By Lary Coppola
Nissan debuted an all-new version of its popular Murano mid-sized SUV for the 2009 model year that replaced this very successful first-generation crossover SUV noted for its sleek, trend setting styling, roomy, luxurious cabin, great performance, and terrific handling. Except for some minor evolutionary upgrades, refinements, and new paint colors, the 2012 version is basically unchanged.
At first glance, the second generation Murano appears very similar to the original. However, subtle styling changes are part of the aforementioned evolutionary upgrades that include more curvy sheetmetal, a bigger, shinier grille with a less-busy air intake under it, and very large, bold, seven-element headlamps. There’s also a completely new rear-end design — more horizontal than vertical — with dual, chrome-tipped exhaust ports under the bumper. However, styling isn’t the only thing that’s evolved. Underneath and inside, this is a completely different vehicle than the original.
The Murano is built on Nissan’s “D-Platform” — a proven driver’s chassis that also sits underneath the popular Altima and Infiniti G37. Rated among the best handling cars by J. D. Power & Associates, the D-Platform has been optimized specifically for the Murano.
The 2012 Nissan Murano is available in four trim levels models – S, SV, SL and LE. All come standard with front wheel drive and offer an advanced all-wheel drive system. Only one option package is available — the Navigation Package. Available on SL and LE models, it offers HDD Navigation with 9.3 GB Music Box® Hard Drive, Voice Recognition and touch screen with 7-inch VGA screen and Bluetooth® Streaming Audio.
Walkaround: Nissan retained much of the styling characteristics that gave the first Murano its distinctive appearance. The Murano’s wing-like grille treatment — the signature look for its crossover line — features wide front headlights with available High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps. The wider, more aggressive stance is coupled with a new, ribbed hood that sweeps gently upwards into the sculpted bodylines. There’s also a dual panel moonroof with a smooth, unified glass/sheetmetal appearance that was new in 2011.
In the rear, the glass hatch has been enlarged and restyled. The French-curved LED taillights now sit horizontally, while silencer-barrel exhausts complete the look.
Interior: The Murano’s functional interior has been upgraded into what Nissan labels a “Mobile Suite.” It’s large, but intentionally designed for only two rows of seating and cargo space. Nissan’s suite concept contends the first row is the living room, second row the reception room, and cargo area the hobby room.
The Murano’s new front seats offer enhanced support, and excellent comfort, with optional new double-stitched leather-appointed seating surfaces. There’s also an available 8-way power driver, and 4-way power front passenger’s seat with a driver’s memory system (seats, steering wheel and mirrors).
The center stack has been redesigned and a telescoping wheel is standard.
The 60/40 fold-flat rear seat is available with a convenient feature that returns it to the upright position with a button push. Heated seats are available both front and rear.
There’s a variety of cargo storage, including a standard dual-level console, numerous cupholders, lots of cubbies, an extra large glovebox and dual seatback pockets.
The Murano also features the same available foldaway cargo organizer that originally debuted in the Rogue. It pops up from the cargo floor with a push of a button and snaps into position. It has removable, vertical, webbed cargo partitions to prevent items like grocery bags from rolling around. It’s also ideal for wet or dirty items due to its easy-clean interior.
Other standard interior features include push button ignition; automatic door locks, dual zone climate controls; Fine Vision gauges; and an AM/FM/CD6/six-speaker audio system with AUX-in jack, VTR jack and MP3/WMA capability.
The Murano offers a huge variety of intuitive, advanced technology options including an Intelligent Key, a Bose premium 11-speaker audio system with an iPod® connector that integrates into the Murano’s standard audio system controls (LE only), a 6-CD in-dash changer, speed-sensitive volume control, a 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, XM Satellite Radio with and XM’s real-time Nav Traffic, Nissan’s DVD Mobile Entertainment system with a 9-inch roof-mounted screen, and Nissan’s newest Navigation System with user-friendly graphic interface, menu structure and intelligent search capabilities.
Also available is hands-free Bluetooth, steering wheel controls for cruise and audio functions, RearView Monitor; and voice recognition for audio, HVAC, Bluetooth® and Nav.
Under The Hood: Nissan’s lightweight aluminum block and cylinder head VQ DOHC V6 — the same engine found in the Z370, but tuned specifically for the Murano — puts 260 horses to the highway with 240 lb-ft of torque. The engine boasts Nissan’s Variable Induction Control System (NICS), and is married to an advanced Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Adaptive Shift Control (ACS).
All 2012 Muranos are available with advanced AWD that adjusts to road conditions in a tenth of a second. Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with a Traction Control System (TCS) is also standard on all Murano models. The system provides increased traction in all weather conditions by distributing engine torque depending on the driver’s intended direction and the actual direction of the vehicle.
Behind The Wheel: We’ve driven several versions of the Murano on a number of different occasions — this most recent one in South Florida while on a 10-day trip there. Acceleration is impressive and handling is excellent thanks to the four-wheel independent suspension, and high performance dual flow path shock absorbers. You can just feel the sports car lurking underneath this SUV.
The twin-orifice speed-sensitive power steering system is similar to the one used in Altima and 370Z, and has a nice feel, delivering the proper level of assistance for both in-town and high-speed driving.
Great braking is courtesy of large 4-wheel vented disc brakes with 4-wheel, 4-channel, 4-sensor ABS with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA).
Whines: There must be something, but it escapes me.
Bottom Line: There’s a reason Murano sales have increased steadily every year since it debuted in 2003 as a model year 2004 crossover — in the most crowded of all market segments. The 2012 Nissan Murano is simply a very serious improvement over what wa
s already a pretty great vehicle by any standard. We’ll personally be in the market for a mid-size crossover sometime soon — and in spite of all the choices — the Murano will be on our very short list.