The LCD isn't touch screen and, as a result, you execute all commands using a rotary selector surrounded by a bank of buttons. Unfortunately, when we wanted to change sources, we had to reach down to yet another bank of buttons to do so. During the course of our test drive, we were constantly confused as to which bank of buttons we were supposed to use to navigate the system. If we wanted to check the fuel economy, we used the rotary selector and the top bank to get to our vehicle status. If we then wanted to change the XM radio station, we had to first hit the AUX button on the bottom bank twice, and then use the rotary selector to choose the station. With so much switching from this bank of buttons to that one, it was difficult to get comfortable using the system.
The MP3/WMA CD player doesn't decode WMA files protected by DRM. Since the unit doesn't allow navigation independent of playback, if the system comes across a folder containing DRM files, the entire system freezes while it processes. It's a bit frustrating to wait almost a minute while the player reads the folder over and over, only to return a "Cannot Read Folder" message. Sticking with non-DRM files alleviates this issue.
Bluetooth integration isn't included in the tested Premium package, but can be added with the Technology package. Also included in the Technology package are high-intensity discharge headlamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, a power lift gate, and an Intelligent Key keyless entry system that lets you unlock the doors and start the ignition without taking the key out of your pocket.
With the exception of the backup camera and the capability to browse MP3/WMA CDs, the monitor/rotary selector interface just complicates what are essentially very basic car stereo functions. Choosing a radio station shouldn't require multiple button presses. At this trim level, the dashboard feels as if it needs more features to justify the complexity or a more basic interface to simplify operation.
When equipped with the hard-drive-based navigation option, the interface is much more intuitive. The interface seems designed to work best in this configuration, which would explain why the middle-of-the-road Premium package seems so clunky. With this Murano, we weren't able to test the navigation system, which includes navigation, a touch-screen monitor, voice recognition, XM NavTraffic, a 9.3GB hard drive for music storage, and a CompactFlash slot for playing MP3/WMA files. However, we can assume that it performs similarly to the interface in the 2008 Infiniti M45x, tested earlier.
Unfortunately, to even be able to add the $1,850 navigation system, buyers must first include the dual moonroof and Premium, Leather, and Technology packages (which are standard on the LE trim level) at an additional charge of $5,670.
Under the hood
The 2009 Murano offers only one engine/gearbox combination, a 265 horsepower V-6 mated to the Xtronic continuously variable transmission. The lack of fixed gear ratios makes the ride buttery smooth and engine noise virtually imperceptible at cruising speeds. The sluggish response that typically plagues CVT transmissions is still apparent, but downshift lag of standard automatics has been greatly reduced.
The 3.5-liter power plant is the same V-6 that also motivates about half of Nissan's model lineup in some form or other, so the company has had plenty of time to refine its performance. Tipping into the gas pedal produces decent, but certainly not neck snapping, acceleration that's good enough to make confident freeway merges.
The Murano won't win any stoplight contests, but that's not really the point. According to Nissan, in this configuration the Murano nets an EPA-rated 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway and an ULEV rating by the state of California. Our test model hovered about 18.5 mpg during our testing, according to the trip computer.
An available all-wheel-drive system, such as the one on our test model, is the only power train option that can be added by potential buyers. Under normal driving conditions, the system behaves identical to the front-wheel-drive model, delivering 100 percent of power to the front wheels until things get slippery, at which point it can send up to 50 percent of power to the rear. When things get too slick and you need maximum traction, the differential can be locked into all-wheel-drive mode. This is a neat feature that's not very common in small SUVs and would be especially helpful in the snow. Regardless of power train layout, all Murano models are equipped with anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control.
Available all-wheel drive or not, the Murano is no off-roader. Although its suspension is tuned to soak up bumps, the Murano is better adapted for dodging potholes and smoothing out highway expansion joints than fording rivers and blazing trails. Through the tight turns of urban San Francisco, the Nissan handled surprisingly well for a vehicle of its size.
The Murano's suggested price of $29,480 quickly balloons to $37,000 when you add all of the packages required to get the tech options we actually wanted. The sporty Mazda CX-7 could be similarly equipped for about $3,000 less (although it still doesn't have an available Bluetooth option). While both vehicles can be had with all-wheel drive, the standard CVT on the Murano lets it get better fuel economy, despite its larger engine and more horsepower, making it the better deal over the long run.
Although the model we tested wasn't tech-laden, there are many good tech options available for the Murano, earning it a high score for our cabin electronics rating. The interface of the midlevel Premium package isn't integrated well and lowers what would otherwise be a high design score, because it complicates what should be simple functions. We liked the refined feel and smooth acceleration of the V-6 engine, but also took note of the relatively thrifty fuel economy when compared with other vehicles in its segment. The Murano also earned performance points for making the CVT standard and for offering an all-wheel-drive system with locking differential.