When Nissan introduced the Murano as a 2003 model, the styling raised more than a few eyebrows. In 2008, Nissan embarked on a Quest to redesign the machine as a less visually “intriguing” CUV. They tried to thread to proverbial needle: keep the Murano instantly recognizable while updating every body panel and adding one of the most bizarre snouts available on any automobile at any price. As the pimply-faced high school geek cum dot-com billionaire proved, looks can be deceiving. Does the same hold true for the “It Came from Outer Space (or France)” Murano S?
Nissan sells the Muranos in three flavors. Our all wheel-drive tester was the base model S with the extra cost floor mats, splash guards and the “Convenience Group.” The package has nothing to do with built-in diaper disposals. It’s all about the privacy glass (Michael Phelps need apply), a security system, cargo cover and roof rails. If you want true convenience—Bluetooth, backup monitor, auto-dimming mirrors, power or heated seats, or navigation system—you have to ante up for the SL or LE trim levels.
The Murano S’ fuzzy cloth seats generate enough static electricity to power a Game Boy for two days, but they’re comfortable enough, in a Frasier’s dad’s chair kinda way. Wisely, Nissan chose not to stick a third row of seats in the wayback. Instead, you get generous passenger room and expandable cargo space, via levers on either side of the bay that fold the rear seatbacks. Medieval recreationists note: the Murano’s spring-loaded seats flip forward with a vengeance. The rest of us need to make sure that small children, pets and laptop computers are safely stowed in their proper position before pulling that little silver lever.
From the (manually adjustable) driver’s seat, the Murano S’ instrument panel is a study in contrasts. No matter where you position the tilting and telescoping steering wheel, Nissan’s ”Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges” are clearly, not to say indelibly, visible. On the other hand, the Murano’s radio and HVAC controls are scattered randomly up and down the center stack; the designers having deemed symmetry more important than ergomics. The IP’s capped with a seven inch monitor displaying the radio and temperature settings; a constant reminder that you were too cheap to spring for the nav system/backup camera.
Starting the Murano S offers drivers a direct link to 1942. Back then, you inserted the ignition key, turned it, then stepped on the floor-mounted starter button. In the Murano S, you insert the key fob into a spring-loaded slot in the dash making sure you insert it far enough so it doesn’t puke the key back onto the floor. Then you reach six inches to the left and press a button which starts the car (but only if you have your foot on the brake pedal). It’s an overwrought feature that, as my better half put it, screams “gimmick.”
Once you complete the starting sequence, Nissan’s excellent 3.5-liter VQ engine fires up, producing 265 hp @ 6,000 rpm. Its 248 lb·ft of torque comes on at a much more reasonable 4,400 rpm. It’s all funneled through what has to be the world’s best continuously-variable transmission. Unlike the CVTs from other manufacturers (*cough* Audi *cough*), there’s no “rubber band” effect; the Nissan unit always seems to know the proper gear ratio for a given situation.
The Murano excels at its remit: hauling four or five people and their stuff. On the highway, the S’ quiet ride and the comfortable seats make for relaxed travel. Power is more than adequate for passing. Equally important, the Murano S will cruise for hours with ease, eating up the miles at extralegal speeds.
When the road gets twisty there’s no confusing the Murano with an FX35. At all. On any level. When pushed, the Murano S pushes back. The “station-wagon-on-stilts” profile means the usual high center of gravity, with the usual tippy over but it won’t will it driving dynamics. The Murano S’ 18-inch all-season tires let you know they’re are as aversive to lateral Gs as the carvings on Stone Mountain. Although the CUV’s brakes are surprisingly powerful and modulatable (?), it’s best to slow down, enjoy the scenery and save your Juan Manuel Fangio aspirations for another day and another car.
In fact, you could say that the Murano is the Toyota Corolla of CUVs: notable for the fact that there’s nothing particularly notable about it, in both the good and bad sense of the word. But in a world where truck sales are notable by their absence, the absence of the Murano from the list of the walking dead is notable. In other words, the Nissan Murano is a good enough CUV for good enough moms and their 2.5 children. Sure, there are more exciting machines. But Murano drivers couldn’t care less. Who am I to argue the point?