2012 Nissan Murano

October 9, 2012

The 2012 Nissan Murano remains a comfortable five-seat crossover with a higher-quality interior than you'd expect from a non-luxury brand, but shoppers should watch that gas mileage.

Now three years into its second generation, the Murano is showing its age — not in the driving experience or its interior quality, but in efficiency. This stands out because the Murano was once one of the most efficient SUVs on the market, thanks to car-based construction and an efficient continuously variable automatic transmission, both of which were rare in the midsize class when the Murano made its 2003 debut.

What's New

With the addition of an SV trim level for 2011, the Murano comes in four trims: S, SV, SL and LE. Starting with the 2012 model, the S trim level has a 7-inch monochrome display and the LE is eligible for a new optional Platinum Package, which adds 20-inch alloy wheels and a navigation system. Otherwise, there are few changes for 2012 (see the two model years compared). All trims come with front- or all-wheel drive. We tested a Murano SL AWD.

Rewards Await You

The Murano is a peculiar-looking crossover; always has been. If you can get past that, or like it, rewards await you inside. Particularly in the higher trim levels, the Murano has a nicely appointed cabin. The SL we drove had rich leather and one of my favorite elements: real aluminum trim. Why many luxury automakers continue to use obviously fake stuff boggles the mind. Speaking of luxury, since the beginning the Murano has bumped up against the Infiniti brand, which Nissan owns, but there was never a direct conflict. (The midsize Infiniti FX has rear-wheel drive and a separate platform altogether.) The all-new 2013 Infiniti JX35 is much more like the Murano, though it's larger and seats seven. Merely $1,615 separates the top front-drive Murano trim from the base JX35, however.

The Murano's three-passenger backseat doesn't have the fore/aft adjustment we've come to appreciate in more recent crossover models, but those in the rear seats won't be hurting for legroom, despite a specification that's lower than those of a few key competitors. The cargo area is large enough, too.

All told, the rear seats are exceptionally well executed. A canvas strap on the door side of the outboard seats allows passengers to adjust the 60/40-split backrest's angle easily. The seats also fold flat in a single step. Because they're spring-tensioned, you can lower them from the cargo area, too, using levers on the corresponding side. Even better, an optional power return feature on the higher two trim levels lets you raise them from the same location. If a passenger opens the backdoor to find the seat folded, the driver can raise it remotely using a switch on the dashboard.

To see how various child-safety seats fit in the Murano, click here.

Comfort & Poise

All the interior niceties would be meaningless if the Murano were otherwise disappointing, but that's far from the case. It provides a good mix of ride comfort and handling poise, and the standard 3.5-liter V-6 has plenty of power. The Murano was an early adopter of the continuously variable automatic transmission , and its pairing with Nissan's V-6 has arguably been the best CVT execution on the market. Even so, time has passed, and this time around we noticed some hesitation in accelerator response, especially from a standing start. It was consistent and predictable, which makes it a bit less troubling, and there's no shortage of conventional automatics that exhibit the same behavior, and often exhibit worse. Just be sure to pay attention to it if you go for a test drive.

Falling Behind

What hasn't aged as well are the Murano's gas mileage figures, which have long been among its high points in this vehicle class, especially when equipped with all-wheel drive. At an estimated 18/24 mpg city/highway for front-wheel and 18/23 mpg for four-wheel drive, the mileage hasn't changed, but the landscape has. Comparable crossovers are now more efficient, including the Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Highlander (see base versions compared). Likewise, models with three rows of seats, like the Honda Pilot, are more efficient, as is the Ford Explorer if you select the optional turbocharged engine. A literal heavyweight, the pricey Volkswagen Touareg falls behind the Murano at 16/23 mpg, but is also available in high-mileage diesel and hybrid versions.

Safety

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2012 Murano rated four stars overall out of five. Its rollover rating — which predicts rollover likelihood — is a typical four stars. Unfortunately, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's roof-strength test — which predicts occupant protection in an actual rollover — the Murano scored Marginal, which is below average. This relatively new test cost the Murano the Top Safety Pick designation it had held previously thanks to Good scores in the other tests.

As is required of all vehicles starting with the 2012 model year, the Murano comes with antilock brakes and an electronic stability system . The front seats include side-impact airbags and active head restraints , and there are side curtain airbags to protect both the front and rear seats. See all the standard safety features here.

Perhaps another sign of the Murano's age is the absence of active safety features — things like radar-based blind spot warning and a lane departure warning system.

Murano in the Market

A longtime Cars.com Best Bet, the Murano lost the designation in 2012 due to its below-average mileage and substandard roof strength, but it remains a favorite among Cars.com editors thanks to all its benefits. If you aren't concerned about a mile per gallon here or there, the Murano still stands tall against newer competition.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The Murano is a peculiar-looking vehicle. Always has been. If you don't mind it, or even like it, the Murano will reward you in other ways.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Alloy wheels are standard. Shown are the standard 18-inch wheels; 20-inchers are optional. Roof rails come on all but the base trim level.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The cabin quality in higher Murano trim levels rivals that of luxury models.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Real aluminum trim is among the upscale materials that put the Murano above most competitors — and some luxury models.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Comfortable seats complement the Murano's comfortable ride. Our claustrophobic editor appreciated the low center console. Leather upholstery comes in the two higher trim levels, the SL (shown) and LE.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Even though it doesn't slide forward and back as some backseats do, the Murano has adequate legroom.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The folding rear seats are well-executed. An easily reached strap allows passengers to adjust the backrest angle, and the spring-tensioned seats otherwise fold flat in a single step from here or by means of levers near the liftgate.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

On the higher two trim levels, a power-return feature raises either folded rear seat at the touch of a button, either near the liftgate (not shown) or by the driver's left knee, along with the power liftgate control and other buttons.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

A full-color display is standard on the top three trim levels; the base trim has a monochrome display in the same 7-inch space. A navigation system is optional on the two higher trim levels.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Even though the navigation system employs a touch-screen, the multifunction controller knob is a bit easier to reach.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The radio and ventilation controls are nice, conventional buttons and knobs — easily understood and operated.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

To support video, the Murano has RCA jacks (1) rather than the single 3.5-mm jack many cars employ for connecting portable audio players. A different cord is required. The USB port (2), however, is universal.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

By the numbers, the Murano's cargo volume behind the backseat is on par with that of the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

With the backseat folded, there's a nice, continuous cargo floor, but the total volume of 64 cu. ft. is less than you'll find in the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The 3.5-liter V-6 is smooth and gutsy — actually smoother than the 3.7-liter that's succeeded it in some Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. The continuously variable automatic transmission is possibly the best of its type.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The Murano is reasonably accommodating to various child-safety seats, though our editors found the Latch anchors were obstructed by the belt buckles.

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