, but Murano got it right. Athletic lines give a great impression of strength, agility and speed, even when standing still. Murano looks like it is ready for anything the road has to offer, from curve to straightaway. Even though my Murano was equipped with all-wheel drive, looking at it didn't tempt me to plan off-road excursions. This is a crossover for a night out, a family hauler and minivan alternative -- not a camping companion.
The rising shoulder line has become almost a design cliche. Murano's starts at the front fender and sweeps up toward the rear of the vehicle. The back side windows are casualties of this design -- they have become smaller and smaller by virtue of geometry, and on Murano they are even more truncated. It's my one real complaint with Murano, a place where form has overrun function.
Murano's exterior dimensions are telling -- the 66.5" height vs. 74" width lends a squat stance, and the 111.2" wheelbase pushes the 18" alloy wheels out to the corners of the 187" long vehicle. This pays dividends when parking -- front and rear overhangs are very small -- and when cornering. It also looks way cool.
In the Driver's Seat
Murano's dash is kind of "car of the future" inspired. Most strikingly, the instrument panel and steering wheel sit proud of the rest of the dash, forming a little control pod. The center stack is similarly self-contained, and the dash itself is a vast expanse. Rather than leave a big flat uninterrupted surface, Nissan has gently compartmentalized the dash beneath the windshield. I'm not the kind of driver who puts things on my dash -- I prefer a clean, uncluttered field of vision -- but if you're the radar detector/notepad/speakerphone kind of person, you might find the dash space useful. Just be aware that unsecured objects on a dashboard can become dangerous projectiles in an accident. I learned that in Driver's Ed, and by driving around with a fishing pole on my dash for a while. Ouch.
All that exterior width translates into a very comfortable, roomy cabin for Murano. Both front seats are broad and well-stuffed, with particularly spacious footboxes. The second row is a 60/40 split bench seat that will accommodate three adult posteriors without stressing the door panels. Interior trim materials are high quality, including real aluminum pieces here and there. No fake or real wood trim in Murano, thankfully.
There's 32.6 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second row; 82 cubic feet of cargo space if you fold the second row flat. That rivals Toyota Highlander, a vehicle that looks much larger than Murano. Great for a road trip.
On the Road
Murano is no lightweight at nearly two tons (3996 lbs), and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's mated to the all-wheel drive system does its best to keep the engine revs in the power band. A CVT is different than a conventional transmission, in that it doesn't have gears. It is, as the name suggests, continuously variable -- a series of pulleys and belts translate the power from the engine to the wheels. There's a "Manual Shift Mode" on the Murano that allows the driver to approximate the performance and feeling of shifting gears. I mostly let the CVT do the shifting, in hope of better gas mileage and better actual performance.
The top of the line Murano SE comes with a few toys and conveniences that make driving and parking easier. There's a built in rear-view camera, and manually adjustable headlights, to name a few. Murano's ride, comfort and quietness are at near-luxury levels, but with a sporting edge. I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel.
If money is no issue, you can step up to Murano's luxury cousin, the Infiniti FX35 (starting at $37,800), or go hog wild and get an FX45 (starting at $49,850). Why not?
Crossovers are multiplying like unaltered hamsters right now. There are plenty of other vehicles to consider if the Murano works for you. Honda's CR-V is among the best, and Toyota's RAV4 is tough to beat. Both have lost some of their truckishness along with the cute factor, and are genuine grown-up vehicles. Mazda's CX-7 is a newcomer with an impressive array of features and a pretty great ride. The Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX hit the people hauler part of the equation harder, the fun part a little less. Some folks really like the Hyundai Santa Fe, while others still swear by their mini-SUV Toyota Highlander. You may want to consider the Lexus RX350 as well, if your budget allows.
If you land on Murano as your vehicle of choice, I commend you on your excellent taste. A striking design when it debuted, it has already weathered the test of time. You'll be able to watch smugly for years to come as more and more manufacturers try to cross the same line that Nissan crossed years ago.