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2016 Nissan Murano Test Drive Review
The Nissan Murano’s flamboyant appearance is absolutely appropriate to this model, but the wild-eyed headlight design makes the Murano look just like Ursula the Sea Witch from “The Little Mermaid.”
Nissan’s traditionally polarizing Murano crossover SUV has always been about both style and substance. Now, in 2016, it appears that the Murano is about style over substance. While the design certainly takes a step forward into the future, the rest of the Murano increasingly feels stuck in the past.
Look and Feel
Styled and equipped to straddle the line between mainstream and luxury crossover SUVs, the 5-passenger Nissan Murano received a complete redesign last year. With its polarizing new appearance, the latest Murano firmly establishes Nissan’s “Energetic Flow” design language as the look of the company’s future while attempting to return the SUV to trendsetter status, which pundits bestowed upon the original Murano that first went on sale more than a decade ago.
True confession: My family owns one of those original Muranos. We bought it in 2005, big fans of its unusual styling, unique interior design, impressive comfort, undeniable utility, and engaging driving character. With only a few exceptions, our Murano has faithfully served us, aging gracefully along the way. To this day, we like the styling, we like the way it drives, and we find it to be comfortable.
However, now 11 years in, we’ve started thinking about replacing it with something newer and more modern. Y’know, something with Bluetooth and stability control, not to mention other features we now deem necessary in a proper family car. Certainly, Nissan does not want to hear that its latest Murano is absent from our consideration set.
Before digging into the details, let’s set the stage. When it comes to the Murano, Nissan keeps things blessedly simple. You can choose from S, SV, SL, and Platinum trim levels, decide between front-wheel or all-wheel drive, and then select from a handful of option packages and individual upgrades.
Pricing starts as low as $30,560 for a Murano S with front-wheel drive (FWD) and rises to as high as $44,910 for a Murano Platinum with all-wheel drive (AWD) and every factory-installed option except for overpriced chrome 20-inch wheels. My test vehicle, a Cayenne Red Platinum with AWD, had just about everything on it, ringing in at $44,070 including the $900 destination charge.
As far as the styling is concerned, I like the Murano’s flamboyant appearance, which is absolutely appropriate to this model. The exception is the wild-eyed headlight design, which I think makes the Murano look just like Ursula the Sea Witch from “The Little Mermaid.” Had Nissan taken an approach similar to that of the smaller Rogue crossover SUV, I’d be totally onboard with the Murano’s styling.
Nissan says the Murano is the most “social” car it has ever designed, calling the interior a “conversation space.” You and I both know that’s just marketing gobbledygook. Any car with more than just a driver aboard is “social” and a “conversation space.” What Nissan has done here, though, is to try to open the cabin up with a wide center console and an available panoramic sunroof, and to offer rear-seat occupants their own air vents, a USB port, a smartphone tray, and even the ability to control the infotainment system.
Modern and contemporary in terms of its design and materials, my Murano Platinum test vehicle’s cabin was tasteful and upscale, if not nearly as expressive as the exterior. I’d characterize it as “conventionally creative,” though I recognize the term’s limitations for marketing purposes.
Every single 2016 Nissan Murano is equipped with a 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine. This is the automaker’s legendary VQ-series V6, a refined, efficient, and deceptively strong powerplant that revs freely, sounds terrific doing so, and has proven dependable over time. Too bad I came nowhere near the EPA’s official fuel-economy estimate in combined driving, logging just 21.1 mpg when I expected 24 mpg.
When Nissan redesigned the Murano for the 2015 model year, it debuted a next-generation version of its continuously variable transmission (CVT). Among the improvements, the CVT now features programmed gear ratios that help the transmission to sound and feel more like a regular automatic. In other words, it doesn’t produce the amount of steady-rpm droning that has come to be associated with this type of transmission. Unfortunately, it hunts between ratios when climbing mountain grades, something I’ve never before experienced with a CVT. Nissan should avoid mimicking this particular trait of a regular automatic.
