2009 Nissan Murano Review
By Igor Holas with Melissa J. Sanchez
Is there a car you cannot stand looking at; a car that you consider terminally ugly? Well, the 2009 Nissan Murano is such a car for Melissa and I – we liked the original car OK, but the new one adopts a face that is painful to look at. However – as they say – you should not judge a book by its cover, and so Melissa and I were actually excited to see whether the Murano can make us forget about its looks and win us over with its personality. We can unequivocally say, it did.
The Murano incorporates a lot of attractive features at an attractive price. However, most importantly, it drives like a much smaller car and is truly fun to drive. With its combination of compelling features, and excellent dynamics the Murano is an excellent car worth consideration, and is the first car that we liked as much as the Taurus X, and yes, we did like it better than the Edge.
As we alluded to last week, the Murano is the original design that prompted the copycat that is the Ford Edge. As a mid-size five-passenger crossover, it became very successful, but then lost its shine when the new and well-marketed Edge arrived last year. Not to worry, the all-new 2009 Murano comes to the rescue, with new looks, updated powertrain, but most importantly, with a new upscale interior with a number of clever features.
The car we drove was the 2009 Murano SL AWD. The SL trim is the mid-range trim between the stripper S and the loaded LE, and (as is common) represents the lion’s share of the sales. The SL AWD trim carries a base price of $29,480, but our tester added the panoramic moon roof ($1,170), leather ($1,600), navigation with Bose audio, and hard-drive entertainment system ($1,850), Premium Package ($1,000) and Technology Package ($1,900). The Premium Package adds XM satellite radio and BOSE upgraded audio and larger screen, auto dimming rear view mirror, roof rails, cargo organizer, cargo cover, and alarm. The Technology package adds power lift gate, automatic Xenon headlamps, Bluetooth phone system, and keyless ignition. Overall, including destination, the Murano’s as-tested price was $37,745, or $2,600 above the Edge we tested last week.
Using True Delta’s feature-adjusted price comparison, the Murano is on average about $2,000 more expensive than a comparable Edge, but about $800 less than similarly-sized three-row crossovers such as Honda Pilot, or Toyota Highlander.
The all-new 2009 Murano uses the familiar shape and profile of the original with raked windshield rounded edges, and high cowl. The profile of the new car is especially familiar, as Nissan carried over the window shape and only re-sculpted the door skins.
With so many familiar features, Nissan had to bring the drama somewhere, and that place is the nose, and to a lesser degree, the tail. The new Murano eliminates many of the flowing lines of the old model and installs a new horizontal front mask with a unified grille-headlamps shape. The headlights have an odd extension running across most of the nose underneath the messy looking chrome grille and the overall shape is hard to make out, and confusing to the eye. As I said before, Melissa and I do not like it one bit, but as I have said many times before – design is highly subjective, so if you like it, who are we to tell you otherwise.
One of the major advances for this generation of Murano is the interior. The old interior was called names from cheap to Spartan, and was one of the reasons why customers turned to the $6,000 cheaper Edge. The new Murano (along with lower price) brings an interior that uses much better materials, but most importantly uses a new attractive interior design reminiscent of Nissan’s luxury division, Infiniti. Design cues are not the only things Murano borrows from the luxury segment, and the new interior includes several Infiniti-inspired features, as well as switch gear from its more expensive brethren.
Our test car was equipped with two-tone beige/darker beige interior, and while we are not usually fans of light-colored interiors, this one was quite attractive. Nissan did a good job making you feel spoiled with little details such as leather (vinyl) covered door panels, accent lights, and push-button start. The seats were very comfortable and we were easily able to find a comfortable position using the tilt-telescoping wheel and full-power seats (hear that, Ford?). However, despite its high price tag, our Murano SL still did not have memory function for the seat adjustments – that option is limited to the top-line LE trim.
The most prominent design feature of the interior is the high-mounted navigation screen with elaborate controls underneath. As with the Land Rover LR2, the Murano retains separate audio and HVAC controls despite having the navigation screen. Indeed, the Murano even has hardware controls for the navigation giving you options of using either the knobs and buttons, or touching the screen. The multitude of options was welcome, and I usually do better with knob and buttons, but at times it seems superfluous. For example to scroll though a menu, you could touch the screen, turn the big shiny knob, or push the up-down buttons.
