The Nissan Murano is a front-wheel-drive crossover that fits between the Pathfinder and Armada, size-wise. Its radically swoopy styling stirs love-it-or-hate-it emotions, among automotive journalists as well as normal people. Some think it’s expressive and head-turning, a charming outlier of design. Others think it’s like a ship lost in space, a design lost in translation.
Competitors include the Lexus RX and Acura MDX, both of them spirited. But the Murano is intended to be more comfortable than sporty. The ride is gentle and the cabin quiet. The car doesn’t engage much with the driver, it’s just there.
The racing-inspired 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, mated to a CVT that doesn’t feel as soul-sucking as it does in the Pathfinder, but it does suck away some of the engine’s sweet performance.
Naturally it’s available with all-wheel drive, which delivers the same fuel mileage of 21/28/24 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined.
The IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick+ in 2016, probably because of optional safety equipment. An optional safety package uses four cameras and three radar sensors see the various threats outside your car, and warn you with alarms. Especially backing up, with park assist and cross-traffic alert. It’s pretty much impossible to ever back up without both alerts going off. There’s always something behind you or beside you when you back up.
The Murano remains essentially unchanged for 2017, except for Apple CarPlay availability.
The 2017 Murano comes in four models: Murano S ($29,770) with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($31,370); Murano SV with all-wheel drive ($34,570), Murano SL AWD ($38,900), Murano Platinum AWD (about $42,000).
The SL and Platinum models have blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert; a package for those models includes forward-collision warning. Platinum has heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and power-folding rear seats
The bold nose features Nissan’s so-called V-motion grille. It flares diagonally from the bumper, down to the airdam, up to the hood, and into the boomerang headlamps. A crease flows from the bulging front fenders down and in to the beltline, where the sheetmetal tapers back out to the rear wheels, as if to mimic the flagship Infiniti QX70.
The roof floats over black pillars, supported by the upward swooping windowline that arches back down toward the taillamps, hinting boomerang shape to match the headlamps. The vast majority of crossovers settle for convention at the rear, but the Murano goes for it all. There’s a hint of 1950s Chrysler in there.
The cabin is less daring than the exterior, but more daring than its rivals, grander and swoopier, with a quiet and refined ambiance. Nissan says it was designed to be a panoramic space, and we can see it. There’s a lot of passenger room and good cargo options. We like the suede-like upholstery in the S and SV models more than the perforated leather (although only the leather is heated). We also like the clean controls with simple interfaces and intuitive buttons, the V-shaped centerstack, the way the dash flows into the front doors, and the low storage bins at the footwells.
The hooded gauges and matte-metallic trim offer a touch of sport. There’s no woodgrain available, but the plastic works for us. All models beyond the S offer a new infotainment system with eight-inch touchscreen, voice recognition for navigation and audio, and SiriusXM Travel Link services for fuel prices, weather, movie listings, stock information, and sports scores.
The driving position is right, the correct height for entry and exit. The low dash will work for shorter drivers, while taller ones will have good headroom, even with the available moonroof. The seats copy what NASA calls neutral posture and Nissan calls Zero Gravity; they’re supposed to reduce fatigue over long hours, by giving more precise support from the pelvis to the chest and in the lumbar. We think you have to try Zero Gravity yourself; not all of us want to be astronauts when we grow up. But we agree among ourselves that the back support is good, while there’s not quite enough thigh support, at least not as much as the Ford Edge and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The rear outboard seats are among the most comfortable we’ve ever sat in, and that includes luxury cars. They’re the same height as the front seats, so you don’t have to shout upward to talk to people in front. The middle seat isn’t so great. But when it’s empty, given the wide center console, Nissan calls the space conversation alley. And since the rear seat folds flat, the alley could carry a small stack of silent two-by-fours, if you’re willing to rest them on the conveniently low dash.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine that’s in the Murano has proven itself many times over in many different Nissan cars. It’s smooth, civil, and sounds nice. The double-overhead-cam mill makes 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, mated to a Nissan-made continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
The Murano is not terribly quick, but it’s quick enough, because 240 pound-feet of torque is enough to get it going. Nowhere is it sluggish. In fact, the lag in acceleration that plagues the Nissan Rogue and Pathfinder (and other cars), because of programming in the CVT, does not exist with the Murano. The CVT kicks down, the revs raise, the car goes, and climbs its steps.
The electro hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering feels firm but relaxed. The crossover chassis is car-like, with struts in front and multi-links rear. The subframe absorbs the big bumps and nicely connects the car to the road. The suspension trades off response and precision for comfort, true to Murano intention. It leans a lot in tight corners, but doesn’t lose its composure. The vented disc brakes modulate well and inspire confidence.
The standard 18-inch wheels handle nearly as well as the optional 20-inchers, and ride more softly. Some people just want those 20s for the looks, but you can save money by insisting on standard wheels and tires.
Great engine with CVT that could be worse. Nice ride with lots of room inside. Looks like a space ship. Misguided or not. You decide that one.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.