First Drive: 2015 Nissan Murano

If ever a vehicle was a form over function choice, the Nissan Murano is it. For virtually the same price, you can walk across the showroom and buy a vehicle built on the same platform with the same powertrain, with an extra row of seats and significantly more cargo room and, hence, utility. A strange approach for a utility vehicle, perhaps, but with this restyling, Nissan has demonstrated that they can deliver a standout design in the crossover segment, and for an affordable price, too. It’s not perfect, but there are numerous angles and details that one can pore over and appreciate, and will captivate many of Nissan’s intended audience.

If ever a vehicle was a form over function choice, the Nissan Murano is it.

Going back to its origins, the Murano made quite a splash when it first debuted in 2002, practicality taking a back seat to cutting edge design and car-like ride over rugged off-road ability. It was all rounded curves and angular features, and shot to instant success. As other brands entered this niche, Nissan remained conservative for its second generation, and sales flagged, the nameplate losing some of its lustre.

Nissan aimed to recapture that spark of innovative and eye-catching design in this third generation 2015 model, with sharply creased body panels, aggressively raked profile, grille, headlights and flanks that accentuate the dynamic statement. The effect is highly modern, yet elegant, and also contributes to a claimed best-in-class aerodynamic efficiency with a Cd of 0.31.

The coolest design element in my eyes is the continuity from the heavily tinted side windows into the rear windscreen, utilizing a black plastic panel on the rear pillar, creating the effect of a floating roof, something rarely seen outside of concept cars. Brighter coloured cars benefit from the contrasting chrome trim that defines the window line and other character lines like the “V-Motion grille”, though I find that is one of the few awkward spots around the snout, especially when seen from head on.

Headlights are surrounded by Nissan’s ‘boomerang’ LED signature, and feature standard halogen projectors or full LED headlights with the Platinum trim. It’s not all design flair, though – navigation, voice command and Bluetooth are standard, as are the conveniences of back-up camera, heated front seats and dual-zone auto climate. Even one trim up, the SV adds proximity keyless entry and start, eight-way power driver’s seat and heated steering wheel. The base S model ($29,998) is available as front-wheel drive only, while the SV comes with FWD standard ($32,998) or optional all-wheel drive ($34,998).  The SL ($38,398) and Platinum ($43,498) models come with standard AWD.

So, the 2015 Murano, as it has always been, is a mid-size, five-seat crossover aimed at empty nesters more than families, and a night on the town with adults rather than shuttling Susie and Sam to soccer practice and music lessons. For that, Nissan dealers will happily refer you to the Pathfinder we alluded to earlier. With the focus on adults, and a simple five-seat layout, it does what it does without compromise, with generous seating and cargo space.

The seats are wide and comfortable, and with NASA-inspired zero-gravity foam, Nissan promises long-distance comfort. Rear seats are spacious and filled with the same supportive foam, if not as deeply padded or comfortable, but Nissan has designed this vehicle to carry four adults in comfort and succeeded – even a fifth won’t be uncomfortable for a while. The trunk measures 1,121 L, better than competitors like Edge and Venza, and that space maxes out at 1,979 L with the rear seats folded down.

The interior design is also nicely updated, available in two themes, a conservative dark dash with black leather seats and silver trim, or dramatic cream leather and light finishing touches. However, one of few disappointments in the interior is the plastic trim, which is visually appealing, but lacks the upscale touch that authentic wood or aluminum accents would bring – something that this Murano should deliver as Nissan’s “halo” SUV/CUV.

Nissan’s interface is easy to use, with touchscreen controls complemented by buttons for frequent main menus and traditional dials for volume, tuning and climate controls. With a 7-inch information screen nested between the luminescent gauges and 8-inch central screen, there is plenty of information and numerous ways to control your environment. It’s modern without being demanding, and high tech without being frustrating or quirky, even if it’s not exactly cutting edge.

Where Nissan delivers cutting edge is the technology front. Aside from the easily accessed entertainment and comfort features via the touchscreens and controls, Nissan packs all its latest driver aids into the Murano’s top trims. The SL is where things start to get really interesting, with 360-degree parking camera and sensors with moving object detection (alerting you to traffic coming from behind and to the sides), blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert. Finally, Platinum models add adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, forward emergency braking and predictive forward collision warning, which detects cars slowing two cars ahead even if the car immediately in front fails to react – the first time this award-winning technology has been incorporated in a Nissan.

All Muranos, no matter the trim, are powered by the company’s familiar 3.5L V6 making 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, sufficient for this 1,800+ kg vehicle. While the power is sufficient, it doesn’t seem to have raised the refinement bar as much as I would have expected for a vehicle of this mission. The Murano is quiet enough in relaxed driving, but under acceleration it doesn’t offer a pleasant growl or silky smooth hum that I would look for in a vehicle on the cusp of a premium driving experience. Perhaps I was expecting too much.

With a weight reduction of 66 kg, increased aerodynamic efficiency and improvements to Nissan’s smooth-shifting CVT (continuously variable transmission), the 2015 Murano’s fuel efficiency has improved to 11.2/8.3/9.9 L/100 km city/highway combined in AWD trim – an improvement of approximately 20 percent over the 2014 model (using EPA figures – Transport Canada figures for 2014 and 2015 use different testing methods and so are not equivalent). FWD models are rated at 11.0/8.2/9.8 L/100 km.

Nissan makes no claims to a sporting nature for the Murano, and it executes its comfort-first mission admirably. As mentioned, the engine is capable and efficient, though hardly enthusiastic, but the CVT is suitably smooth and refined, even if the engine does not sound as pleasing as some versions of this V6. With 18-inch wheels on S, SV and SL trims, the ride is comfortable and soft, and the 20-inch alloys of the Platinum models sharpen the handling attitude without upsetting the comfort. The steering is light and makes maneuvering in the city and parking easy, but it is quite vague, leading to some lane wandering at highway speeds.

The 2015 Murano revives Nissan’s design leadership in the crossover segment, and is configured well for the mature audience Nissan is targeting, so we expect that this Murano will see a corresponding resurgence in sales. It’s conventional enough that it fits the needs of popular demand, but distinctive enough (especially in the right colour) that it stands out from the crowd, a rather impressive accomplishment for a mainstream vehicle in an ever more common segment.

If ever a vehicle was a form over function choice, the Nissan Murano is it. 2/11/2015 10:30:38 AM