The crossover SUV segment was still relatively young and growing in 2002, but Nissan helped shape the future of this market when it the Nissan Murano late that year as a 2003 model. Before the introduction of the Murano, Nissan's utility vehicles of the time, the Nissan Pathfinder and Nissan Xterra, were rugged, boxy SUVs, but Nissan's first-ever crossover in the United States proved that crossovers could also be sporty and stylish. For anyone looking to buy or lease a new crossover right now, it would be hard to find a more well-rounded vehicle than the 2010 Nissan Murano
Assembled in Japan, the Nissan Murano is available in three trim levels (S, SL and LE) and competes in the crowded mid-size crossover market against vehicles such as the Ford Edge, Toyota Venza and the Kia Sorento. Although the base 2010 Murano S has a starting MSRP of $28,050, the model used for this road test was the midlevel Murano SL which starts at $29,600. Decked out with plenty of cabin tech and luxury upgrades, the as-tested price jumped up to $36,535 - almost $3,000 more than a base Infiniti EX. Even at this price, my weeklong, long-distance road test with this fully loaded Nissan Murano left me with the impression that a well-equipped Murano can be on par with most luxury crossovers with a driving dynamic that is closer to some luxury sport sedans.
2010 Nissan Murano Exterior
Since its introduction, the Nissan Murano has been one of the sleekest looking crossovers on the market, and the second-generation design that debuted in 2009 was just as groundbreaking and edgy as the first. The same basic bullet-shaped design is carried over on the new design, but the front and rear designs helps to give the crossover a much different appearance that is fresher yet equally as polarizing as the original. The evolution between first and second generation designs is highlighted by the slotted grille, softer body lines and the horizontal headlamps and taillights. One of the signature elements that was carried over relatively untouched is the unique upswept beltline that accents the sporty roofline.
As the middle trim level, the Murano SL is distinguishable by its black roof racks (the S doesn't have roof racks and the LE has chrome rails), but all trim levels come with tasteful amounts of exterior chrome. The multitude of surface angles on the unique grille makes the chrome shine no matter and the sides feature chrome door handles and rocker panel trim, but two of the best chrome accents available on all Murano models are the big chrome-tipped exhaust outlets poking out of the rear fascia. The rear LED taillights are standard, while the Bi-Xenon, automatic headlamps are a part of the optional ($1,500) Technology Package. The whole look is finished off the Deep Sapphire exterior paint and the wide, 18-inch six-spoke wheels.
2010 Nissan Murano Interior
One thing missing from the original Murano was an interior that fit the crossover's unique style. The new Murano's five-passenger interior not only received a stylish layout, but it also benefits from excellent materials throughout the cabin and an abundance of easy-to-use technologies. In total, all of the optional add-ons on this vehicle totaled $6,135 resulting in a total MSRP and a cabin that both compete with comparably sized luxury crossovers.
While some of the other mid-size crossovers that the Murano competes against offer three-row seating, Nissan opted to focus on the unique styling rather than cramming a small, unusable third row in the back. The sporty design gives the Murano less cargo room and worse rearward visibility than other crossovers in this class, but the rest of the interior is almost flawless especially on this fully loaded Murano SL.
The $1,600 Leather Package gave this Murano a look and feel that would be expected from an Infiniti. On my long test drive with the Murano, the plush seats and soft touch points made the ride more enjoyable with the Beige leather on the seats, steering wheel, shift lever and center console lid. All of the touch points were either soft and comfortable (like the elbow rests on the door panels) or smooth and rich (like the metallic accents on the center stack and center console). The aforementioned Technology Package also added Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, a power liftgate and rain sensing windshield wipers.
Usually, passengers stuck in the back seat must suffer, but the Murano offers a generous amount of rear passenger area including more headroom and legroom than the full-size Chevrolet Traverse crossover. There is also a decent amount of recline angle afforded to the rear seats, but to recline the seats the passenger must pull a strap along the bottom edge of the seat which is almost impossible to do while seated. If cargo volume is necessary, the Murano's rear seats fold down easily thanks to a pair of handles located in the cargo area but getting the seats back up is almost easier. When the seats are folded flat, the driver can press a button on the instrument panel that automatically raises the seats, and there are also the same buttons in the cargo area; of course, they can also be raised manually, but who would waster their time with that?
For better entertainment, this Murano came with the $1,850 Navigation System and the $1,000 Premium Package. The Premium Package adds a Bose Premium audio system, a clear backup camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror and audio/video jacks mounted on the back of the center console, while the Nav Package offers 9.3 gigabytes worth of hard drive space dedicated for music storage.
2010 Nissan Murano Performance & Handling
As is the case with most of Nissan and Infiniti's current lineup of vehicles, the Murano's powertrain is among the best in its segment. Although it is based on same components that underpin the sporty Nissan Maxima sedan, the Murano's 3.5-liter V-6 is limited to just 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. While these numbers are far from class-leading, it is the refinement of the powertrain that makes the Murano so much fun to drive. Paired with Nissan's continuously variable transmissions (CVT), the Murano's acceleration is surprising in terms of its quickness and its smoothness. In most cars, the CVT is generally used to improve fuel economy, but the Nissan Murano uses it to accent it sportiness. Still, the Murano delivers average fuel economy for its class with EPA estimates of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.
Unlike most road test reviews, I was able to take the Murano on a 1,000-mile road trip from Jacksonville, Fla. to New Orleans, La. which allows for a much better evaluation of the performance, handling and comfort abilities of any car. Fortunately, the nine-hour drive along Interstate 10 was made more enjoyable thanks to the pleasant highway ride thanks to well-balanced suspension tuning. The Nissan Murano's four-wheel independent suspension is tuned to provide a great ride in normal driving and sufficient cornering during more spirited driving maneuvers. Once in New Orleans, the Murano's suspension and chassis easily absorbed the bumps along what have to be some of the worst road surfaces in the U.S. The well-balance ride qualities along roads both smooth and rough, in addition to the quiet highway driving, are also helped with some of the best light SUV tires currently available, the Bridgestone Dueler H/T.
2010 Nissan Murano Safety
When it comes to crash safety, the Murano is also a top performer despite the four-star rating in frontal-impact protection from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA did give the 2010 Murano five stars for the side-impact protection, and like all other crossovers, it only received four stars for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) scores were even better for the new Murano with Good ratings for front-, side- and rear-impact protection. Standard safety features for all 2010 Nissan Murano models include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and traction control.
The 2010 Nissan Murano is definitely not intended for everybody with its polarizing styling and the sporty ride, but anyone in the market for a sensible and practical crossover that also has this much attitude would be hard pressed to find anything better than the Murano. With the mid-size crossover segment is chocked full of competitors from literally every mainstream automaker, Nissan did a good job of giving the Murano a unique styling that easily stands out from the pack. On top of all this, the fact it is based off the impressive Nissan Maxima sport sedan makes the Nissan Murano one of the most fun-to-drive crossovers currently on the market.
Nissan North America provided the vehicle this road test review.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross