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2011 Nissan Murano SL AWD

Nissan Manages to Offer up an Unconventionally Styled Conventional Crossover

      A few years back I found myself earning a living after answering a job posting at a local car rental agency with the unglamorous description of ‘Lot Attendant’.  As the lowly lot attendant I found myself vacuuming and washing battered and abused rental cars, completing vehicle inspections of those poor cars, towing them to and from remote locations using a tired F-150 of indeterminate vintage with an auto dolly and shuttling customers to and from dealerships while their cars were in service. It was the dealership customers that seemed to be the most interesting, as they often shared a story of their once-loved purchase. The most amazing stories reliably came from our Nissan Murano customers. It seemed that this early entry in the crossover craze was also one of the first larger vehicles to offer a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the US. So problematic was the transmission that one customer posted a “for sale” sign of his Murano in our office hoping to offload the vehicle onto one of our customers dulled by a sense of mediocrity after turning in their rental Chevy Classic. On more than one occasion I witnessed a problematic Murano in the service department with entire engine and transmission removed as the mechanics searched for a solution. It should come as no surprise, then, that I wasn’t expecting much when an all-wheel-drive 2011 Murano SL showed up in the Automotive Trends garage. Would this vehicle’s unloved CVT and bizarre styling draw further criticism, or, like the Mazda CX-7 we drove last year, surprise by exceeding expectations?
      Nissan has been the exception in recent years amongst its fellow Japanese brands in offering vehicles that do anything but blend in. The Murano, though more mild than Nissan’s Juke, is no exception. The Murano has always been distinctive, but it seems that what once was edgy is starting to look a bit ungainly. In order to avoid making any solid conclusions about the styling, we decided to put the exterior out of view and slide behind the wheel of the Murano. Once seated in the crossover it became obvious that Nissan chose to avoid jarring occupants with hard materials. The armrests, door panels and dashboard all had a high quality look and cushy feel to them. The lone exception is the center stack, with glossy metallic looking plastics, but the effort is hard to fault overall. Accommodations are adequately spacious for a midsize crossover. The price hardly seemed like a bargain, however, topping out at $39,885 with destination. The only options were cargo and floor mats and a navigation package.

      The 3.5-liter V6 provides a no-longer-impressive 260 hp and 240 ft-lbs of torque. Unfortunately, this once lauded engine has been surpassed in recent years by more powerful and efficient offerings. The EPA rating on our AWD test vehicle was low for a two row crossover, managing only 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. We would expect this type of fuel economy out of Nissan’s own truck-based X-terra, but not a crossover. Where is the benefit of purchasing a soft-roader over an off-roader if fuel economy gains are minimal? Consider the Chevrolet Traverse, a much larger vehicle which offers a third row of seats, 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway with the FWD model and a more powerful 288 hp V6 and 270 ft-lbs of torque. Nissan engineers have done their best to polish the CVT’s rough edges and the transmission now proves to be fairly transparent in matching engine speeds, which is a big improvement over the general perception of CVTs among enthusiasts. Handling proved to be nothing to boast of nor anything to generate a complaint. When driven in suburban America the Murano soaks up the bumps and turns crisply, though we would be hard pressed to label any aspect of the vehicles performance as ‘sporty.’

     The Murano proves to be an overall pleasant vehicle with no glaring faults. However, unless unconventional styling strikes your fancy, there just is nothing that makes this vehicle stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, it does little to justify its bulk over cars with smaller exterior dimensions and more sporting pretensions. Not all crossovers are doomed to this fate of mediocrity, as evidenced by our unanticipated appreciation for the Mazda CX-7. Considering Nissan’s reputation for offering passionate cars for the mainstream, such as the 370Z, Altima and Maxima, we hope that Nissan’s next generation Murano will prove that the third time is the charm.

The Good:
Above average interior materials, nifty weather maps and forecast reports in the nav system, comfortable seats and surprisingly competent CVT.
The Bad:
Awkward styling, giant windshield makes for a long dash, disappointing fuel economy, disappointing Bose audio.
The Verdict:
An unconventionally styled conventional crossover that fails to inspire.

Photos by Jason Muxlow



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