Nissan builds the Murano on a car platform, a common approach when a car company creates a crossover SUV. Heavier and featuring a taller center of gravity than a car, the Murano therefore drives like an overweight Nissan Altima that is suffering from vertigo.
That’s right. In exchange for greater utility and questionably rugged styling, crossover SUV buyers settle for sloppier, less-confident handling. It doesn’t help that Nissan has softened the latest Murano’s dynamic tuning in an effort to woo people who might otherwise pursue Lexus RX ownership.
As should be expected given the decade of engineering advancement that has taken place since my old Murano rolled down an assembly line, this new 2016 Murano supplies greater driving enjoyment. Still, get the Murano onto a twisty back road, start taking some corners at speed, and it doesn’t take long to discover that the tires supply modest grip, the body rolls and wallows on undulating pavement, and this Nissan clearly demonstrates nose-heavy handling.
Had I not driven the impressive Ford Edge Sport on my test loop just a few months ago, I might have been more impressed with the Murano. Instead, the Murano represents further proof that Nissan has abdicated its position as Japan’s performance brand.
With that said, most Murano buyers won’t explore this SUV’s handling limits. Instead, they will spend their time behind the wheel traveling city streets, suburban boulevards, and wide-open freeways, environments in which the Murano shines brightly.
The 3.5-liter V6 revs willingly and sounds terrific doing so, while the CVT makes maximum use of both the engine’s power and torque. Getting up to speed and merging into fast-flowing traffic is not a problem in this SUV. I’ve got no complaints about the Murano’s responsive, easily modulated brakes, and the suspension tuning provides a fairly compliant ride while still delivering a feel for the road. I like the steering well enough, too, though I would describe it as heavy and leaden before I would characterize it as light and crisp.
Although the Murano’s mechanicals are entirely agreeable, Nissan has refined this crossover’s driving character to the point of anonymity. Gone is the taut athleticism of previous Muranos, replaced now by a forgettable competence. Instead of appealing to the driving enthusiast in all of us, the Murano now sells on style and buzzwords like “social.” And that, to me, is sad.
Form and Function
Spend a brief amount of time with a loaded Murano Platinum, and you will be impressed with the quality of its interior materials. From the padded fabric windshield-pillar trim and the soft, supple material coating the sides of the center console to the fabric storage-area liners and the beautifully rendered ambient cabin lighting, the Murano’s cabin is loaded with delightfully satisfying “ooooh” and “ahhhh” details.
Spend an extended amount of time with a loaded Murano Platinum, and you will discover that Nissan’s lack of investment in common touch points potentially eradicates those favorable initial impressions. For example, when used, the shifter feels and sounds like a prize from a Cracker Jack box. The leather wrapped around the steering wheel feels dry and tough instead of soft and supple, stitched together with seeming indifference. The doors sound cheap and hollow when slammed. What’s left is an impression that Nissan supplies little in the way of substance beneath the Murano’s surface.
Nevertheless, if seat comfort is of the utmost importance to you, the Murano is tremendously satisfying. In recent years, Nissan has started to employ research sourced from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in its seat design and construction, and the result is what the automaker calls its “Zero Gravity” seats. This approach makes the Murano a great place to spend time... socializing.
In particular, the driver’s seat is terrific, especially when the front chairs are heated and ventilated. What’s missing is a height adjuster for the front passenger’s seat, but in my opinion it sits high enough off the floor that this omission is a non-issue. Rear passengers also benefit from decent thigh support combined with reasonable legroom and space for feet. One passenger climbed aboard and commented favorably about the Murano’s comfort level.
Perhaps some of the generosity extended to rear-seat occupants comes at the expense of cargo room, which is unexpectedly tight for a midsize crossover. By Nissan’s measurement, the Murano holds just 32.1 cubic feet of cargo behind the rear seat (31.1 with the optional sunroof). That’s significantly less than the smaller Nissan Rogue. Maximum capacity can’t match the Rogue's, either, coming in at just 67 cubic feet, or 65 with the sunroof.
