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When I hit the gas in the 2015 Nissan Murano during a typical full-throttle test, the tires screeched a bit before digging in, then propelled this 4,000-pound crossover smartly forward. I watched the tach needle spike 5,000rpm then blip each time the transmission upshifted.
It was the kind of experience you might get from any decent car with an automatic transmission, with one important difference: instead of true gear changes, a computer dictated drive ratio shifts. The Murano relies on Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which substitutes a steel belt and pulley for a set of fixed gears. The CVT allows for a much larger range of drive ratios than even a nine-speed automatic transmission.
More than that, Nissan has refined its CVT to be the best in use today. As I drove the Murano, I was consistently impressed by the drivetrain's responsiveness and power delivery.
Of course, what most people will first notice about the new Murano is its dramatic styling. Nissan went a bit over the top for this 2015 update, giving the Murano a strong beltline that kicks up hard at the back, meeting the sloping roofline for a very sporty look. Blacked-out B-, C- and D-pillars make the body-colored roof appear to float over the car. Meanwhile, Nissan's signature boomerang design works its way into headlights and taillights. LED parking light strips up front give the car an especially sinister look in the dark.
Nissan makes the Murano's waist look narrow by setting the chrome running boards high and blacking out the body section below. This effect works especially well with the optional 20-inch wheels.
As Nissan's primary crossover vehicle, the Murano seats five comfortably with plenty of room for cargo. A base S model goes for $29,560, while the Platinum trim Murano model goes for $39,000. All-wheel-drive is a $1,600 option at any trim level. The example I drove was in Platinum trim with all-wheel-drive, and included the $2,260 Technology package, for a total of $43,475 with destination. The Murano doesn't appear in Nissan's UK lineup, and this new update has not yet become available in Australia, where the old-style Murano goes for a base price of AU$53,469.
The old VQ
The new Murano comes with a single powertrain layout, 3.5-liter V-6 and CVT, with front-wheel-drive standard and all-wheel-drive optional. That V-6, from Nissan's venerable VQ line of engines, makes 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are easily bested by smaller engines from competitors using direct injection and forced induction.
However, the magic of Nissan's CVT makes the most out of the power available. I never experienced a dead spot in the Murano's throttle, whether I was making a quick lane change in traffic, merging onto the freeway or cruising along a mountain road. The shifter offers a manual mode with programmed shift points I could choose sequentially, which behaved like fixed gears.
What the CVT really brings to the Murano is exceedingly smooth acceleration under light and moderate throttle. This crossover's exceedingly easy driving experience lets drivers jump in and go, without having to think much about the car. There are no sport or eco settings, nothing for the driver to fiddle with when taking a trip.
The electric power steering responded well, providing just a slight bit of engagement. When driving the Murano on urban streets, I was impressed by its tight steering radius, making the seemingly bulky vehicle easily maneuverable. The well-tuned suspension struck a good balance between comfort and stability. Even on rough asphalt the ride never became jarring. While I found the Murano capable of passing slower cars on a two-lane cloverleaf or negotiating a twisty mountain road, it wasn't a car I felt comfortable pushing hard in the turns.
EPA numbers of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway look really good for the Murano, although my average came in under that range, at 20.2 mpg. Nissan's only fuel economy play here is the CVT, lacking the kind of holistic view towards fuel economy engineering employed by Mazda, with its SkyActiv initiative encompassing engines, transmissions and vehicle weight. Monitoring the trip computer, I saw my average spike at 34 mpg on the freeway at 65 mph, but drop to 11 mpg in heavy urban traffic.
Beyond the exterior styling, the biggest step forward in this Murano is Nissan's new navigation head unit. An 8-inch touchscreen in the dashboard shows a menu strip along the bottom with buttons for audio, phone, navigation and information. Legacy hard buttons to the sides of the screen duplicate some of these functions, but I preferred the onscreen menu, which is similar to the Uconnect system in the Chrysler 200.