2006 Nissan Murano Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Smooth and luxurious crossover SUV.
The Nissan Murano combines the smooth ride and responsive handling of a car, the cargo space of a wagon, and the high driving position of a sport utility. Named after the region of Italy known for its famous glassware, the Murano reflects an emphasis on refinement and over-the-road confidence over off-road ruggedness.
The Murano is a good example of a crossover vehicle: It's designed to haul cargo like a sport-utility, but ride and drive like a car. However, this crossover handles better than a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander, and it drives more like a sports sedan.
Murano integrates aerodynamics and high fashion, with a sleek front end, smooth lines from front to back, and a greenhouse that slopes rearward, ending in a large but graceful C-pillar. Inside, Nissan resisted the temptation to cram in three rows of seats like the Highlander and Pilot do. Instead, like a car, the Murano has just two rows of seats, accommodating four (or at most five) passengers in comfort.
The Murano delivers hearty performance, boasting the same 3.5-liter V6 engine used in the 350Z sports car, tuned here to produce 245 horsepower. It comes with a continuously variable transmission, a high-tech automatic that's smooth and responsive while offering superior gas mileage within its class. Murano's road-tuned suspension offers smooth and sporty handling. Murano shares basic underpinnings with the Nissan Altima and Maxima sedans. (Murano is not at all related to the Infiniti FX, a popular misconception.) All-wheel drive is available for the Murano, giving it good grip and stability in wintry weather and hard rain.
For 2006, the Murano's styling has been freshened with a new grille design, a chrome lower grille insert and other subtle changes. It also gets LED taillights that look distinctive and illuminate faster to better alert drivers behind you when you apply the brakes.
The 2006 Nissan Murano is available in three models: S ($27,450), SL ($29,000), and SE AWD ($31,550). The S and SL come standard with front-wheel drive (2WD); all-wheel drive (AWD) adds about $1,600 more. The SE comes with all-wheel drive as standard equipment. All models are powered by the 3.5-liter V6 mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Nissan calls the Xtronic. All Murano models come with features above the class standard.
Starting with the SE, standard equipment on all three versions includes dual-zone automatic temperature control, a high-power AM/FM/CD audio system, power windows with auto up/down feature in front, keyless remote entry, reclining rear seats, and large 18-inch alloy wheels.
The SL upgrades with a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, upgraded audio with steering wheel controls, a compass, a garage door opener, automatic headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power outlets, fog lights, and an theft alarm. SL and SE models wear new brushed aluminum trim on the rear bumper and chrome accents along the sides.
The SE comes with a firmer sport-tuned suspension, a manual shift mode, high-intensity xenon headlights, styled alloy wheels and dark-silver lower bumpers.
Safety features include dual-stage frontal air bags with seat belt sensors, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-cabin curtain style head-protection airbags, and active front head restraints. Rollover sensors for the airbag system activate the airbags in the event of a pending rollover. Murano comes standard with four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS, Brake Assist and electronic brake-force distribution. Option safety equipment: Vehicle Dynamic Control, which helps the driver correct skids, a Traction Control System, and a tire-pressure monitoring are all part of the Dynamic Control Package ($750), which can only be added to models with the Premium package.
Options come packaged in ascending groups. The S can be purchased with a Convenience package ($800) including a 10-way adjustable driver's seat, roof rails, adjustable pedals, and a cargo cover and net. The SL and SE models can be further upgraded with a Premium package ($1,550), which adds a more powerful stereo with subwoofer and auto volume control to the contents of the Convenience package. The Sunroof package ($2,550) adds an electric sunroof to the Premium package. The SL and SE Leather package ($2,650) adds leather upholstery and a four-way adjustable front passenger seat to the Sunroof package. The Touring package ($4,300 on the SE, $4,600 on the SL) adds to the leather package heated front seats with memory, Intelligent Key, heated mirrors, HID headlights (SL only) and XM or Sirius satellite radio. A DVD navigation system ($1800) is also available. The rear-seat DVD entertainment package ($1,720) comes with a seven-inch drop-down screen, remote control and two wireless headsets. A chrome wheel package is available for SL models ($1,200).
The Murano is named after the glass sculpted in the islands near Venice. The glass is known for its beauty as well as for the high-tech methods used in its production. In the Nissan Murano, this duality is most obvious in the styling.
