By on February 27, 2009

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?

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34 Comments on “Review: 2009 Nissan Murano S AWD...”

  • avatar

    Damn that thing is ugly.

  • avatar

    I didn’t care for the original initially, but came to really appreciate its exterior styling. They’ve fussied it up quite a bit with the redesign.

    The new interior is FAR better, though.

    Handling has been sacrificed in favor of a smoother, quieter, more Lexus-like ride.

    Repair rates for the 2009 have been low so far in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey:

  • avatar

    There’s no requirement you insert the key into the dash. You can simply stow it in your pocket and start the car.

  • avatar

    Full disclosure I am a Nissan sales consultant leasing a 2009 Nissan Murano SL with the Luxury package in Canada.

    The intelligent key system comes with the Luxury package in the SL and standard on the LE.

  • avatar

    Common TTAC whassup with these SUV.

  • avatar

    The old Murano more or less had the game all to itself. Sure, you could step up the FX, but you’d have to pay for it. The Murano was nicely appointed, snazzy-looking, practical and decent to drive. Before the arrival of the Edge and Venza, it was where you went if you were a late-forties urban professional. I know a number of real estate agents and middle managers who own them, and more than a few doctors or lawyers (or at least their kept spouses) seemed to favour them as well.

    Then the Edge arrived, and muscled in a little. And then comes the Infiniti EX. And then Nissan released the Rogue, which more or less gutted the Murano’s entry-level sales by virtue of it’s being about as commodious, nicer to drive, easier on gas and, quite frankly, cheaper for the same amount of content. That the restyle took away from the Murano’s character didn’t help.

    It’s a lot like what happened to the Maxima, really: death by market erosion.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    This is a good, honest, reliable suv. So says the Good Year Tire Store owner of 2 of these things across my parking lot at work. He swears by them (not at them) and, remember, this guy makes his living fixing cars. Full disclosure: I do not and never had owned a Nissan.

  • avatar

    Is it just me, or are links to the star ratings disabled for the last few reviews? I’m always brought back to the text review, no matter what I try.

  • avatar

    Is there really a bad choice in the 2-row CUV segment?

    Even the Dodge Journey competes somewhat based on the price one would pay for it.

  • avatar

    Damn that thing is ugly.

    All CUVs are ugly. I cannot think of one that looks nice.

  • avatar

    I definitely prefer the Venza and to some extent the Highlander over this baby, because the interior of the Toyotas with their curving-away waterfallish (made that term up just now) dashboard design makes it seem mcuh more spacious and airy up front.

    Also, Highlander’s coming out with a new more efficient 4-cylinder!! Toyota wins, again.

  • avatar

    “Like MS OS users, Nissan Murano drivers don’t know any better and couldn’t care less.”

    You should be a little careful commenting outside your area of knowledge. There are plenty of extremely knowledgeable MS OS users. Suggesting otherwise is, in car terms, blaming one particular car company for the stupidity of drivers.

  • avatar

    mikeolan :
    There’s no requirement you insert the key into the dash. You can simply stow it in your pocket and start the car.

    That’s on the upper line models with the “smart key.” The S requires sticking the key in the slot and pushing the button.

    BEAT :
    Common TTAC whassup with these SUV.

    I take the press cars the manufacturers offer. (But it’s looking up. My last one was an A4 3.2 and currently I’m driving a G37 Sport — reviews on both to follow.)

    Jason :
    “Like MS OS users, Nissan Murano drivers don’t know any better and couldn’t care less.”
    You should be a little careful commenting outside your area of knowledge. There are plenty of extremely knowledgeable MS OS users. Suggesting otherwise is, in car terms, blaming one particular car company for the stupidity of drivers.

    Author’s disclaimer: That statement was added by a Macaholic editor. But as far as my “area of knowledge” about computers, I’ve worked with them from the days of CP/M and TRS-DOS to the latest iterations of Windows, Linux, Solaris and OS X.

  • avatar

    MS OS slur removed. From a MAC.

