Nissan Murano: Highly visable

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Nissan Murano SE AWD is a difficult vehicle to categorize. Is it a tall station wagon, SUV, or minivan? Well, to be honest it really doesn’t matter because if you like the exterior styling you’re not going to find anything like this so pay the $31,000 to $42,000 (US) and enjoy your choice. However, beware of visibility problems to the sides and rear.

Two problems immediately arise when testing the upgraded Murano SE. The first is that the ride is sportier than others in this price range. It is not that we don’t appreciate a firm ride on a car designed to handle curved roads, but on a high riding SUV that can result in overconfidence and, as all SUVs, the high center of gravity make tipping over a constant reality.

The second problem is the pricing. When well equipped, the Murano comes face to face with the leader of this segment, the Lexus RX, when the price passes the mid $30,000 range. The Lexus rides much better and exceeds the Nissan’s people friendly attributes in all areas except acceleration and handling. Resale is heavily in the RX’s favor. Thus we recommend you look at a more basic version of the Murano if you like the style and performance.

Mom’s view: I found the visibility much better than what I thought it would be and the monitor mounted in the center of the dash was quite clear. When you put the Murano in reverse the onboard rear camera showed a clear view and made it exceptionally easy to park. I have never seen such a good view complete with lines that helped you line-up the Murano when you were unsure of its width. Excellent. I also found the interior well done with easy to read gauges and an airy feel. The seats were exceptional and there was adequate storage. If you order the SE Touring option you get leather heated seats, sunroof, adjustable pedals, and more, but at a cost in excess of $4000 US. If you can live without this options, and I could, consider passing on this package. You can also order a Technology option that offers a seven-inch monitor, GPS, the rearview camera, and a terrific driver information center. This is a desirable option for me, but it does add over $2000 to the bottom line.

Overall, I found the Murano a classy and peppy vehicle to drive. I didn’t reveal in its bean shape, but the interior was well-appointed and very user friendly. If the ride weren’t so stiff legged I wouldn’t mind owning one for winter travel. The fuel mileage was about 21 mpg, not bad for such a potent ride.

Dad’s view: Talk about walking into the lion’s den, Nissan’s Murano with its price range from about $30,000 US to over $40,000 places it in direct competition with no less than seven stellar SUVs besides the Lexus. There is the Acura MDX, the Volvo XC 90, Cadillac’s SRX, Honda Pilot, Chrysler’s Pacifica, and even the new Subaru Tribeca and Saab’s 9-7. Mercedes is also offering the new ML and Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler have whole fleets of SUVs in this price range. In fact, you can get the Ford Escape hybrid for less.

With that array of players awaiting the potential buyer Nissan has staked its bid on three factors. First, a love it or hate it shape. Secondly, a potent engine that provides 245 horsepower through an all wheel drive set up that works effortlessly. Finally, a sporty ride that separates it from its stalemates, the Nissan Pathfinder, Xterra, and bulky Armada.

Essentially, the Murano is an Altima station wagon as it uses the same structure and most of the same underpinnings. The Murano comes in three versions starting with the bargain priced S, the more subdued handling SL and the loaded SE. All of them utilize 4-wheel independent suspension including a multi-link rear suspension, a 3.5-liter V6 engine, a continuously variable automatic transmission and either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Although the all wheel drive model does not have a low range transfer case, the differential can lock so that you get a 50/50 power split for tough situations and low speeds. You can shift the transmission to some extend with choices of D for normal driving, S for more acceleration, and L for when you need more power at low speeds.

There are plenty of standard features among the best being the ABS, abundance of side and front airbags, and rollover sensor. The latter is especially important because all SUVs are susceptible to rollovers and the rate of accidents for them has been climbing alarmingly. If you are serious about any SUV you might also check your insurance carrier for rates before you buy. SUVs are also more expensive to maintain, require more fuel, and have less visibility than sedans.