Overall, the interface on the screen, as well as the array of buttons underneath were easy to operate and easy to navigate. Within minutes we were able to find what we needed with pretty good precision. The stereo also produces some very well defined and rich sound, something we did not expect – so on a trip to the mall, when Edge of Seventeen came on, we turned juvenile and, dare I say it, rocked out (yes, yours truly are big Stevie Nicks fans).
The navigation sports an updated map with “bird’s-eye view” as well as 3D symbols for major landmarks, and traffic information, but its POI database had some notable omissions – on two occasions it could not find restaurants that have been present for years. Once we manually entered the addresses the guidance worked just fine. Once again, we were too smart to venture into the open in the middle of the rush hour, so we did not have a chance to test the traffic-based re-routing, sorry. The Murano also included a Bluetooth hands free phone interface, which worked just fine with easy pairing and problem-free call quality. However, when I wanted to play music from my new Walkman phone, I confirmed that Ford’s SYNC is still the only system on the market that can accept Bluetooth signal as a source of audio.
The gauge cluster is electro-luminescent so it is lit up all the time, and with its attractive orange-white design, we were happy it was. The gauges also include a well-designed driver information center with a wealth of information (again, hear that, Ford?), including a semi-useful instant mileage readout. Nissan also installed an array of hidden LED lights that almost imperceptibly light up the interior with a warm orange glow. While you do not notice the lights, they do help break up the darkness of the interior at night. On the left side of the steering wheel is a small control panel for such functions as opening the power lift gate, folding the rear seats, or opening the gas door – but while the buttons were well marked, the panel was angled down and extremely hard to negotiate. A similar ergonomic misstep was done with the HVAC controls when someone decided to print instructions under large knobs on a downwardly-sloped piece of trim.
Overall, the front cabin left a great, luxurious first impression and managed not to ruin it during our week together. “Standard” panoramic sunroof overhead (comparable to the LR2 sunroof, not as nice as Edge’s Vista roof), plenty of storage places including a glove box the size of Connecticut, and nicely finished center console. The keyless ignition also worked better than the Land Rover’s. While there is a slot to hold the transmitter, you can unlock and start the car without taking your keys out of your bag; the transmitter was also nicely small and lightweight.
There were a few missteps we noticed, however. The heated seat controls were all the way under the center stack and hard to reach, and on cobblestones, the interior let out more creaking and rattling that we would have liked. The front headrests also had a lot of fore-aft play to them and their anchors were unfinished; and there was a slightly annoying unfinished edge on the bottom of the shifter. Finally, the foot wells for both the driver and the passenger were extremely unfinished with loose carpet edges, and plainly visible sound insulation – with such a level of un-refinement I would worry about the carpet coming loose after a couple years of use. However, besides the carpet issues, our quibbles with the front cabin were just that – minor quibbles, and we remain impressed with the Murano’s cabin.
Rear Cabin and Cargo Area
The rear seats do not spoil the good impression with the cabin. They were nicely shaped, and comfortable to sit in. I felt I had a little less legroom than in the Edge, and a quick glance through specifications confirms that the Murano has about three inches less rear legroom than the Edge. Less legroom notwithstanding, the rear seats were a comfortable place to be. The folding armrest included two cup holders, and the seats reclined. The back side of the center console has a nicely-sized drawer that could hold a small bag, a couple of DVDs or a smaller DVD player. There was no entertainment system for the rear occupants (as with other cars it fell victim to the dual-panel sunroof), but there are audio and video hookups that can play music through the stereo, or play movies on the navigation screen (when the car is stopped)
The cargo bay is nice and flat, and unfortunately, like the Edge, devoid of anchors or bag hooks. However, Murano redeems itself with a cargo organizer that flips up from the floor and creates three little cubbies to hold grocery bags. There are also nicely-sized under-floor storage compartments on the sides of the floor, and can hold the all important (but always in the way) emergency equipment such as a triangle or a first aid kit. As much as we liked the cargo organizer, it made accessing the spare a little annoying, but since that is almost never done, it is not a big deal.
Unlike the Edge, the Murano included a retractable cargo cover, but the rounded shape of the lift gate, and the reclining rear seats, made it an awkward system. The shade itself extended only by about two inches, and included a large rounded section that sat flat against the lift gate. In front of the retractable part were two “curtains” – flimsy pieces that hooked to the rear headrests covering the cargo, while allowing enough play for the seats to recline.
