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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 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 .
The navigation system maps, running on an SD card, look particularly crisp, and I was impressed to find I could pinch to zoom the map, which was more convenient than using the onscreen zoom control. Extensive traffic information shown on the map covers not only highways but also many surface streets. Nissan brings in traffic data from a satellite radio feed, which also adds weather, movie times, stocks and gasoline prices.
While satellite is a bit old-school for data in the car, the Murano gets some Internet-based data through the NissanConnect app. With my iPhone running the app and plugged into the car's USB port, I could access Google online destination search, which integrates with the navigation system. In fact, the Google search interface let me sync addresses between the car and phone, search using manual entry or voice, and browse specific destination categories based on location.
NissanConnect includes Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and iHeartRadio integration, but accessing these features requires an owner's registration. Nissan limits guest access to the Google search feature.
As is typical with early app integration efforts, online search isn't included under the standard destination menu, where it should be, but relegated to a separate apps menu. Likewise, voice command for online search is a separate system from the car's main voice command system, which let me make phone calls, enter destinations for navigation and choose music.
The Murano's conventional audio sources include Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio, satellite radio, iOS devices and USB drives. The car supports two USB ports, one in the console and one mounted for rear-seat passengers. The rear USB port is a nice feature, although music selection remains in the hands of front-seat passengers. Bluetooth streaming was advanced enough in the Murano to show a full music library on the touchscreen, similar to that for the USB port with categories for artist, album, genre and song.
The Murano rounds out its tech load with a decent set of driver assistance features. What I found most useful was the surround view camera, showing a top-down view of the car along with a front or back view. These camera images came in handy during parallel parking, as I found it difficult to judge distances front and back in this bulky crossover.
A blind-spot monitor system lit warnings in the A-pillars for traffic in the lanes to either side. This system generally worked well, although I noted a few false warnings. A forward collision warning occasionally beeped at me when it thought I was approaching stopped traffic too quickly, but it never got to the point of being annoying. Adaptive cruise control, part of an optional package, let me relax on the freeway, as it matched the Murano's speed with slower traffic ahead.
The 2015 Nissan Murano's dramatic looks may not be for everyone, but this crossover looks less polarizing than the Nissan Juke . Its five-seat interior plus cargo space makes it a good all-arounder, useful for commuting, road trips and big-box shopping runs. Its easy driving character and get-in-and-go style contribute greatly to that theme.
I like the CVT, as it gives an even more responsive throttle than many cars with fixed gear automatic transmissions. And although the EPA fuel economy numbers look good for a vehicle of this size, expect to drop under this range if you deal with heavy traffic on a regular basis. I would really like to see Nissan develop next-generation engine tech, which could raise the Murano's numbers even higher.
The navigation head unit in the Murano is an excellent improvement over previous Nissan systems, but its app integration suffers from first-generation flaws. Online destination search is incredibly useful, but would be more so if shown among the standard destination entry options. Likewise, having a separate voice command interface for online destination search doesn't help the user experience.
Drivers will be pleased with the sharp-looking maps and extensive traffic coverage. The overall interface for this head unit is also quite good, such that I would like to see Nissan clean up the dashboard by dropping the hard buttons next to the screen.
|Model||2015 Nissan Murano|
|Powertrain||3.5-liter V-6 engine, continuously variable transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD Radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose nine-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, surround view camera|
|Price as tested||$43,745|