First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Nissan Murano

With its svelte new lines the all-new Murano looks like it has spent time at the gym

2015 Nissan Murano

TORONTO, ON – Nissan has never shied away from the notion that its Murano crossover puts a big emphasis on styling – and the 2015 iteration follows true to form.

When the Murano made its debut in the brand’s lineup in November, 2002 as a 2003 model, it was a trendsetter in a market where most utility vehicles were basically boxes. The Murano had curves and bulging, muscular lines; it was definitely not boxy.

A makeover in 2009 continued the trend, though other brands were joining in the movement to more striking designs. Now, this all-new third-generation Murano pushes the stylish CUV theme to a new level.

In this iteration, Nissan has incorporated many of the design cues introduced in the Resonance concept unveiled at the 2013 Detroit auto show, including the undulating character lines on the hood and side panels, the “floating” roof with is unique rear pillars and the boomerang-shaped headlight and taillight assemblies.

Larger but lighter

At first glance, the all-new, made-in-America, 2015 Murano looks smaller than its predecessor. In fact, it’s actually larger, but the bulging lines have been replaced by a svelte new look – as if it’s spent some time at the gym.

The wheelbase is unchanged at 2,825 millimetres, but the overall length has stretched 64 mm to 4,887 – longer than both the 2015 Lexus RX350 and 2014 Ford Edge. The width has expanded 32 mm to 1,915, allowing the track to widen as well, increasing 31 mm to 1,641 front and rear. The only exterior dimension that has decreased is overall height, from 1,728 mm to 1,692 – lower than both the RX350 and Edge.

While it’s longer, lower and wider, the new Murano is significantly lighter – and also cuts through the air more efficiently. Excess weight has been trimmed, while more use of high-strength steel has improved rigidity. The result is a Murano that’s 59 kg lighter than the previous iteration.

In addition, considerable effort was spent to improve the vehicle’s aerodynamics – Nissan spent three times the average budget for wind tunnel development of this model and was rewarded with not only an attractive look, but an exterior that’s functional as well.

Its drag coefficient (Cd) has improved .06 to .31 – comparable in slipperiness to a Porsche 911 Turbo, Nissan says. The combination of reduced curb weight and improved aerodynamics are expected to increase fuel efficiency by 20%.

More room inside

The Murano’s increased length has been put to good use, with more room in the five-passenger cabin. Rear-seat legroom has been improved 61 mm to 983 and space in the cargo area has increased.

With the 60/40-split rear seats upright, there’s now 1,121 litres of space for stuff; flip those seats forward – they fold conveniently at the tug of a strap and form a flat floor without first having to remove the headrests – and the cargo volume increases to 1,979 litres, up from 1,821 litres in the previous generation.

The cabin is stylish, spacious and comfortable. The materials in my Platinum tester were top quality, with supple leather surfaces and classy French stitching everywhere. (Lesser trim levels feature cloth upholstery and trimmings.)

All models have the sweeping instrument panel that flows into a centre stack and console. Interestingly, the console armrest, which covers a cavernous storage bin, is a dual cushion design, offering lots of elbow room for both front-seat occupants.

It’s part of Nissan’s “premier social lounge” concept, where the interior layout has been designed to enable easy interaction between front- and rear-seat occupants. Mytester had a USB port and a storage slot for devices such as a smartphone or iPod in the rear of the centre console for the convenience of rear-seat passengers.

The rear seatbacks recline and there are separate controls for the heated rear seats. To make access and egress easier for rear-seat riders, the C-pillar has been pushed rearward and the rear doors open almost 90 degrees.

Obsessive attention to detail

Up front, obsessive attention to detail is apparent. For example, the sides of the centre console are padded, so knees don’t become irritated resting against the panels. The door armrests are soft and soft-touch materials cover just about everything else.

The seats are especially supportive and very comfortable, due largely to Nissan’s NASA-inspired Zero Gravity design. The padding and bolsters in both the front and outboard rear seats are positioned specifically to minimize blood flow restriction, thereby reducing fatigue on extended drives.