The rear seats folded with a pull on a strap, or a pull on a lever in the cargo bay. Unlike the Edge, the Murano also included a remote operated seat “unfold” – by holding a button in the cargo bay, or by the steering wheel, the seats came back up – a nice addition. Finally, unlike many recent SUVs and even some sedans, the front passenger seat does not fold flat, significantly limiting the cargo flexibility and maximum utility of the Murano.
Driving the Murano
Until now in our assessment, we have liked the Murano quite a bit, but while that is all nice and dandy, there was nothing that would make us fall in love with the car. That all changed when we drove the car.
The Murano is 200 pounds lighter than the Edge, and despite the extra weight of the AWD system (our tester Edge was FWD) the Murano felt agile and light on its feel wherever we went. The Edge handles well, but the Murano put it to shame with surefooted handling that never showed the car’s high center of gravity and still hefty curb weight. The suspension did an excellent job of controlling the body roll, and in our driving, we never worried about taking a turn. Moreover, the way the Murano’s chassis was tuned, it literally begged be driven sharply.
While the handling department would get a glowing A+ from us, it forced a compromise on the side of ride comfort. The Edge is tuned very well to deliver solid handling, but still transform all roads into ribbons of silk – absorbing virtually all road imperfections and making the whole driving experience an exercise in smoothness. The much more agile Murano was not quite as refined. More imperfections made it into the cabin, and while the car rarely felt jarred, the imperfections did make it in.
The best suspension in the world would be useless, however, without a good engine and transmission, and luckily, Murano had just that under its hood. Nissan’s VQ V6 engine has been celebrated, coveted, and fawned over for the better part of the past decade, and Nissan keeps refining it with consistency. We doubted it could be so much better than the competition, but in all honesty, it just is. Sure, Ford’s Duratec has no flaws to speak of, and returns stellar fuel economy, but the way the VQ is tuned and the way it is paired with the continuously variable transmission made it feel special. The first thing you notice about the engine is its V8-like growl. We have mentioned that the Duratec sounds pretty aggressive when opened up, but the VQ sounded angry no matter what you did. Better yet, the aggressive audio was not accompanied by any sort of vibration or harshness from the engine compartment.
The CVT did an excellent job keeping the engine happy as it adjusted the gearing. We were curious to see whether we would notice any strange behavior given its lack of (or infinite number of) gears, but as with the Escape Hybrid, there was simply nothing that would make us not like the CVT. Partially responsible are modern six-speed transmissions that already shift so smoothly that a shift-less CVT is a minor step. From a stop, we did notice a little lack of snap, but once underway, the transmission did a fine job of responding to our right-foot commands.
Overall, our fuel economy was about 12.5 miles per gallon in the city, but only about 25 on the highway. Compared to Edge’s 12/30 mileage we achieved last week, the Murano does better in city driving, but did not match the exceptional frugality Edge showed on an open road.
The Murano’s driving dynamics are the key reason we like it so much. The Edge was just fine, but the Murano begged to be driven hard, pushed in the turns, and returned the favor with excellent poise no matter what we threw at it. In the Taurus X review, we said that for a car this size the biggest compliment can be “gets out of its way nicely,” but the Murano showed us that is not necessarily the truth. With its agile handling it was actually fun to drive. Just please keep in mind – if smooth ride is higher on your list that curve-carving, the Edge will likely deliver a better balance of comfort and fun for your preferences.
Yes, we liked the Murano – we liked it a lot. It was the first car since the Taurus X that has actually impressed us, and left us with no sour notes overall to speak of. It is not a perfect car – like anything else it is an exercise in compromises. However, at the end of the day, we were sad to part ways after a week together. The Murano does everything well and some things it does exceptionally. It has one of the best crossover interiors , one of the better V6 engines in terms of fuel economy, an extremely refined powertrain, and simply astonishing handling. Sure, you could get a RAV4 for a little less and get better economy and occasionally seat seven, but at the end of the day, if you do not need the third row, the Murano is simply a better car. The Edge is still an excellent choice, and it is quite a bit cheaper than the Murano, but with not as nice of an interior, and with not quite as a refined powertrain; it feels those $2,000 cheaper. If you are like Melissa and me, always buying a car (almost) fully loaded, the Murano simply delivers more toys than the Edge, and feels perfectly worthy of its near forty-grand price tag.
IMAGE GALLERY: For more images of the Nissan Murano go HERE
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