2011 Nissan Murano SL AWD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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When Nissan introduced the Murano as a mid-size crossover in 2002 it wowed North American car buyers with its stylish shape, car-like handling and versatile packaging. The second generation hit the market for the 2009, retaining the original's overall profile but with a bit more angularity, a more aggressive front end and more of a family resemblance to the smaller Rogue.

For 2011 the Murano has been refreshed with new front and rear fascias, new headlights and LED taillights, new 18-inch wheels, and some minor interior changes. The new front end is strikingly wedge-shaped, like the face of some sort of Amazon fish (ever hear of a Arapaima?), but the look works, and the Murano remains a uniquely good-looking machine.

I was given a Tinted Bronze 2011 Murano SL to try out for a week, and found it to be competent and comfortable, though not as exciting to drive as its styling might suggest.

Under the hood, all Muranos in North America share a common 3.5L DOHC V6 that puts out 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 240 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It's hooked up to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and Nissan's Intuitive All-Wheel drive system, with vehicle dynamic control and traction control to keep things in line when conditions deteriorate. The big V6 moves the 1,891-kilo (4,169-lb) Murano along with pleasant authority while delivering rated city/hwy fuel economy of 11.7 / 8.5 city / highway L/100km.

Inside, all Muranos offer a nice selection of luxury goodies including remote keyless entry, push-button ignition, dual-zone climate control, power locks and windows, 60/40 split folding rear seats, interior mood lighting and 6-CD audio system with WMA/MP3 playback capability. Safety is also built in with six airbags, rollover sensing and active head restraints.

The SV trim ups the luxury ante with a dual-panel moonroof, automatic headlights, heated front seats, an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, leather-wrapped steering wheel, an upgraded (and very fine-sounding) Bose audio system, and a rearview backup camera, which is a bit of a necessity given the Murano's rather restricted rearward visibility. The audio upgrade includes Bluetooth compatibility, 2GB onboard music storage, USB input, steering wheel mounted audio controls and, apparently, XM Satellite Radio, although this is hidden better than an Easter egg and has a cryptic enough user interface that you could spend a week driving around in the Murano and not figure out how to tune it in.

My test car's SL trim included all the conveniences of the SV plus leather seating, a heated steering wheel, power liftgate, HID Headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and power flip-up rear seats. These seem like a great idea, but like most vehicles I've driven over the past few years, the rear headrests stop the seats from flipping forward or back cleanly, so in practice you either have to remove the rear headrests or move the front seatbacks to the upright position before using the power-flip up feature, rendering it less than truly automatic.

One feature that was notably absent in my test car was satellite navigation, and it's not cheap to add this particular option - it's listed as a $2,200 "Technology Package" that's only available with the top-of-the-line LE trim, so you first have to take the LE's bigger 20-inch alloy wheels, silver accent roof rails, silver coloured lower bumper inserts, heated rear seats, woodgrain trim and miscellaneous other features before you can get the satellite navigation. At any rate, without the satellite navigation and with my test car's slightly austere light beige interior, the overall effect was nice enough but somehow felt like it was missing something. It reminded me of a Tiffany box without the jewelry inside - plush, full of promise, but where's the bling?

On the road the Murano is comfortable and easy to live with during day-to-day driving. Loaded with myself and three of my friends, and cruising along a meandering ocean-side road one spring afternoon, it seemed like the perfect car for the job: Spacious, impressively quiet inside, stable and smooth riding. Other reviewers have said that the Murano is rather firmly sprung, but I'd have to say that the Murano offers a more compliant ride than several crossovers I've driven lately. The flip side of this is that while the Murano has good steering feel and perfectly respectable handling when driven in a relaxed manner, it really doesn't offer the handling prowess of the some of its more sporting competitors. Indeed when I pushed the Murano through some tight corners in the rain I found it understeered to an alarming degree - it really wanted to just keep going straight. Perhaps this is a reflection of the test vehicle's tires as much as the chassis dynamics, but I had been expecting a little better for an all-wheel drive setup.

As tested the Murano SL is priced at $40,783 plus $1,580 in destination charges, but pricing starts at $34,498 for the Base Murano S and runs up to $44,048 for the LE. This price range positions the Murano to compete head-to-head with the likes of the Toyota Highlander, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus RX and a whole slew of other crossovers. Depending on one's taste, the Murano has a styling edge over several of them, and while it only has seating for five, all the seats are roomy and comfortable plus the Murano can fit a decent amount of luggage in back (I particularly liked the pop-up cargo organizer).

You can find sportier crossovers in the segment, or more practical ones, but Nissan is banking that you'll give the nod to the one that offers a good level of equipment for the price and a reasonable compromise between style, practicality and performance.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Nissan, 2011, Murano, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

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