2015 Nissan Murano

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The Lexus RX is a really nice ride. The problem is, it’s also a really expensive ride. Almost $41k to start – and over $50k fully loaded.'15 Murano lead

Meanwhile, you could buy this Nissan Murano – which is very similar in terms of size, layout , what you get (and can get) features and equipment-wise – for just under $29k to start.

Or, get it loaded – AWD, 20 inch wheels, LED lights, premium audio, leather seats and brushed nickel trim – and pay about what Lexus wants for the base trim/front-wheel-drive RX.

Nissan isn’t saying so openly, but it’s a comparison they’ve no doubt made internally.

Maybe you should, too.

WHAT IT IS'15 Murano interior detail 1

The Murano is what they call in the car biz a “near-luxury” crossover SUV. “Near” meaning it’s pretty much the same thing you’d get over at Lexus, especially when loaded with options  – less the Lexus badge (and price tag).

It’s a mid-sized/two-row deal that – like the Lexus – emphasizes styling, technology and luxury.

Base price is $29,650 for the S trim with front-wheel-drive. You can upgrade to all-wheel-drive for $31,160. At the apex is the Platinum trim – with AWD (and 20-inch wheels, LED exterior lighting, ambient interior lighting, seat heaters for both rows and available with a panorama sunroof, adaptive cruise control and “active” collision mitigation).

MSRP for this one is $40,600.'15 Murano roof

The similarly laid-out Lexus RX starts at $40,970 – about the same as the Murano Platinum, but with FWD and fewer amenities than the Platinum Murano comes with. A loaded RX – “Crafted” edition – stickers for $50,700.

A closer shave, cross-shop-wise, is the Ford Edge, also just recently updated.

It’s about the same size on the outside – and a bit more roomy inside. The Ford also offers three engine choices, including a turbo four and a twin-turbo V6 (both the Murano and the Lexus RX come with only one engine, a 3.5 liter V6 in both cases).

The Edge starts at $28,100 and runs to $40,095.

WHAT’S NEW'15 Murano back seats

The Murano’s got a new (longer/wider and lower) body, that’s obvious. Less obvious – until you look inside -is that Nissan has re-proportioned the interior to be roughly as roomy in both the first and second rows rather than exceptionally roomy in the first row – but less so in the second, as was the case with the previous Murano.

There’s also more room for cargo (almost 70 cubic feet vs. 64 last year) which brings it much closer to the class-leading Ford Edge (73.4 cubic feet).

While the drivetrain (3.5 liter V6/CVT automatic) carry over, more mileage has been extracted from this combo due to several hundred pounds less curb weight – and the EPA rating stays the same (21 city/28 highway) whether you go with the FWD or the AWD version. Usually, you lose at least 1-2 MPGs by opting for AWD, which adds a little weight as well as some additional driveline friction to overcome.

That’s not the case here.'15 Murano side profile

NIssan’s superb “zero gravity” seats are also standard equipment in all Muranos  – including base trims – and you get them in both rows.

WHAT’S GOOD

Pretty on the outside.

More sensibly laid out inside.

Stronger standard engine than in the Ford Edge.

Increased gas mileage without decreased performance vs. last year’s Murano.

“Near luxury” and “luxury” are becoming distinctions without much of a difference.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Looks sportier – but isn’t.

Edge’s optional engines offer better power/performance (including much higher tow ratings) than Murano’s only-available engine.

The Ford’s still roomier inside, too.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 Murano engine 1

One of the few things that’s not new about the ’15 Murano is its drivetrain, which carries over from last year. All trims get the same 3.5 liter, 260 hp V6 – paired with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic and either FWD or (optionally) AWD.

What has changed is the Murano’s EPA gas mileage rating – which climbs to 21 city, 28 highway with either FWD or AWD – vs. the ’14 Murano’s 18 city, 24 highway with FWD (and 18 city, 23 highway with AWD). That’s a 5 MPG again on the highway for the ’15 AWD Murano.

But if the engine and transmission are basically the same this year as last year, how come the new Murano’s mileage is that much better?'15 Murano CVT

It’s because the ’15 Murano is about 203 pounds lighter than the ’14 Murano (3,920 this year vs. 4,123 lbs. last year). The ’15 is also more aerodynamic. Nissan has lowered the overall height of the thing by 1.4 inches – so there’s less wind resistance, especially at highway speeds (note the biggest mileage uptick is on the highway).

Acceleration-wise, the Murano is among the quickest available in this class with its standard engine. The FWD version can get to 60 in about 7.3 seconds – quicker than the just-redesigned Edge equipped with its standard 2.0 liter turbo four (245) hp engine (7.9-8 seconds) and nearly as quick as the Lexus RX (7.2 seconds).   

Unfortunately – if you’re really feeling the need for speed – there’s no optional engine.'15 Murano dash close up

The Ford can be ordered with either of two optional engines – both of them stronger than the Nissan’s one-and-only engine.

