Nissan showed a penchant for design risks when it released the Juke model, so I shouldn't be too surprised that the 2015 Murano employs radical lines in its bodywork. From the V-Motion grille, a new standard Nissan design cue, to the strong sidelines and floating roof, the latest Murano steps away from its formerly mundane self to cut a unique and futuristic figure.
And I like it, not least of all because the multitude of crossover vehicles offered by every automaker under the sun has begun to look the same. Just try to pick out a CR-V from a RAV4 and an Edge in the local mall parking lot.
During a preview event in Northern California, Nissan let me drive the new Murano along the coast and amongst vineyards, giving a deeper dive than we got during this crossover's unveiling at the New York auto show in April.
As Ken Lee, the Murano's designer, went through the model's previous generations during a presentation, I also began to think the Murano was forced to move forward, as the recent Nissan Pathfinder update encroached on its position. The Pathfinder uses more traditional SUV lines, but its size and unibody construction made it too similar to the old Murano.
Along with its exterior changes, the Murano received a cabin upgrade, making it palatable for the older empty-nesters for which Nissan's marketing gurus are aiming. In the top Platinum trim level model I got to drive, I was very impressed by the interior design and materials, likening it to Lexus RX levels of comfort. Nissan Senior Vice President Fred Diaz described the interior concept as a "social lounge," a place where two sets of older couples could enjoy day trips.
In truth, the cabin arrangement looked fairly conventional to me, with two single seats up front and a three person bench at the rear. However, Nissan uses tech to be more inclusive of rear seat passengers. Along with climate control, the rear seat gets its own USB port connected to the infotainment system in the same manner as the front port. However, control of audio sources and playback is still in the hands of the front-seat passengers through the 8-inch touchscreen LCD in the dashboard.
This new NissanConnect head unit makes more than a few strides forward. Nissan product planner Pierre Loing pointed out that this new system let the Murano's center dashboard go from 25 buttons down to 10. Nissan retains a traditional right-side volume dial and left-side tuning dial, then includes hard buttons for menu, map view, stereo and camera on either side of the 8-inch touchscreen.
Using a similar interface to Chrysler's excellent UConnect system, this new Nissan head unit includes a strip of touchscreen buttons along the bottom of the LCD, giving access to navigation, audio, and phone functions. And like the new Altima, the Murano gets app integration and online destination search through the NissanConnect app.
The Platinum trim model I drove came with a surround view camera, an excellent feature to help park this stylized box, and adaptive cruise control.
Looking under the hood, I was less impressed to see, once again, Nissan's 3.5-liter V-6, from the venerable VQ line of engines. Not to say that the VQ hasn't been a great engine, but it is falling behind some of the tech standards set by other automakers. Muranos at all trim levels get this engine, which makes 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Nissan's go-to efficiency tech, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), mates to the V-6, getting the Murano 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive formats.
I've consistently been impressed by the driving character of Nissan's CVT, and it was no different in the Murano. Low and moderate acceleration was silky smooth, and lacked any of the engine groaning I've heard in similar drivetrains from competitors. Flooring it, the tach needle jumped to 5,000 rpm, then pulsed between 4,000 and 5,000 a couple of times as the transmission worked out a very good impression of upshifting.
The fixed suspension in this all-wheel-drive model created a slightly firm and very comfortable ride. The power steering tuning was perfectly in line with that road feel, offering enough heft to let me know I was driving the car, but making it easy to crank the wheel around for parking-lot maneuvers.
In all, there is more engagement in driving the Murano over a Lexus RX, but not much more. And that was likely by design. The Murano seems designed for comfortable transportation. The driving character is subtle, remaining in the background as much as possible. As such, you won't think twice about jumping in this car for a trip to the grocery store or to take a long weekend in wine country.
Nissan offers the new Murano in S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels, ranging from $29,560 to $39,000 base price in the US. Add just $1,600 at any trim level for all-wheel-drive. The Platinum model includes such niceties as LED headlight and the NissanConnect navigation head unit standard. An optional Technology package, available for SL and Platinum trims, brings in adaptive cruise control and pre-collision braking. Nissan has not announced pricing or engine options for the new Murano in the UK or Australia as of this date.
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