The Murano is designed to blend the look of a car and a truck. The top half of the body is sleek like a car, while the bottom half is bulky like a truck. Overall, the look is much sleeker than tall box-shaped SUVs. At first it looks a bit over the top, but most people quickly get used to it and traditional SUVs start looking boxy and dated by comparison.
Big 18-inch wheels contribute to Murano's muscular styling. Sculpted, vertical-stack projector headlights define the front corners. The highly styled rear hatchback is made of reinforced plastic because steel won't bend easily in such a complex shape. The hatch is heavy, however, and takes some effort to raise and lower. The windshield and front side windows are tinted green to deflect UV radiation; the rear side windows and backlight are darkly tinted for privacy.
As its looks suggest, the Murano is an aerodynamic machine. Details in the design help it slip quietly through the air. Airflow-improving devices include an underbody engine cover, front and rear tire deflectors, a rear spoiler, and aerodynamic mirrors. Combined with the low frontal area and roof, these enhancements increase fuel efficiency and limit wind noise at high speeds.
To finish the high-fashion look, Nissan offers 10 exterior colors (including new Brilliant Silver and Sunset Red), with four interior hues (Charcoal, Latte, Cabernet and new Hazelnut) to mix and match. The colors were chosen carefully to promote a luxury look.
Climbing into the Nissan Murano couldn't be easier. The seating position and steering wheel orientation make it feel more like a car than an SUV. Slide into the driver's seat and you'll notice outward visibility is excellent in all directions. This isn't a small vehicle, though, and you can't see the corners of the fenders, so you'll need to be extra careful when parking. The view rearward isn't compromised as much as we had expected by the stylishly thick D-pillars.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, even for people well over six feet tall. Petite drivers are also able to get comfortable, with the power-adjustable pedals that help ensure a good driving position without getting too close to the steering wheel where the air bag is housed. The overall interior fit and finish are good. Murano's instrument cluster is garnished with genuine brushed aluminum trim that gives it a younger, sportier look. The gauges have a classy grayish background with amber backlighting. Steering wheel audio controls are illuminated.
A prominent pod juts from the center of the Murano's dash presenting audio and climate controls. A new seven-inch color screen has been made standard to enhance usability and access to vehicle information. We aren't in love with the appearance of the pod, but it puts the switches close at hand. The dual-zone, fully automatic climate control is a step above the class, and it features rear air-conditioning vents located on the B-pillars.
The stereo controls are on the small side, but easy to use once you get the hang of them. The preset buttons, for example, can be programmed to select your favorite stations regardless of whether they are AM or FM; this eliminates the need to press a separate mode button when switch from your favorite FM music station to your favorite AM talk radio station, making life easier and reducing distraction while driving. Controls on the steering wheel allow easy volume adjustments.
Customers can order either XM or Sirius satellite radio as a dealer-installed accessory. Though you do have to pay an annual subscription fee, we've found satellite radio to be a nice feature to have in a car, allowing us to listen to 24 hour news stations, such as Fox News and CNN, as well as every imaginable type of music, comedy, and sports, and there's no need to ever switch stations should you decide to drive from, say, Atlanta to Seattle.
The optional navigation system works well and includes a nifty three-dimensional birds-eye view that's sometimes more fun to follow than the flat map.
Useful features make the Murano a satisfying car for day-to-day use. A large center console separates the front seats, enhancing the sports sedan feel of the interior. The center console features a two-tiered lockable storage box with enough room for a laptop computer or a purse, cell phone, sunglasses, coins, cups and bottles. The door pockets flip out for easy access, and there's a hidden storage tray and two bins under the cargo floor. There are also three power outlets: front-passenger footwell, center console and rear.
The cabin is roomy and feels airy. The Murano is a five-seat vehicle with similar interior space as the seven-seat Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
The rear seats take advantage of the additional space. As a result, the Murano's back seat offers limousine legroom. We found that a six-foot, four-inch passenger can cross his legs comfortably in the back seat. The rear seatback easily adjusts for rake by pulling a strap, allowing your back-seat passengers to kick back and enjoy the ride. We found Murano's rear accommodations more comfortable than the second-row seats in many SUVs where passengers sit more upright. The optional DVD rear-seat entertainment system is particularly useful for keeping children occupied.
