Car-platform-based Sport Utility Vehicles — called Crossover Utility Vehicles — are as commonplace as teens on cellphones, but it wasn’t always that way. When the Murano debuted in model-year 2003 it was Nissan’s first foray into the CUV segment. The Murano took its place in dealer showrooms next to the more traditional SUV entries; Xterra and Pathfinder.
Nissan marks 2011 with a styling refresh on the Murano with new designs for the grille, bumper, taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels. Exceptional styling has been a calling card of the Murano since it first arrived on the crossover scene.
In a field populated eight years ago by sedate, sport utility station wagon mixes, the Murano was something of a breakout design as a high-function vehicle with a strong infusion of fashion. The Nissan Murano remains stylish as a high-class CUV hatchback on a grand scale. The complex combination of curves and angles in back make it one of the more admired CUV’s on the road.
New for 2011 is an SV trim starting at $31,910. It joins the existing S, SL and LE models whose prices range from $28,500 to $37,540. The Murano SV standard equipment includes a driver’s seat with power lumbar support, rearview monitor and 7-inch color display screen.
The Nissan Murano doesn’t look like it would hold much cargo — until you lift the hatchback door. Inside the Murano you’ll find 31.8 cubic feet of storage space, expandable to 64.5 cu.-ft. with the rear seating folded flat. This process is noted for its ease.
Lift-over height in back is comfortably low and the power liftgate is handy when your arms are full. Murano buyers can also choose a roof rack with accessory crossbars to stow extra cargo topside.
Inside there’s also plenty of space for occupants or their trappings. Controls for climate, sound and even the optional navigation system are admirably straightforward and non-distracting.
Murano also offers impressive amounts of interior storage space, in door pockets, glove box, various cubbyholes and an oversize covered, locking center console.
Sun lovers will appreciate the dual-panel moonroof, which is standard on all levels except the base S model. The front portion slides open, while the back section is a fixed skylight. It offers a panoramic sky view, and the power shade shuts tight for a conventional closed top appearance. Available options include heated seats for the first and second rows, wood or aluminum trim accents, plus a rearview monitor to help the driver with backing up.
The wide Nissan Murano rolls wheels stretched to the corners and a fully independent suspension with a decidedly car-like ride. Visibility is generally good, though you’ll need Murano’s wide side mirrors to look past the 3/4 rear blind spot caused by the roof’s C-pillar.
Power is provided by Nissan’s smooth, 3.5-liter V-6. Rated at 260 horsepower, it’s linked to a Continuously Variable Transmission, which proves to be efficient and very transparent to the driver. Murano is available in front- and all-wheel-drive. The AWD models like our tester will get 18 miles per gallon in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, according to EPA estimates. I managed 20 mpg overall.
Murano’s AWD system is an all-traction, all-the-time type system, requiring no input from the driver. Sensors constantly monitor driving conditions and dynamics with the system making adjustments accordingly to maximize traction.
Vehicle Dynamic Control with Traction Control is standard equipment, as are four wheel disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist. Overall, the Murano has a stable, comfortable feel in all driving situations.
Years after it first rolled into showrooms, Murano still remains a good pick in what is now a crowded class of classy crossovers. It offers smooth power, a comfortable cabin and all-weather driving security wrapped in a good-looking package. — Dan Lyons, Motor Matters
Manufacturer photo: The most striking visual element of the 2011 Murano is its dramatic body. The front end features a bold grille with new, revised design and wide front headlights, a wide hood that sweeps into the bodylines, powerful wheel arches and an aggressive stance with available 20-inch wheels. Murano’s rear end features a unique rear glass shape, integrated rear roof spoiler, large redesigned rear LED taillights and dual exhaust outlets with chrome finishers.
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011