Legible instrumentation and logical control placements are the rule within the Murano, and Nissan thoughtfully supplies old-fashioned knobs and buttons for primary stereo and climate functions. A separate bin on the center console provides a USB port and a phone-storage slot, but the lid does not close when a phone is stored inside it.
As far as the infotainment system goes, the Murano’s setup provides modern graphics, a responsive touchscreen, and the company’s awkwardly named NissanConnect with Mobile Apps technology. It provides satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming-audio capability, voice-recognition technology, and a hands-free text-messaging assistant, and supplies apps for Facebook, Internet radio, and more. Upgrade to NissanConnect with Navigation and the system gains a larger 8-inch touchscreen, online Google search capability, and SiriusXM Travel Link services.
My test vehicle had the larger display with navigation, which includes a row of main function buttons along the bottom part of the screen for easy access to primary system menus. Gesture control makes using the screen as intuitive as your smartphone or tablet computer, and I found it easy to pair my iPhone, to make and receive phone calls, and to program a destination by voice.
Nissan fumbles when it comes to increasingly common infotainment system enhancements. If you’re seeking smartphone projection technology in the form of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you’ll need to buy a different SUV. The automaker’s new NissanConnect subscription services solution is also absent from the Murano. That means you can’t get automatic collision notification, easy access to roadside assistance, a stolen-vehicle locator, or Google-sourced functions related to finding things and sending destinations to the vehicle in advance of a journey. Also, speed, curfew, boundary, and valet alerts are all missing from the Murano.
Nissan does supply an AroundView 360-degree camera monitoring system with moving object detection, though. So there’s that.
When it comes to safety, the Murano earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Crash protection simply doesn’t get better than that.
Meanwhile, over at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the feds haven’t rated the 2016 Murano. Last year, this brand-new design got a middling 3-star protection rating for the front passenger in a frontal-impact collision. This year, as this review is published, the Murano’s frontal-impact crash-test ratings are gone, indicating that perhaps Nissan made some kind of unannounced change to address the Murano’s performance in this regard.
As far as driver-assistance and crash-avoidance technologies are concerned, the Murano can be optioned with a long list of modern technologies. However, certain features are also missing from the Murano, such as a lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist system and pedestrian-detection capability for the forward-collision warning system.
Unlike similar technology in other vehicles, the Murano is equipped with a Predictive Forward Collision Warning system, which monitors what’s happening two cars ahead in order to determine if a collision threat exists. If one is detected, the automatic emergency braking system helps to reduce crash severity or eliminate a collision altogether.
Additionally, a Driver Attention Alert sounds a warning when it detects a drowsy or distracted driver. The optional blind-spot monitoring system places its visual warning indicator on the interior trim opposite where the side mirror is attached to the SUV, rather than on the mirror itself. This represents inferior execution, and, in practice, the warning light on the driver’s side is very difficult to see when the driver’s eyes are focused on checking the mirror prior to a lane change.
With this latest Murano, Nissan attempts to return the model to its roots as a style and driving-dynamics trendsetter. While it is true that the Murano is better than ever, and though at first it seems like an impressive bargain, it ultimately proves to be more about style than substance, which could explain why it ranks high for appeal but not for quality in J.D. Power studies.
After this realization, the Murano’s unexpectedly affordable pricing seems like less of a deal. To entice customers, Nissan is offering affordable lease deals, cash rebates, and low-interest financing… for the 2015 Murano. Yep, as this review is written at the end of April of 2016, Nissan dealers are still clearing stocks of the 2015 model. Perhaps buyers can use their savings to offset the Murano’s shortfall between observed and EPA fuel-economy numbers.
Hey, if nothing else, the Murano has consistently demonstrated outstanding reliability over the years, and I can attest to that based on my personal experience as the original owner of a 2005 model. Dependability is just one of many reasons we Murano owners love our SUVs, and buyers choosing this third-generation model are clearly smitten with the design if not the underlying quality.
What Nissan seems not to understand, though, is that unlike when the original Murano first went on sale, the midsize crossover SUV segment is now loaded with appealing alternatives. This latest version of the Nissan Murano, as good as it is, needed to be better.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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