Cargo space can be increased by flopping the rear seats forward. This can be easily accomplished.
The Nissan Murano is enjoyable to drive. It handles more like a car than like a truck and better than other vehicles in this class. It's a relatively sporty vehicle with quick acceleration and responsive handling. Its smooth ride and powerful engine make for enjoyable highway travel as well.
Nissan's 245-hp V6 feels mighty healthy in spite of the Murano's considerable heft at 4,000 pounds. The Murano feels as quick as a sports sedan. Throttle response is strong any time you tap the pedal, a benefit of its 246 pound-feet of torque. Towing isn't its forte, as with others in this class, but the Murano can tow up 3500 pounds.
The continuously variable transmission is responsive and fuel efficient. Unlike a four-speed automatic, there are no perceptible gear changes. It works steplessly. As you accelerate, instead of shifting through gears, the CVT uses variable-diameter pulleys connected by a complex steel belt to change ratios continuously and transfer engine torque to the driveshafts. It changes ratios more smoothly than a normal automatic does, allowing the engine to rev at a speed that's most efficient for acceleration. This also improves fuel economy. Murano delivers an impressive 20/24 mpg city/highway, according to EPA estimates.
The CVT in the Murano has just three ranges: D for normal driving, S for sportier acceleration and L for the lowest range. Shifting from D to S raises engine revs 2500 rpm at a given road speed. Dropping from S to L increases engine speed by another 1000 rpm. Rev the engine near its 6600 redline and the ratio automatically reduces, thereby lowering the engine revs as the Murano's speed increases. Engine braking is programmed into the electronics that control the CVT, so when you're coasting down a steep hill, accelerometers sense this condition and increase the effective gear ratio, which is akin to downshifting a conventional transmission.
Fortunately, you don't need to understand any of this, or even be aware of it, to drive the Murano. We are particularly impressed with how quiet this transmission is compared to conventional automatics. Acceleration is quicker than with a conventional automatic and it's impressively smooth. Indeed, at first it may feel too smooth. It's surprising how deeply we're conditioned by the operation of an engine and conventional automatic transmission. The Murano's sensation of acceleration without an increase in the engine's pitch or speed takes some getting used to.
Handling is impressive. We found that the Murano rides and handles better than a Honda Pilot, and we liked its ride and handling better than other mid-priced SUVs. Murano's road manners are as impressive as its smooth drivetrain. The steering feels quick during turn-in, and the big 18-inch tires refrain from squealing until they are truly at the edge of cornering adhesion, increasing the driver's confidence that Murano will respond like a well-sorted sedan. It does just that up to about 8/10ths of its performance envelope, at which point it begins to understeer. Hitting a big bump at the apex of a corner doesn't upset its handling.
All-wheel drive takes much of the stress out of driving under rainy or snowy conditions. It improves overall traction and reduces the likelihood of skids, so it's well worth having for bad weather or emergency lane-change maneuvers. The Murano's all-wheel-drive system drives the front wheels until wheelspin is detected, at which point the center differential can redirect up to half of the power to the rear wheels.
The brakes are highly effective and easy to modulate for smooth stops. The braking system includes four-wheel vented disc brakes with Brake Assist, which helps ensure maximum braking force in a panic stop, and electronic brake-force Distribution (EBD), which reduces stopping distances and improves stability by dynamically distributing the braking force between the front and re.
The Nissan Murano offers the roominess and practicality of a sport utility with the handling, power and smoothness of a sporty sedan. Murano comes well equipped and its luxurious ambience gives it the feel of a luxury SUV.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Phil Berg is based in the Detroit area; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Virginia and Steve Siler reporting from Los Angeles.
Nissan Murano S ($27,450); S AWD ($29,050); SL ($29,000); SL AWD ($30,600); SE AWD ($31,550).
Options As Tested
SL Touring Package ($4,600) includes leather seating surfaces, 4-way power passenger seat, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, roof rails, adjustable pedals, upgraded audio with subwoofer, cargo cover and net, heated front seats, memory for seat, pedals and mirrors, heated mirrors, HID headlights w manual leveler; Dynamic Control Package ($750) includes Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, tire-pressure monitor.
Nissan Murano SL AWD ($30,600).
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