2012 Nissan Murano SL FWD Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Nissan Murano

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

2012 Nissan Murano SL FWD

If the Nissan Murano looked more than a little different from the then-typical SUV of the day when it debuted nearly a decade ago, it's decidedly more mainstream now -- and not merely because Nissan has used styling cues on its smaller Rogue and Juke crossovers.

If Nissan didn't actually see the future, it definitely made a correct guess. The Murano was introduced with an "Adventures in On-Roading" theme at a time when offroad fantasy was still being used to sell the competition -- mostly to people who would never go further off-road than a stadium or ski resort parking lot. The Murano was named after an Italian city known for artistic glassmaking, not the usual rugged outdoors icon.

The truck fad wouldn't and couldn't last, but Americans who wouldn't touch a wagon certainly appreciated the space, versatility, and comfort of the upright seating position of an SUV or crossover. The Murano added style, but style that didn't detract from basic crossover usefulness. Unique at the time, that concept is anything but now… Which is not to say that the Murano is unchanged. Although a 2012 model looks little different from its 2003 forebear, that's only superficial. No sheetmetal, glass, or lighting was left unchanged when the second generation was introduced for 2009. Under that skin is the latest iteration of Nissan's mid-size, front- and all-wheel drive "D" platform, as also used for the Altima sedan. Compared to the original, today's Murano is structurally improved, quieter, and more comfortable -- and the original was never deficient in those categories.

2011 saw freshened styling and an additional trim level, SV, that slotted above the base S but below the more luxury-oriented SL and LE. Think S Value… Also at that time, the 3.5-liter V6 engine was recalibrated to run on unleaded regular gasoline, not premium. A slight loss of power was traded for lower operating costs. So it's no surprise that changes for 2012 are minimal, with a new premium Platinum Edition model topping the range.

My test car, a front-wheel drive SL, was somewhat more prosaic but no less functional. With leather seating, a dual-panel moonroof, power liftgate, backup camera, and all of the expected cabin electronics standard or available, the SL really only gives up power steering wheel adjustment, 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights, and a heated rear seat to the LE. Call it functional luxury, with comfort, convenience, and capacity. A switch to unleaded instead of premium gasoline means a loss of five horsepower and eight lb-ft of torque at their maxima for all models. This is not noticeable in the real world, and the benefit of lower fuel costs far outweighs any minor loss of acceleration. And the front-wheel drive Murano is one of the more fuel-efficient midsize FWD crossovers, evidenced by my 22 mpg average for a week of mixed city, backroad, and highway driving. If you're looking for a right-sized five-passenger crossover with luxury comfort and good efficiency and don't need to crawl over rocks in 4-lo, the Nissan Murano SL is worth a look.

APPEARANCE: Although no body panels were left unchanged when the second generation debuted a few years ago, the Murano's decidedly un-boxy shape is familiar. It's all compound curves, with no straight lines, a well-raked windshield, and distinctive rear window. The headlights are well-integrated into the triangular grille, and the lower intake is bordered by a metallic panel that can be seen as a skid plate (from an SUV viewpoint) or aerodynamic splitter (from the sports car side). The complexly-curved hood and prominent wheel arches are familiar, as is the long cabin, with thick D pillars. The headlights are stylistically integrated into the grille, and the most notable change between Murano generations is at the rear, where the old vertical taillights have been replaced with horizontal LED-based lights.

COMFORT: Nissan calls the Murano's interior theme "mobile suite", as in luxury hotel. If not hotel-room large, it is spacious enough to seat five people comfortably, with a cohesive design that blends well with the exterior. Substance and function are not sacrificed to style. The high-eyepoint seating position allows a good view of the road and world around the car, which is further improved by the dual-pane panoramic moonroof (of which the front tilts or slides open), standard in all but the S. All varieties of the Murano, even the base S, are well-equipped, and the SL gets comfortable and supportive leather-covered seats, fronts power-adjustable with two-position seat heaters, manual tilt- and telescope-adjustability of the leather-covered steering wheel (heated!), and a power return feature for the 60/40 split folding rear seatback pieces, plus a power tailgate and ambient lighting. And more… Full seat adjustability (power in the SV and above), steering wheel adjustability, bright electroluminescent main instruments, and a well-designed interface for the (optional) navigation system give the driver a good office. A large locking glovebox, two-level console box with power and USB and A/V connections, and smaller compartments provide useful storage inside, and rear-seat passengers are treated to plenty of room, some seatback angle adjustability, and a center armrest plus storage at the rear of the console. There's a good amount of cargo space behind the rear seat, and even more with its back folded.

SAFETY: The Murano's unibody structure was designed and built with Nissan's Zone Body Construction, to protect occupants with front and rear crumple zones and a safety cage around the passenger compartment. Six airbags - dual front, front-seat side, and full-length head curtain - controlled by the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System are standard, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system. Brakes are large antilock ventilated discs all around, for fade resistance, with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist. Traction control and the Vehicle Dynamic Control system are also standard fare in all models.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As always, the Murano is quiet, comfortable, and composed on the road. It's a tall car, not a truck, and so has the handling expected of a car, not a truck. Use of lightweight aluminum suspension pieces reduces unsprung weight, improving suspension response and so ride comfort. The full-independent strut/multilink suspension is tuned like that of a contemporary luxury car, moderately softly but with well-matched spring and shock rates for compliance and handling. It's better on the road than the average crossover. Greater use of soundproofing materials and techniques, including engine mounting, has reduced interior noise and vibration. Good clearance, 7.4 inches, means no worries about most of the potholes, ruts, broken pavement, and road debris that is part of life in the land of deferred maintenance.

PERFORMANCE: As has been the case since the beginning, the only engine offered in the Murano is Nissan's VQ35-series 3.5-liter V6, matched to the Xtronic CVT™ continuously-variable transmission. A switch to regular instead of premium gasoline drops horsepower from 265 to 260 (at 6000 rpm) and torque from 248 to 240 lb-ft (at 4000 rpm) -- not enough to matter, especially because of the engine design and tuning means plenty of power at lower, everyday, engine speeds, not just at the peak. Lower fuel cost far outweighs the maybe 0.25-second decrease in acceleration to any reasonable speed, and there is no problem merging into fast traffic on a too-short onramp. The wide-ratio CVT also gets credit for the Murano's quick acceleration and commendable fuel efficiency, and no transmission shifts more smoothly and seamlessly than one that doesn't shift at all. EPA mileage estimates are 18 mpg city, 24 highway, and the 22 I got for the week was with a close to even mix of both.

CONCLUSIONS: The original honest on-road crossover continues to be a class benchmark.

SPECIFICATIONS
2012 Nissan Murano SL FWD

Base Price			$ 36,400
Price As Tested			$ 39,255
Engine Type			aluminum alloy DOHC 24-valve V6 with
				 continuously-variable cam phasing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower			260 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			240 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			CVT
Wheelbase / Length		111.2 in. / 189.9 in.
Curb Weight			3993 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.4
Fuel Capacity			21.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular
Tires				P235/65R18 104T Bridgestone Dueler H/T
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around,
				 ABS, BA, EBD, VDC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance		7.4 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 24 / 22
0 to 60 mph				7.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Floor mats and carpeted cargo mat		$  195
Navigation Package - includes:
  HDD navigation with 7" VGA touch-screen
  monitor, voice recognition, streaming audio
  via Bluetooth®, XM NavTraffic® and
  NavWeather™					$ 1,850
Destination charge				$   810
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