You can choose a 280 hp 3.5 liter V6. Or a twin turbo 2.7 liter V6 that makes 315 hp. Equipped with this engine, the Edge gets to 60 in just over six seconds, making it the quickest vehicle in this class.

The Edge also has the edge when it comes to towing. With any of its available engines – including the base 2.0 engine – an Edge can pull up to 3,500 pounds.

The Murano maxxes out at just 1,500 pounds.

ON THE ROAD'15 Murano road 1

The new Murano is much more like the Lexus RX than the old Murano – which was more like the Ford Edge.

Meaning, the new Murano been softened (and luxed) up.

This even includes the seats. Nissan has fitted the new Murano with what it calls “zero gravity” chairs designed to eliminate pressure points and thus act as a buffer between your butt (and back) and the cruel effects of gravity.

They are fantastic.   

You will not find finer – if what you’re after is a not-sore butt (and back) after a five-hour road trip.'15 Murano gravity 1

The suspension is set up to complement the seats. It probably occurred to Nissan that as much as “sporty” marketing is all the rage, one of the best-selling crossovers ever has been the Lexus RX.

Which sells because it is soft.

This whole “sporty” thing has become as silly as the politically correct kabuki theater over Caitlin Jenner’s honorific. First of all, everything is “sporty” today. In this class, nothing comes with less than eighteen inch wheels and lateral “g” capabilities (the technical term for how fast it can be driven in a circle before the tires break grip and the thing begins to slide sideways) you won’t exceed unless you are exceeding the speed limit by at least 20 MPH in a curve.'15 Murano road 3

You have to really be trying to get one sliding.

Who – other than guys like me who test drive cars – does this on public roads?

Who does it with a crossover SUV?

Meanwhile, how’s your butt (and back) feeling after that five-hour drive on the highway?

What matters most, real-world-driving-wise, is how comfortably a vehicle can get up to speed and maintain speed – and how how much speed it has in reserve, available to draw on when the need arises to pull quickly into a busy traffic lane or take advantage of a hole that opened up in traffic to pass a left-land dawdler.

The Murano’s got that all covered.'15 Murano road 4

In particular, the as-it-sits Murano. With the engine that comes standard. The comparably priced Ford Edge (which I test drove extensively in Arizona at a press event earlier this year) with its smaller, less powerful standard engine, reacts less quickly – needs more time to gather speed. It’s not a huge difference on paper – about a second – but on the street, it’s a difference you’ll notice immediately. Also, the slight lag in delivery – due to the moment it takes for the little (2.0 liter) turbo engine to build the RPMs needed to get the exhaust-gas-driven turbo spooled up and the power boosted.

You can of course upgrade the Edge to V6 power – but it costs extra. And the Edge’s top-performing V6 (the 315 hp “EcoBoost” twin turbo 2.7 V6) is only sold in the Sport version of the Edge, which has a starting MSRP of $38,100 – nearly $10k higher than the Murano’s base price with its standard V6).'15 Murano road 6

The Murano’s CVT automatic transmission is another point of departure in theme – and feel – vs. rivals, which all have conventional automatics. Which shift from one gear to the next. Which means at least some “shift shock” as the transmission goes from first to second and second to third (and so on). This can be softened up (and quieted up) but no one has been able to eliminate the feeling of transition that occurs as a conventional automatic transmission shifts from one gear to the next. CVT automatics do away with shifts – and so, shift shock. You can accelerate full throttle from a standstill in the Murano with an open cup of coffee in your hand and it won’t slosh all over your shirt (or the center console). Nissan has programmed in simulated gear changes, but what you get is RPM differentials – which is a different thing entirely. The CVT-equipped Murano accelerates like a jet engine, in a single continuous building up of speed. It is exactly like the take-off roll of a 757.

Nissan CVTs are the best in the business – just like those zero gravity seats.

AT THE CURB'15 Murano sail panel

The original Murano had the advantage of being new.

Not just a new model – a new idea.

The “crossover” SUV – as they came to be known. Not an SUV, not a car. Something in between. Tall and hunky – but not clunky. This was radical stuff 13 years ago, when Nissan unveiled the first Murano. Pretty much the only other such ride on the market at the time was… yup, you guessed it. The Lexus RX.

Which was, of course, a Lexus – and priced accordingly.

The original Murano – being sportier in looks and lower in price – created a new niche (mid-sized, mid-priced crossover SUV) that it had pretty much all to itself for several years. (It would take Ford until the ’07 model year to get the Edge to market.)'15 Murano detail

But today? The idea – and the basic look – is no longer new. It’s much harder to stand out on looks alone because pretty much everyone is selling crossovers – all sizes, all price ranges.

So rather than try to re-invent the wheel, Nissan simply – probably, wisely – choose to refine it a little.