I would go with the SL model, maybe order the xenon lights, and certainly take the antiskid and traction control. I do like the rear camera monitor, but I have mixed feeling about the GPS. It is costly and unless you travel a great deal the unit is largely left unused. I also could not find out if you could upload new data as information can quickly become obsolete in areas of growth. You should note that Nissan pioneered the bird’s eye map view that makes for an interesting to read map, but at speed it is more difficult to follow. There is a DVD entertainment center option, too.

Visibility is surprisingly good, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a small vehicle. It is going to fill your garage up and it weighs over 4000 pounds. If you share the vehicle with someone who is either much taller or shorter than you the power pedal adjustments might be a something to be considered. I did find it difficult to see the readouts in the dash pod that contains the instruments. I think Nissan was trying to be a bit too clever as the fonts were too small to read quickly, despite the natty look. All of the switches are easy to reach, and there are even rear air-conditioning outlets.

College going male’s view: Good news. The threats from my family have succeeded and I am back at school full-time. I still have my music online if you would like to hear a sample check out

Sound wise, the Murano has all the ingredients of a superior system, but they don’t work well together. The stereo buttons are too small, the radio reception just average, and the controls to complex for easy use while driving. For audio and visual treats, our Murano was equipped with an optional Bose seven-speaker, 225-watt stereo audio system that included an in-dash six-disc changer and XM satellite radio connection. The unit can handle MP3 CDs, but I didn’t test them.

With the technology option you get the large driver information display that shows temperature settings, audio controls, and information on the vehicle’s performance. It isn’t as difficult to use as some, but sometimes it becomes a nuisance when you just want to change the temperature setting or find your miles per gallon. After a while I don’t feel this would be a problem once you master the joystick that you push to enter the information. It makes everything a bit more difficult if you actually are trying to change anything.

Our test vehicle did have the auxiliary controls on the steering wheel that came in very handy, although the horn was less than worthy when it came to getting someone’s attention.

There are also three power outlets in this Nissan, which is a nice touch as you can plug in your whatever from the front-passenger footwell, the center console and the rear cargo area.

Rear seating is excellent and you can adjust the rake, but this is difficult to do when the car is moving. The rear seats are split and can be flipped so that a generous 82 or so cubic feet of storage is yours. As mom mentioned, the liftover is quite high even for me.

The Murano is much better than the overrated BMW X5 when it comes to performance and the Nissan costs a lot less. Too bad people won’t probably be cross-shopping these two because if you were blindfolded you would always choose the Murano. I got about 22 mpg with the Nissan, or nearly 8 mpg more than the BMW.

In our mountain test section the continuous variable transmission performed exceptionally. It even automatically holds the Murano in a lower gear as you go down step grades to prevent overheating the brakes. By the way, the four wheel vented discs were above average, but don’t expect neck snapping stopping as they Murano weighs over two tons. The Brake Assist and electronic brake force distribution system help control the Nissan by varying the pressure to each wheel as it is needed.

Young working woman’s view: The shape never appealed to me, but I thought the interior was modern and even a touch elegant. Driving was very easy with a high seating position and above average handling, braking, and acceleration. I even found the fuel mileage acceptable for such a large vehicle. I was surprised that there were three areas in the center console for storage and also room in the door pockets and glove compartment. The rear cargo bay can easily hold enough groceries for a week and the rear hatch opens easily, although there is a high liftover.

Getting in and out wasn’t too difficult and the turning radius was quite good. I could easily park this Murano without having to do a three-point turn. Actually, I have nothing negative to report other than the overly complicated driver’s computer and the small gauges. I wasn’t looking forward to testing this Murano, but in the end I found I had learned to love it.

Family conference: If you like the way the Nissan Murano looks, there is no reason not to consider this SUV. However, watch the option list carefully because they are bundled. Also take it for a long ride over roughed up roads to make sure you can live with the sporty suspension. Finally, take a close look at your needs. The Murano does not have third row seating. On the other hand it is easy to drive and certainly distinctive. We have friends who bought one and swear by it for both daily transportation and long trips. She has a bad back so they ordered the more comfortable SL version and it already has 60,000 trouble free miles on it. For the websites of most every manufacture of cars and motorcycles go to