  • avatar

    Jason said:
    You should be a little careful commenting outside your area of knowledge. There are plenty of extremely knowledgeable MS OS users. Suggesting otherwise is, in car terms, blaming one particular car company for the stupidity of drivers.

    Agree. Some people feel more fulfilled in bashing Microsoft or Toyota. It’s a way of saying “look at me, I am different (and thus better),” while he is probably the 389,341,808,008th buyer of the Mac OS.

    If you want to be unique and cool, write your own OS, just like Linus. Using Mac or driving VW isn’t an effective way of saying your are different, IMO.

  • avatar
    Jeff in NH

    The author makes a very apt comparison of the Murano to the Corolla. However, with the Corolla’s recent re-design came clear evidence that cost-cutting on Toyota’s part had been effectively employed on the interior and who knows where else, leading me to suspect that this may be the first generation of the venerable model to not live up to its predecessor’s stellar reputation for durability and reliability. Furthermore, I’ve driven both the ’08 and ’09 Corolla, and the former is clearly the superior automobile.

    I am digressing here, but I’ll come to my point now; I know this was not the author’s intent with his “target customer” statement, but if the Murano is designed, engineered, and constructed with a similar philosophy to that of Toyota in mind, I fear for the owners’ peace of mind in years 5-15 of ownership. It doesn’t help that betting on a Nissan’s durability and reliability is akin to the odds of hitting the jackpot with a scratch-and-win ticket.

  • avatar

    As a former owner of a 2004 Nissan minivan – my seventh and (for now) final Nissan – I complement you on the capitalized “Q” in the second sentence of this review. The new Murano has indeed been Questified… mechanically impressive but cosmetically gimmicky and qualitatively questionable.

    Where I disagree with some of your readers is in the assumption that Toyota does it any better. I suspect that Japan Inc. as a whole is rushing to fill the void left behind by the Big 2.8, with increasingly crappy products that shame the memory of their predecessors.

    I recently converted to Hyundai (I know, I know), and suspect that the Koreans are the only ones trying these days.

  • avatar

    The Murano was definitely a sweet vehicle when it came out but after these updates I feel like it’s a bit of a lame duck. I also think it could be better described as the PT Cruiser or Chevrolet HHR of SUV’s-it was unique when it came out but after a while it got old, and how the hell do you go about redesigning it without killing everything that made it a Murano?

  • avatar

    The interior on the lowest trim line Murano is a big step down from the leather lined, navigation equipped models.

    The whole color scheme is very reminiscent of my Mother’s 2002 Taurus, and the silver, black, and beige steering wheel looks cheap and out of place in a $31,000 vehicle.

    Perhaps don1967 is right. Detroit used to produce base model cars that felt like base models cars… only the top tier trims seemed worthwhile. Japanese base models might have been missing equipment but they never felt like they were done on the cheap, this Murano S, however, screams cheap.

  • avatar

    Frank: You’re a couple OS’s up on me, I admit (although I understand you’re older then my 36 years). But as you say, RF injected the comment.

    don1967: You’re with me. I love my 02 Maxima SE. I can’t really find a Nissan replacement that I like at all (the 370Z and GT-R are not realistic vehicles for me to own). The Altima is ok, but I don’t like it more then a Sonata. The current Senta seems horrid, and the Versa even worse.

    Of course, maybe it’s me that’s changed and not them. I find myself really appreciating the Kia Rondo, for example, which has got to be one of the most anti-cool cars on the road.

  • avatar

    It may be ugly, but at least it illicits a reaction, unlike much of whats being built out there.

  • avatar

    no matter how good it is i cannot stand the ‘new’ French influenced Nissan design school

    to the garish angular interior to the overblown exterior details

    the fact they made it worse than the old one speaks volumes of what they are trying to achieve

    it even affects the new GTR

    I don’t mind the Xtrail or the Navara/Titans but things like the Versa/Tiida and Maxima are just too much.