Specifically, by making the new Murano a bit less first-row-centered than the outgoing model – which had lots of room for the driver and front seat passenger (43.6 inches of legroom – a full inch more than in the current Edge) but a comparatively lopsided 36.3 inches inches of legroom in the second row (vs. 40.6 in the Edge). The new Murano ups this to 38.7 inches – still not as much as the Edge, but a lot closer than before. There is also more room for cargo – both behind the second row (39.6 in the new vs. 31.6 in the old) and with the second row folded flat (69.9 cubic feet for the ’15 vs. 64 for the ’14).'15 Murano cargo

The ’15 Edge still has more total cargo capacity (73.4 cubic feet) but as with the back seats, it’s a closer race now.

You may have noticed the revised side profile – especially, the lower roofline. The previous Murano was more squat – and tall. The new one is stretched, widened – and lowered. It helps to spread out the increased size, visually. The “floating” roof – achieved by using smoked glass for the rear sail panels – is an interesting flourish.

But where the Nissan truly has the edge is when it comes to the ease-of-use of its interior controls, especially the center stack inputs (buttons and knobs) and the standard seven-inch touchscreen LCD monitor. It’s all sensibly laid out and you can jump into the thing and go without having to read the manual first. The Ford’s system is more inscrutable even once you’ve learned how to work it, the buttons (especially on the monitor itself) are much too small and awkwardly placed; it’s often difficult to accurately input what you’re after with the vehicle in motion.'15 Murano center stack

The Nissan’s controls are much less fussy – and far less pushy. The Murano – like all Nissans – does not harass you with buzzers if you elect not to buckle up for “safety.” A small red light comes on in the gauge cluster.

That’s all.   

Ditto the rest of the Murano’s “safety” systems – including the optional collision avoidance system. It does not come on as preemptively (as unnecessarily) as so many other cars’ systems (including the Ford’s) do. Drive both and see what I mean.

THE REST

Did Nissan make a mistake by not offering up an optional engine in the new Murano? Maybe. Then again, Lexus has never done it – and more than gotten away with it. And two of the the Edge’s three engines have turbos (one of them, two of them). Which work like steroids did for Arnold. They pump you up. But when you stop taking them… or when the turbos croak…arnold

No such worries with the Nissan. The V6 ought to outlast the vehicle. Simpler is almost always better when it comes to long-haul durability, as well as over-the-road repair/maintenance costs.

The Murano’s arguably weakest point is its pitiful tow rating. It’s about the same as several compact (and four cylinder-powered) crossovers. 1500 pounds is sad – for a mid-sized crossover with a powerful V6.

So, what gives?

Probably the CVT automatic. Well, it might give (up) if subjected to the loads involved with pulling 3,500 pounds in addition to the Murano itself. There is a reason why CVTs are still found chiefly in lighter-duty stuff, where the object of the exercise is more efficiency (and smoother operation) but not so much in vehicles made for work or even for hard play.

But if you care less about how much it’ll pull vs. how your tailbone (and back) feel after hauling the family down to Disneyland…

THE BOTTOM LINE'15 Murano last

Both the Edge and the Murano can – should be – be cross-shopped against the Lexus RX. Loaded, either of them comes off looking (cue Mr. T voice) mighty fine, unless you’re hung up on the badge and don’t mind paying extra for it. The Platinum Murano, for example, comes with a superb Bose nine-speaker audio system, a heated steering wheel, fancy LED headlights, power-sliding rear seats, a 360 degree surround-view exterior camera – et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Point being, there is less and less in the way of meaningful difference between a loaded Nissan and a loaded Lexus.

Or a loaded Ford.

Go compare the features and options – and then the prices.

This is a scurvy truth the luxury car brands would rather you remain unaware of.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Best of luck achieving those EPA mileage estimates. Tricks will abound when manufacturers are eager to beat those arbitrary mpg standards for their fleet. A two ton station wagon doesn’t garner that 20% across the board mpg jump with swooping styling tricks and losing 200 pounds while keeping the same engine. My guess is the CVT was recalibrated to provide better fuel economy during EPA/CAFE tests.

    I bet the minimal glass makes rear visibility impossible. Like anyone actually looks backwards anymore.

      • That’s about what my wife gets driving a Highlander.

        Anecdotal. My pencil and paper calculations from dozens of makes, model, years of rentals show trip computers tend to be around 10% optimistic. Surprisingly few reported worse than actual. Since I had to keep mileage and fuel logs, I also did the math. I’m sure consistent errors across the board is not accidental.

  2. I “think” I like the Murano’s new looks. They managed to hit the sweet spot with that dramatic rear flank treatment. It’s definitely distinctive, without drifting off into ugliness.

    But to say the absence of “shift shock” makes a CVT more desirable that a normal auto transmission???? That is a joke.

    There is nothing more Downmarket that the incessant, kitchen appliance drone of a CVT.

  3. Looks a lot better than the old model too, which was 1 of (if not the) ugliest vehicles on the road IMHO.

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