2012 Nissan Murano
Base price: $29,540 – $38,710
MPG: 18 city/24 highway
- Excellent powertrain
- Upscale interior
- Roomy seats
- Polarizing exterior styling
- No third-row seating
- A bit pricey
By Jim Prueter
Nissan completely restyled its midsize crossover SUV Murano for the 2009 model year, and thankfully made some styling tweaks to both the interior and exterior for 2011. Otherwise, it remains unchanged for 2012.
I say “thankfully” because its exterior was downright homely, particularly the chrome grille, which bore a strong resemblance to the security mask worn by Hannibal Lecter in the movie Silence of the Lambs. And the rear wasn’t much better, with a bulbous frame and windows that obstructed visibility.
First introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model, the Murano was a thing of beauty and an instant hit. With its curvy exterior and fluid lines, it looked like nothing else on the road. The FX35 and FX45, which took styling cues from the Murano, were nothing short of rolling art and gave Nissan/Infiniti a “hip” image among the crossover denizens it attracted.
Murano is built on the same platform as the midsize Altima and powered by Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. We think their transmission (called Xtronic) is the best Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) on market, even though we’re not fans.
The problem with CVTs are their dreadfully slow reaction time from acceleration, resulting in a speed buildup without the traditional and noticeable shifting of gears. Imagine the sound of a manual transmission with a clutch that slips, and you’ve nailed the sensation. Once you’ve reached your desired speed and back off the throttle, the CVT resorts to an overdrive mode and the groaning ceases.
Of course, the reason manufacturers are fond of CVTs is the payoff at the pump. Murano gets 18 city/24 highway mpg for the front-wheel-drive version. Models with all-wheel drive get identical city and drop to 23 mpg on the highway. That’s not stellar fuel economy, but it’s better than other vehicles in its class.
Inside, the design execution of the restyled Murano is far superior to the exterior. The overall size is pretty much the same as the previous generation, but the big difference is an upgrade in interior quality. There’s ample use of low gloss, soft touch materials on the dash, doors, and center console. Also, instead of fake plastic metal, Nissan uses real brushed aluminum throughout the dash and door panels.
The seats are unusually comfortable, with cloth upholstery standard and leather optional or included on higher priced trim levels. The steering wheel is tilting and telescoping and the center console is large and deep — ideal for keeping cameras, purses, and smaller packages well hidden.
We liked the reclining rear seats, which actually make it pleasant to sit in back. But the seat doesn’t slide fore and aft for more legroom as in some other models. We also like the location of the rear-seat pull strap, adjacent to the rear bulkheads, which allow you to easily fold the seats forward for loading larger items. Our test model also had a power rear-seat return (standard on middle and upper trim levels) that makes it easy to raise the seats to their original upright position with a press of a button. There are also two different cargo storage systems available, including an optional cargo organizer that helps keep grocery bags from sliding around.
As used on Infiniti products, Nissan’s premium brand, there’s a large and intuitive LCD display screen located above the center stack that employs a multi-controller knob for the audio, climate control, telephone, navigation system, and backup camera.
The Murano comes in four trim levels — S, SV, SL and LE — and two editions — front-wheel drive and AWD. Push-button ignition is standard on all.
Only two option packages are available for the 2012 Murano. The Navigation Package comes equipped with HDD navigation, voice recognition, a touch seven-inch VGA screen, and Bluetooth Streaming Audio. The new Platinum Edition has HDD navigation, new 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, exclusive Sapphire Black exterior color, and Platinum Edition badging.
If you haven’t driven a Murano, here is what you can expect: It sits high yet feels sturdy and agile. But it doesn’t handle bumps and ruts as smoothly as other vehicles in its class, causing some gentle body motions and occasional side-to-side rocking. Its highway ride is smooth and cabin very quiet with just a bit of wind noise. Brakes are good, steering is responsive, and the V-6 engine is award-winning.
Murano offers a long list of standard safety features, with six standard air bags and a Nissan Advanced Air Bag System (AABS) with dual-stage supplemental front air bags, seat belt sensors, and an occupant classification sensor. Plus there are roof-mounted curtain supplemental side-impact air bags for front- and rear-seat head protection, a standard Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), driver/passenger seat belt warning lamps, front seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) child seat anchor and tether system, front seats with active head restraints, and Zone Body Construction with front and rear crumple zones to help dissipate crash energy away from the passenger compartment.
The 2012 Murano earned the highest possible “Good” rating in frontal offset and side impact crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and an overall four out of a possible five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
When it comes to a midsized utility vehicle, the Murano is a bit of a mixed bag. Other than its improved yet less-than-desirable looks, the Murano has what most buyers in this class are looking for, with an excellent engine, generally good driving dynamics, upscale interior, and comfortable seating. However, considering the money, I’d choose the smaller-but-more-fun-to-drive and luxe Infiniti EX35 crossover. And there’s no shortage of newer and excellent competition that offers three-row seating for about the same money.