We Drive: New Nissan Murano Is A Vacation From Sport Mode

Perhaps it was the brown interior of this 2015 Nissan Murano, but the whole driving experience reminded me of a warm chocolate chip cookie.

After a couple days with it, I gave up trying to find ways to change its personality with a sharper throttle response or more aggressive power curve. The Murano is a lesson in relaxation, like a series of breathing exercises I’ve been instructed to do after chewing on pen caps all day. This car is a break from the modern attempt at trying to give every kind of car a sporting edge.

The Murano also tries to do what few cars do successfully when offering multiple modes: get you to calm down. It’s through this that the third-generation Murano earns some luxury credentials unexpected from this price class and, in fact, anything wearing a Nissan label. It’s the automotive equivalent of moisturizing socks.

For those who snap pencils on a regular basis, the 2015 Nissan Murano could take some getting used to.

Dramatic effect

When it was first shown last year, the 2015 Murano ushered in signs Nissan’s design choices were evolving away from melting effect formula they’d been pushing for the last few years. This new strategy, continued on the 2016 Maxima, is different where it needs to be.

Personally, I like this Murano and I also like Nissan taking a chance. The front is a tad imposing, but the sweeps down the side give good visual length and the enormous rear lights are nice and bold. Especially in the blue of my test car, the black trim that tries to emulate a “floating roof” is minimized and looks a lot more like glass.

The whole effect is certainly helped by the 20-inch wheels on the top Platinum trim car I drove. Smaller sizes don’t look quite right overall.

What I do like now, however, is that the Murano stands out from the other Nissan crossovers. I hope the next Rogue or Qashqai or Pathfinder don’t inherit too much of what makes this model special on the outside. Like the Juke, keep it weird, Nissan.

No jam-hands allowed

Sweeping design flourishes in the Murano’s interior come into contact with plush armrests and overstuffed, flat front chairs that are covered in pleasing leather upholstery and stitching that feels like stitching. It all comes together as extremely inviting, however, as the relaxation starts to set in. The switchgear is regular Nissan, but that doesn’t take away from the relative richness of the whole interior. You get the feeling it’s too good to waste on children with sticky fingers.

And it’s the rear-seat passengers who are going to get a pretty good end of the deal. The floor is flat and the seat is quite supportive. Legroom is plentiful, so few should be angry about the fact the seat reclines, but doesn’t move fore-and-aft. What would be nice is if the 60/40-split rear seat were a 40/20/40 split, as has become fashionable on smaller, less expensive SUVs now. At least the cargo area is cavernous and not seriously impeded by the sloping roof.

The dash is dominated by screens, both of which are clear and easy to use. The 8-inch touchscreen in the center is a definite upgrade from other recent Nissan navigation experiences. Voice commands are mostly easy to use, though the system will make you practice your diction like a fourth-grade teacher. The surround view camera is a real bonus for threading through tight driveways, but it’s actually the big side mirrors that are most helpful when changing lanes. The rear three-quarter visibility is bad, not surprising when you’ve seen the outside of the car.

In front of the driver and between the physical gauges lives another color screen that shows a lot of redundant information, but at least it uses sharp graphics and has a simple way of going through the menus for the trip computer and settings.

Why do luxury brands have all the complicated controls, again?

Murano, an American tradition

This recent trend of American car buyers getting out of sedans and jumping into SUVs makes sense when you meet the Murano. A drive through the flat, straight roads of the California desert evoked really favorable comparisons to a Buick Park Avenue. It makes sense the Murano is built in Mississippi now – it captures the essence of a classic American sedan better than probably any American sedan on sale now.

Most of this comes from the quiet interior, which suppresses most of the sounds from the outside and under the hood, where the 3.5-liter V6 makes do with a modest-these-days 260 horsepower. It’s only when you really push your right foot down that the engine makes itself known, but the continuously variable transmission usually stops things from being harsh. The downside is the lack of sensation of speed, which is why the adaptive cruise control comes in handy. Paddle shifters let the transmission pretend it has 7 gears, but using them doesn’t make you feel any more involved in the driving process.

There’s one unequivocal flaw to the Murano’s driving experience and it’s in the steering. So little feel is transmitted through the wheel that it’s actually unsettling to drive this car on narrower, twistier roads. Yet at parking lot speeds, the steering weights up far too much and makes threading through lanes more difficult than it needs to be. The steering conspires to make the Murano feel much larger than it really is.

At least the handling is competent despite the gooey ride. The Toll House cookie reference is applicable to the ride here, even with the big 20-inch wheels.

Fuel economy for my front-drive example was good on paper, at 21/28 according to the EPA. But even long, flat highway runs with the A/C on a reasonable temperature could muster no more than 25 MPG. That’s OK, but nothing great even among big crossovers like this.

Factory store deal

I’d quibble more about the steering feel and some of the interior details and finishes if this basically loaded Murano I drove weren’t just $42,145. All-wheel drive, at $1,600, was the only thing absent from my car. The available Tech Package is about $2,600, but includes the adaptive cruise, big glass roof and blind spot warning and is completely worth it.

This is roughly what you’d pay for a similarly equipped Ford Edge, or about $5,000 more than a Subaru Outback 3.6R. The Outback, however, feels utilitarian compared to the more indulgent Murano. Empty nesters will prefer the Nissan because it looks like something you buy when you no longer have little kids to smear chocolate and crayons into the upholstery.

But if you’re shopping crossovers like the Acura RDX or Lexus RX, the Murano offers more for your money without sacrificing too much in the way of premiumness. It’s the equivalent of finding the Restoration Hardware couch at the factory outlet that’s 95 percent as nice as the one from the main store, but for 75 percent of the price.

The real appeal of the Murano is that is is so un-sporty at a time when SUVs are playing up the “sport” more than ever, to the detriment of the utility. It doesn’t pretend to do anything it can’t. Knowing what Nissan can do with the new Maxima, though, it would be interesting to see if the Murano could be firmer with better steering.

But perhaps that’s missing the point. Have you ever heard of a sport-tuned chocolate chip cookie?

Photos: Zac Estrada /Carscoops


Contact: [email protected] or @zacestrada