2015 Nissan Murano First Drive
Riling the Segment, Yet Again, With More Than Mere Looks
Nissan's provocative crossover is back at it. The 2015 Murano possesses unparalleled looks within its familiar cohort, and it's been that way since 2002. On a handful of levels, its lines are a hodgepodge. On others, they're as cohesive as water. But as they were when the striking model arrived more than a decade ago, overall the deep, carefully sculpted character lines and heritable cues are evocative. Like it or not, within the hyper-competitive segment, designer Ken Lee's vision is progressive.
Just as in 2002, the form prompts immediate curiosity. "What is that?" people will surely ask. "Wait, that's a Nissan?" they might add. Choose any combination of four available trims (S, SV, SL, Platinum) and two drivetrains (Intelligent all-wheel or front-wheel drive) and the Murano will certainly make nearby vehicles look as if they've aged 10 years. Call it the Murano Effect.
This newest rendition pays proper respects to the origin of its name. The island of Murano, near the Venetian coast, is the birthplace of curvaceous, flowing, ornate glassware. Murano craftspeople are expert executors of avant-garde concepts. Lee, his team, and their engineer colleagues committed a similar act. An abundance of traits seen on the popular Resonance Concept found its way onto the Canton, Mississippi-built production vehicle. Signature elements such as a prominent V-motion grille, boomerang LED lamps, minimalist silhouette, "floating" roof, and massive available panoramic ceiling celebrate newness rather than refinement.
With retouched skin came retouched dimensions. Its body is longer (by 2.9 inches), wider (1.3 inches), and lower (1.4 inches), with expanded tracks (1.2 inches front and rear) and an unchanged wheelbase (111.2 inches). The D-platform, like the 260-horse, 3.5-liter V-6 and continuously variable transmission (now in a more efficient Xtronic form), has proven extremely trusty, albeit on the brink of archaic. The decision to continue with the VQ35DE and CVT was not for lack of desire to upgrade by Scott Pak, senior product manager for Nissan's CUVs, but was attributed to product cycle timing and financial concerns. So, no Murano hybrid or EV anytime soon.
Even so, it gets an impressive 20 percent more miles per gallon on the highway. The implementation of lighter, stronger high-tensile strength steel, underbody covers, an active grille shutter, and low-rolling-resistance 235/65R-18 Michelin Latitude Tour all-seasons (the Platinum gets Bridgestone's 20-inch Dueler H/P Sport AS) advanced the 4,000-pound CUV's efficiency to 21/28/24 on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. They also meant a total loss of 146 pounds. Its 16-percent better aerodynamic signature is uncanny (0.31 Cd). A Porsche 918 Spyder (0.36) can't beat it.
As you can imagine, substantial effort was put toward formulating an interior as impactful as its sheetmetal. The designers were inspired by a first-class airline cabin, and also the highly social and luxurious hobby of wine tasting. It's the sort of stuff that targeted 45-year-old empty-nesters would love.
Having such pastimes and luxuries in mind, designers filled the simplified layout with soft-touch materials. The two-tiered, multicolored landscape ahead of front passengers has just 10 physical buttons (instead of 25) finished in a brilliant crystalline veneer. An available 8-inch high-resolution NissanConnect with Navigation display (part of the S' $860 Navigation Package) occupies the V-motion center stack. The screen can be controlled in the same manner as most smartphones, so pinching, tapping, and swiping are all capable functions.
Behind the multifunction helm sits an Advance Drive-Assist 7-inch screen that displays pertinent vehicle info. Both screens have a high refresh rate, making them a cinch to navigate. In SL and Platinum models, information from the available new-for-2015 advanced safety tech -- blind-spot monitoring, moving object detection, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent cruise control, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking -- is flashed here. Four cameras and two radar sensors transmit the data.
The smaller of the two display is most significant, not for its sharpness (though it is brilliant), but for its prominence and positioning. It's one of the first things you'll notice when belting into the standard -- and exuberantly cushy -- NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats. It simply looks premium. Next comes stowage space. It's everywhere. Designers didn't exclude the needs of rear riders, either. They added smartphone holders and upped the cubby count. Rear passenger comfort levels are kept high with a flat floor design, climate control vents, USB connection, and standard outboard Zero Gravity cushioning. The clever, somewhat gimmicky thrones come on all trims and have a 60/40 split with remote folding function.
All trims receive NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, three 12-volt power outlets, four cupholders, six bottle holders, RearView Monitor, cruise control, dual automatic climate control, and streaming Bluetooth audio connectivity. SV, SL, and Platinum levels can be outfitted with available leather trim, power front seats, heat outboard rear seats, multiple USB connections, Around View Monitor, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and power liftgate.
The spacious, comfortable, streamlined environment feels sophisticated even in the very basic charcoal colored cloth configuration (Cashmere and Mocha are others). Rear legroom grew to 38.7 inches from 36.3. Head, hip, and shoulder room were each marginally negatively affected by the physique's haute style, yet cargo room bloomed in the generational transition. Owners can fill an extra 7.8 cubic feet (39.6 cubic feet total, without a moonroof) behind the upright second row. Having the second row laid down means that capacity grows to 69.9 cubic feet, or 5.4 cubic feet more than the last model.
The hood's sculpted upper edge occupies the lower view from the acoustically laminated windshield. Think a Juke-esque vantage point, only in a bigger, taller, more comfortable package. Peering over either shoulder necessitates double-takes, for the sharply raked rear roofline, slim hatch glass, and rear seat headrests minimize side and rearward visibility. Drivers will find themselves relying heaving on the around view monitor while reversing.
The Murano behaved quite well on Napa County's sparsely trafficked pavement. Jaunting about at moderate 35- to 55-mph clips on the smooth, curvaceous roads highlighted the cabin's elevated level of quietness. The same esses revealed assured footwork and a relatively sporty suspension calibration. Thicker anti-roll bars (26mm front, 26.5mm rear versus the elder's 25mm front, 20mm rear) make the ride more taut. Atop haggard city streets and highways, your hands will feel the slight tussles and impacts, but not every nuance, of sizable road blemishes. Wind noise at highway speeds is almost entirely suppressed.
Its VQ heart and CVT deliver power without hesitating. The Xtronic's new D-Step function apes the mechanics of an automatic gearbox during hard acceleration. Forget the inherent whining and ear-piercing revving of CVTs from years past. This one "shifts" in near silence. The charade is akin to scarfing down soy chorizo burritos. You know what you're eating isn't real, but who cares? The flavors and experience are as salient as can be -- and that's all that matters.
Nissan accomplished a precarious and tedious task with its flagship crossover. Indeed, the lack of new powertrain offerings -- or a revised VQ, for that matter -- is a hangnail on the Murano's pinky. But still, not to be taken lightly is the successful translation of a highly progressive design concept into a mass-produced, globally sellable, next-generation reality. And, accomplishing it with all concerns of improving modernity, safety, comfort, sportiness, value, and efficiency addressed, well, that's just icing on the cake. Or, rather, an appliqué on the finished rolling sculpture.