Walking the Hertz Gold line at the snowy Albuquerque airport, I approached my rental and I could see it was some sort of Asian SUV in a shade of Witness Protection Program Silver. My God, I realized, Nissan still builds the Murano! I instantly remembered that it comes standard with a Con Voluted Transmission (CVT), oh joy. I wasn’t prepared to like the Murano but I came away impressed with this aging and often-overlooked mid-sized SUV.
I did not recognize the Murano because I did not know that Nissan downgraded the truck’s looks in 2009. Gone are the distinctive vertical taillights, replaced by generic horizontal lights straight out of the Nissan parts bin. Gone is the chrome egg-crate grill, replaced by an Acura-like semi-triangle-shaped nosepiece. The Murano was one sexy sport-ute upon its introduction in 2003; now it is just bland. Thank God it is still is available in brown, a hue Nissan calls “Tinted Bronze.”
My ride was the next-to-the cheapest SV model with cloth seats, all wheel drive and 17,000 miles on its clock. I climbed in and was immediately struck by its luxurious cockpit. The three unique, gently curving speakers on the dash, the generous use of aluminum trim and the elegant, easy-to-read controls all belong in a more expensive vehicle. I mastered the basic controls within a few seconds, which never happens in a rental car especially when it is freezing outside.
The only glitch was the function of key and “Start/Stop” engine button combination. The electronic key fits sloppily in its slot, like a floppy disk in a 1999 Dell Dimension. In one instance, the spring loaded catch comically shot the key into my lap. The first time I got out of the truck, I removed the key but did not hit the “Start/Stop” button and while walking away noticed the engine was still running. This is a glaring ergonomic fail.
Let’s talk about the 800-speed elephant in the room, the Murano’s Continuously Variable Transmission, dubbed the Xtronic CVT®. It is actually a two-speed CVT and thus you get a “D” and “L” choice on the floor mounted shifter. When you floor the 3.5-liter 260 horsepower V-6 at highway speeds, the tranny kicks down into a lower gear range and it feels like a shift on a conventional transmission. Accelerating away from a stop also feels “normal.” It is during mid-range acceleration that you experience the annoying CVT pause in response and accompanying whine. Every other CVT I have driven has been attached to a 4-cylinder motor and they all sucked, so maybe the Murano’s V-6 power helps overcomes the tranny’s quirks. This is the best CVT I have driven but I can only deem this transmission the “Cream Of The Crap.”
Despite the CVT, the Murano was extremely satisfying to drive. The truck’s all wheel drive handled the icy Turquoise Trail with ease. The smooth quiet ride, large and comfortable seats and well-controlled body motions were worthy of an Infiniti. On curvy roads, I do not recall any other midsized SUV being more tossable. The Murano was very roomy for both front and rear seat passengers, though the cargo area is smaller than some of its competitors.
Nissan is currently offering up to $3,500 in incentives on the Murano resulting in total dealer advertised discounts of up to $6,800. A 2014 top-of-the-line LE model with heated leather seats, dual moonroof, 20-inch wheels, NAV, Bluetooth and a Bose sound system has a MSRP of $41,090. (My strippo rental probably had a sticker of around $33,000.) Calculate in the cash back and you are looking at the mid-$30,000 range for this example.
The maturing Murano has basically not changed in five years while the competition is constantly spewing out new sport-utes. The company currently offers five SUVs – five and a half if you count the Juke – so we wonder where this boutique ute is supposed to fit in their lineup. The venerable Pathfinder is similarly priced but larger and boasts better gas mileage than the Murano. The slightly smaller Rogue is all over national TV and will outsell the Murano this year in the U. S. by 3-to-1.
Nissan will move around 45,000 Muranos here in 2013 – many no doubt to rental car companies – down from its peak of 81,000 sales in 2006. Spy shots started to circulate last week of the redesigned 2015 model and that is a relief. The Murano is a great SUV and we would hate to see it whine off into the sunset, much like we are witnessing with Nissan’s once-vaunted Maxima.
Nice balance of ride and handling
CVT is better than most but still a CVT
Awkward key/”Start/Stop” button combo
Smallish cargo capacity