- Upgraded style inside and out
- More power
- Pleasure to drive
- Cargo area penalized by high lift-over, angled glass
- Continuously Variable Transmission doesn't have enough kick
- Missing a third row
Competes With: Ford Edge, Lexus RX 350, Mazda CX-7
Test Drive: 2009 Nissan Murano SL
Don't tell Gramma, but I think I just drove her blue swivel rocker-recliner down the freeway. OK, maybe not, but the material was a similar blue, and the seat cushions were just as comfortable, but they were a little narrower.
That's what it feels like to sit in a stationary 2009 Nissan Murano SL: Like you're sitting in a big comfy chair at Gramma's. However, put the Murano into gear and press the throttle a little too aggressively around a corner and the illusion is shattered. Unlike Grannie's swivel-rocker, you are treated to a healthy chorus of tire squeal. Perhaps if the streets of Southern California were paved in matching blue plush carpeting like Gramma's house, it wouldn't squeal either.
Yet tire squeal is a welcome relief compared to what I had expected: The howl of the engine being tortured by the continuously variable transmission (CVT). I had set three ibuprofen out in the cupholder next to my drink, gritted my teeth and gunned the engine waiting for one of the few sounds worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, but it never materialized. The CVT is refined, and doesn't force the engine to hover at near-redline while accelerating to freeway speed. It almost feels like a conventional automatic, but does still suffer from a slight case of CVT anemia. Hats off to Nissan for finally presenting a CVT that we can tolerate, maybe even live with.
While the CVT is a noteworthy improvement, the handling is mushy. The Murano tends to float, sway and bob along like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and the steering has been given a healthy dose of Novocain. The only input the driver receives is the sound of the suspension absorbing imperfections in the road and echoing them through the passenger cabin. But this car isn't geared toward enthusiasts; it's geared toward people who want to cruise down the road in comfort, preferably in Gramma's easy chair. If that's what your looking for, than Nissan got it right.
As Nissan gears up the Murano to do battle with the likes of the Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7 and maybe even the Lexus RX 350, they are increasingly sourcing materials found in their own Infiniti luxury line. They may not always reflect the polish and luster of the premium brand, but they almost always mirror the comfort.
The padding and covers on the seat frames are as pleasing to the hand as they are to the tush and the same material is found on the armrests and door panel insets. The soft touch dash cap adds to the expensive illusion. There are numerous places where hard plastics are utilized, but they are tasteful and add to the expensive imagery.
Where Nissan did skimp is in the center console screen on non-nav equipped trim levels. It is poorly executed and seems like a hasty effort to fill a hole on lesser models. In addition, the screen picks up lots of glare and is difficult to read during the day.
The rear tonneau cover is a nice touch, but the U-clips that attach to the rear seat head restraint posts are poorly designed. In fact, one was already missing on our test vehicle. Making up for the cover, however, is the remote rear seat controls located on either side of the cargo area side panels. These allow the seats to be folded or raised with the release of a lever, or the press of a switch respectively. The same controls are found on the dash as well.
Finally, we noticed a few ill-fitting panels on the Murano SL we drove. Where the front fascia meets the driver's side quarter panel as well as where the hood lines up above the grille, the gaps were visibly wider than they were on the passenger side. These flaws were not overly obvious, but once spotted, it was hard to draw the eye away from them on this early production model.
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Read the Overview: 2009 Nissan Murano