Nissan Murano sports style, practicality


by By TOM VOELK / Special to

Posted on May 7, 2009 at 1:12 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: Nissan Murano has style

Industrial design is art in disguise.  People will travel to foreign museums and pay good money to briefly view old paintings of plump naked women, but completely disregard the style of everyday stuff.  Toasters, cell phones, bathroom faucets, computers and yes, cars, don't have to be utilitarian.  They can be beautiful and passionate.  Just look at a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then a Dyson.

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Americans have been gravitating to car-based crossovers for a few years now.  Some look like scaled down trucks.  Nissan's Murano sticks out like a Schwinn Sting Ray parked next to a rack of bland cruisers.  The original that blazed the trail before Mazda's CX-7 and Ford Edge was very dramatic.  That's a tough act to follow.  Like topping Starry Starry Night, creating a successor to dramatic design is a dicey proposition.

A new canvas 

Now in its second generation Murano has successfully evolved - different but still very much the same.  Its daring sheetmetal has been refocused but still instantly recognizable.  The interior, the space a driver sees the most of, gets a welcome upgrade.  Looks aren't all you get.  There's useful space and driving fun to be had.  That's more than you can say about Whistler's Mother.

Pop the hood and you'll be staring at Nissan's venerable 3.5-liter V6 that makes 265 horsepower.  It's hooked up to a Continuously Variable Transmission.  I'm not a big fan of CVTs but here Nissan has eliminated the drone that normally comes with them.  Choose between front or all-wheel drive with a locking feature - good for tackling sloppy, slushy stuff.

Drawn to competition

As a mid-sized crossover, Murano competes against Ford Edge, Dodge Journey, Mazda CX-7, Toyota Venza and Hyundai Santa Fe.  Murano can out hustle most of them (I'm thinking that a V6 Venza could win a drag race, not that you should be doing that sort of thing).  Zero to 60 happens in 8 seconds - plenty of power in a vehicle such as this.

In mostly city driving I'm seeing 17 miles to the gallon; the combined EPA rating is 20.  That's about average in class.

Will it make Mona Lisa grin?

Even though the ride quality is comfortable Murano can be tossed into a corner with confidence.  The suspension isn't as firm as CX-7, there's more communication with the road than with Venza.  Even on my all-wheel drive tester, stomping on the gas will generate a small bit of torque steer, that tugging of the steering wheel under hard acceleration.  This is something normally found in front drive cars. 

At highway speeds road noise is average.  Murano's chassis is solid and robust but hit a sharp bump and the sound echoes through the cabin in a hollow manner.  Nissan has given the Murano a good set of anti-lock binders.  Good in case you spot a rare Jackson Pollack at a yard sale.

The inner workings

The instrument panel evolves along with the sheetmetal, getting better materials this time around.  It's a dark inky space in black though. Consider a different color or sunroof to brighten it up.  This base S model stickers for around 29 grand. I'd say it's worth the money to upgrade to the next trim level and splurge for leather seating.  The velour fabric in my tester looks a bit scruffy and remember, it's best to surround yourself with good looking things whenever possible.  Also of note, the chair foam is very soft if you prefer your seating like that. 

This being a base model with just a convenience package option there's practically a wall of button blanks to remind a buyer of their decision to go with the budget Murano.  Passengers will dig the push button start though.  It's not keyless, a torpedo shaped fob needs to be slipped into a slot first.  Controls for the sound system and dual zone climate control are intuitive and simple to use.  There's a standard "aux" jack to plug in an MP3 player.  A big bold LCD display with coarse resolution is legible even in bright sunlight.  Illumination is done up in Nissan orange.  I'm sure Picasso would have a cooler name for the shade.

A space as large as a gallery

There's nothing radical when it comes to storage cubbies in Murano.  The center console has a nice hinged tray to help organize stuff.  If need be, a family of four can move into the huge glove box.  At the very least it will easily swallow an average laptop computer.

Got tall friends?  They'll enjoy the space in the back seat.  This back row doesn't move fore and aft to adjust to leg or cargo room choices but the backs recline. Overall, three adults should be happy in the very soft cushions, even more so if you go for the DVD entertainment system.  A storage bin on the back of the center console is good for stowing iPods, Game Boys and headphones.  Watch the streaming video and you'll find it's good for at least one ninja rubber ducky, but not his ninja father.  Sometimes you just have to work with what's laying around.

Gripes? That missile-shaped key fob just seems to slip out of my hand for some strange reason.  A common observation by passengers is that the sound of the closing doors is tinny.  The rear pillar that gives Murano its swoopy look also cuts into visibility.  A rear view camera would very handy in this rig.

Enough TP to supply MOMA for a few days

Speaking of that curvaceous back end, its shape cuts into cargo space a little bit. In the often imitated but never duplicated Costco TP trunk test, Murano handles nine bundles of bath tissue well.  The average here is 11.  Somehow there's just got to be some sort of art project that could be done with all that tissue. 

Under the load floor are spots to store small items like cameras and laptop computers you want to hang onto.  Handy seatback releases are mounted just inside the hatch.  Always a nice touch.

What the competition says

I always like to ask auto designers what car they would have liked to drawn.  Two of them that I respect have mentioned Murano.  Style is surely subjective but Murano  has a lot going for it.  If you enjoy design, if you treat every street and parking lot like an automotive Louvre, Murano may appeal to you.  Or not.  Like Monet vs. Mondrian there's something for everyone these days.   Practical families that want to make a statement might want to put the Nissan Murano on the test drive list.