As an added amenity on my Platinum tester, the front seats were heated and air conditioned. The steering wheel was also heated – a feature that was much appreciated on a frigid, wintery day.

The instrument cluster in front of the driver includes a full-colour, seven-inch screen that can be configured to display enough information to satisfy even the most detail-oriented operator.

An eight-inch display is the focal point of the centre stack. It’s the launch point for Nissan Connect, the company’s connectivity system, which effectively delivers all the features and links consumers are demanding in their vehicles today.

This screen also displays the navigation system, which features a customizable menu screen that will fascinate the most advanced computer lovers, yet is user-friendly for those of us who are more technologically challenged.

While the screen is a multi-touch format, with pinch and swipe capabilities like a tablet, the premium audio system also includes a pair of good ol’ knobs for volume and tuning to satisfy traditionalists.

Nits and niceties

One nit worth noting, however, is the design of the audio/USB jack in the centre console. It looks like it has been installed in what might be an ashtray in other markets. Access to the angled plug is difficult, there’s no indentation on the lid for a power cord and you can’t close the lid anyway because the bin isn’t deep enough to hold a typical cell phone.

One other issue that may trouble some potential clients is the significant blind spot in the rear quarters. While the sweeping pillar up to the roofline may look stylish, it nearly completely blocks out any over-the-shoulder view. Fortunately, Nissan has provided an effective blind-spot warning system and a cross-traffic alert that will help mitigate the problem. (Better still, properly position the side-view mirrors and then use them.)

Other safety technologies on the new Murano include intelligent cruise control and a predictive forward collision warning system that has migrated from the upscale Infiniti brand. The system scans beyond the vehicle ahead to detect a potential collision. It’s the first application of this advanced safety technology in a Nissan product.

On the road

The Murano is offered with just one powertrain – the well-proven 3.5-litre V-6 engine that generates 260 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 240 lb-ft of torque (at 4,400 rpm.) It’s coupled to an improved Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that has reduced internal friction and improved efficiency.

Its D-Step Shift logic mimics the shifting feel of conventional automatic transmissions and does include a manual shifting mode through the console-mounted shift lever for drivers who feel enthusiastic as they carve through curves and highway ramps. However, the sportiness ends there – no paddle shifters are offered.

In a test drive, the transmission shifted crisply in the manual mode, while in standard mode there was a noticeable absence of the annoying “motorboat” sensation typically associated with CVTs.

The engine delivered snappy response – Nissan says the Murano accelerates to 100 km/h in the six-second range – with just enough sound emanating from the engine bay to keep the driver satisfied. Otherwise, in cruising mode the intrusion of road, wind and tire noise was nearly non-existent.

The vehicle felt stable in hard cornering with minimum body roll and the vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering was reasonably quick. Of special note is the Murano’s tight turning circle diameter of 11.8 metres. It made parking lot manoeuvres a breeze, despite the size of this vehicle.

Four trim levels

The Murano will be offered in four trim levels, starting with the base S model. It’s only available with front wheel drive and starts at $29,998, which is $4,500 lower than the current base Murano.

The SV trim is available in front-wheel- ($32,998) and all-wheel-drive ($34,998) configurations, with the latter including as standard equipment a power liftgate, navigation system and the panoramic moonroof.

The $35k price tag may create an interesting situation for salespeople as a loaded Rogue compact CUV is right in the same range (about $34k), perhaps prompting consumers to consider stepping up a class.

The price walk tops out with the SL ($38,398), which Nissan expects will account for about 40 percent of all Murano sales, and the ultra luxurious Platinum edition, with full leather trim and numerous other amenities, which starts at $43,498. Both of these trim levels include all-wheel-drive as standard equipment.

If your priority is function, such as three-row seating and room for seven, look at Nissan’s Rogue or Pathfinder. If you’re looking for towing capacity to haul the family’s travel trailer or cruiser, the Pathfinder or Armada is better suited to that task. But if you prefer a crossover that’s stylish and comfortable for five, then the Murano fits the bill perfectly.

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