    Full disclosure though… I have two Skylines… of the turbo variety… you know the ones… this isn’t the Nissan Motor Company I grew up with…

  • avatar

    The Murano is ugly.

    If I were ever in the market for a CUV it would be a Ford Edge. Possibly a SRX if I was willing to throw money at it.

  • avatar

    The first Murano was indicative of it’s name – Murano glass ware, curvy and stylish. Except for the chrome zipper running horizontally across the front.

    The new one is forced, contorted. Different than the old one for the sake of being different. Creases and folds placed here and there to make it different than the old one. The Venza suffers from the same fussiness, but there was no predecessor to make a direct comparison, so it works a little better for me there.

    I’d take and Edge over this. I like the exterior design that much more. I’ve not been impressed by the Rogues I’ve seen in person, though it would be the smarter choice for me. Both the exterior and interior seem substantially down-market from mid-size CUV’s. The center stack, in particular, reminds me of the Pontiac G6. I can’t get past it yet.

  • avatar

    It is really, really, really, really, really too bad about that snout. What were they thinking? How did it get through so many steps of approval?

    Because otherwise I find the Murano to be the hidden gem of family vehicles. No contrived third-row “seat” (*cough* Q7RAV4X5Commander *cough*), excellent passenger and cargo room, a normal seating position in the rear (*cough* ladderframeSUVs *cough*) and refined road manners. Plus a handsome interior that is lexus-luxurious in the higher trim levels.

    It’s just really too bad about the nose. The consolation that the Murano can take is that at least Nissan didn’t do to it what Acura did to their TL. [dry-heave.] Sorry happens everytime I say TL. [dry-heave.]

    (BTW, in the next-to-last paragraph, this sequence of words needs hyphens:
    “the usual tippy over but it won’t will it“)

  • avatar

    Can’t believe the reviewer thought you had to stick the fob in the dash in order to start the car. Probably thinks you also have to use the fob to lock and unlock the doors. Dude, it’s called a smart key, not a stupid key.

  • avatar

    Jaeger :
    Can’t believe the reviewer thought you had to stick the fob in the dash in order to start the car. Probably thinks you also have to use the fob to lock and unlock the doors. Dude, it’s called a smart key, not a stupid key.

    Can’t believe the commenter thought I’m too stupid to know how to unlock or start a car I spent a week driving. Dude, the smart key is available ONLY on the SL (optional) and LE (standard) models. It IS NOT available on the S, which, as stated, was the model tested. Oh, and you DO have to use the fob to lock/unlock the doors.

  • avatar

    it is ugly in the fugly sense of the word. can’t believe they bangeled the original which was slightly pretier….

  • avatar

    Wow look the grinning Murano just got braces.

  • avatar

    Ponchoman49, that pretty much nails the description of the new “teeth”!

  • avatar

    Wipe that ugly smirk off it’s face and sales will double

  • avatar

    Guess it is good to see someone saw GM cars and decided to make an ugly one of their own.

  • avatar

    My wife shopped this car when we were looking about 6 months ago. She wanted a 2008 LE. It really isn’t a bad car. Not my style, but she liked it. The dealer experience however, was a disappointment. Once we finally got someone to help, the numbers were just not realistic. We had previously been to Infinity and Acura and both were more willing to realistically talk numbers. I realize Acura and Infinity are entry luxury and are a different experience, but it’s hard to explain in a paragraph the crazy expensive offer they tried to present and they had no interest in negotiating. I left the dealership with an overall feeling that I was wasting thier time. The Murano was her first choice, but oh well; now she drives an Acura.

  • avatar

    I purchased the 2010 Murano AWD LE and I love it. Navigation system, hands free phone, back up monitor, nice leather interior, smooth ride, keyless start, bose stereo that records your CD’s, memorized seat position, reclining back seats, & dual sun roof is what won me over. I do think they are a bit pricey, but for the comfort it was worth it. I like the unique look; it doesn’t look like every other CUV on the road. I also drive a ’56 Chevy Bel Air so I guess it’s just individual taste.

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