December 21, 2008
If events of the last several months have taught automakers anything, one should be that big no longer is better.
So what were the Nissan stylists thinking when they redesigned the Murano crossover for 2009 and added bulgy fenders, hood and body panels and the impression this machine is packing more pounds than necessary?
The secret is to make a sport-utility or crossover look trim and fit to reduce the impression it's a gulper.
We tested the all-wheel-drive '09 Murano SL powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that packs a 265-horsepower punch to leave the light briskly and to take steep inclines without sucking air. It's rated at 18 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway, but what price AWD security?
With gas down to $1.74 a gallon, a price at which some Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition and Nissan Armada owners are venturing out again in daylight, few people shook heads or wagged fingers at our Murano.
Nice power from the V-6 that's teamed with a continuously variable, or CVT, automatic with infinite gear ratios. It glides into traffic smoothly yet energetically and can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
But a hybrid version that uses batteries to get going and pass to reduce the load on the gas engine would help the mileage—and score points for political correctness. Nothing on the immediate horizon, however.
The V-6 does deserve kudos for quiet operation, considered a sign of quality.
Murano also offers stability control and traction control plus side-curtain air bags as standard. Handling is secure and road manners above average for a vehicle that looks a bit bloated thus prone to wander on the road and lean in corners. Press the AWD lock button, and it's as if you'd Super Glued the 18-inch, all-season radials to the road. But there's no AWD low setting so forget any serious off-road adventuring.
Ride is pleasant and seats well cushioned and supportive. The rear seat holds two or three and backs recline to create ample room and comfort. If you need to hold more packages than people, a pull cord lowers seat backs but not totally flush with the floor.
Under-floor compartments—one for the spare tire, one for the jack, one for tools or sports gear and one for papers or slim books—make the cargo hold very spacious. It also has power plug in the wall and release handles to drop rear seat backs.
Couple gripes. One is that the "A" pillars along the windshield are too big and obstruct vision. Add the wiper-sweep pattern that piles snow against the passenger side pillar, reducing visibility by about a foot.
The dash top is huge for the impression there's lots of room between you and anything ahead, but you'll have to swirl one of the kids around on it to wipe the expanse.
And while heated, leather seats are a Snow Belt pleasure, Lucifer must have had a hand in these because they toast the buns in a couple seconds.
Thanks to Nissan for a small covered container in the center console for cell phone or I-Pass, but why does the cover open toward the driver, making it difficult to see or reach inside?
Not only is the rear window small and somewhat oval, it's also slanted, further limiting vision. Finally, the large wheelwells protrude into the door openings in back. So much for graceful entry and exit.
Nice touches include iPod port and available Bluetooth phone, a stowage bin with power plug under the front center armrest large enough to hold a small purse and a glove box so huge your boxing gloves would fit.
Though mileage is nothing special, you can monitor it from past to current average and to real-time usage. Though you have to master the information center to get these numbers, you don't need graphics to tell you mileage hovers around 10 m.p.g. or less when you leap from the light or climb a hill, and shoots to 30 m.p.g. when you coast.
That screen also shows the view from the backup camera.
Base price of the Murano SL with AWD is $29,480. Leather and heated seats added $1,600; a premium package that includes a Bose audio system with nine speakers, XM satellite radio, roof rails and rear-view camera goes for $1,000.
The Murano had no navi system so we had to rely on experience and the wife to know where we were at all times. The $2,000 saved would buy a paper map, plus a lot of gas at $1.74 or $4 a gallon.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at email@example.com.