Not to sound like Michigan’s tourism bureau, but the northern reaches of Car and Driver’s home state contain dozens of charming places. And it seemed as though our long-term Nissan Murano visited most of them during its 40,000 miles with us. It went to Traverse City multiple times. It deposited kids at camp at Burt Lake. With a 14-foot canoe strapped to its roof rack, it hauled gear, beer, and tents to Mio for a bachelor party along the Au Sable River. It crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula on the way to a duck-hunting expedition. It even rode a ferry to Beaver Island.
By the time we drove the Murano to locales other than Michigan and nearby northern Ohio (which, prior to the Toledo War of the 1830s, was part of Michigan)—starting with geographically similar Minnesota—it had been Up North ten times and racked up nearly 15,000 miles. Over the ensuing 25,000 miles, it took staffers to northern Michigan another four times, in addition to visiting New Jersey, North Carolina, Ontario, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
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Take Me Away
This is what the Murano does best: transport people and their stuff to faraway places with ease. Our staff members loved taking road trips in the Nissan. Its cocoon-like front seats are cushy yet supportive, reducing fatigue, and the driving position is highly adjustable. Straightforward interior ergonomics minimized the need for our drivers to direct their attention away from the road ahead. The Murano’s spacious rear quarters offer expansive legroom, large door openings, a USB outlet, HVAC vents, and heated outboard seats. Excellent cargo space (the largish Murano doesn’t offer a third row of seats) meant that we often brought along more stuff than was probably necessary.
When we needed local transportation, however, we found the Murano far less endearing, mainly because it wasn’t very entertaining to drive, even by mid-size-crossover standards. The highway-friendly ride quality allowed, in the words of contributor Tony Swan, “extravagant” body motions during around-town errands. The steering, stress-free on interstates, was vague and lifeless on back roads. And our general dislike for the Murano’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is well documented; suffice it to say that the moaning and groaning and surging annoyed us when we commanded the Murano to move at a brisk pace, although in regular circumstances the shiftless transmission was unobtrusive.
The obstructed views caused by the thick A- and D-pillars were more distracting than the CVT. The beveled kick-up at the rear edge of the hood hindered forward visibility, too, particularly when it reflected bright sunlight into the driver’s pupils. At least parking was easy, thanks to the 360-degree Around View camera system and parking sensors.
Those cameras—which display images on an 8.0-inch color central touchscreen—came as part of the top-of-the-line Platinum trim level ($43,955), which also brought along features such as navigation, blind-spot monitoring, a power liftgate, LED headlamps, a heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled front seats. For good measure, we also selected the $2260 Technology package, which added forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a monstrous sunroof (through which kids lacking handheld screens could examine cloud shapes). Would the Murano have been such an appealing road tripper were it not the loaded Platinum model? Perhaps not.
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Features editor Jeff Sabatini liked that the adaptive cruise control could bring the vehicle all the way to a stop, reducing stress on holiday-weekend drives along congested I-75. Many occupants admired the handsome cabin’s soft chocolate-brown leather and silvery wood-grain trim. Noted Sabatini: “I like the looks of the interior enough that I can forget the spaceship looks of the outside.”
Indeed, the Nissan’s styling, like that of previous Muranos, is distinctive yet polarizing. For better or worse, it helps it stand out among the crossover crowd. It doesn’t look as jarring in colors more subdued than our test example’s Pacific Sunset.
No one drove our Murano to see the sunset over the Pacific Ocean (the farthest west it went was Minnesota), but online editor Andrew Wendler drove it all over the Midwest. “It excels as a conveyance for an active family of four,” he said. “The front seats provided the kind of comfort and support that made the 4.5-hour journey to northern Michigan a pleasant one. The key to the Murano’s success is not one particular characteristic or feature but the way it does everything reasonably well. Also,” he added, emphasizing an important consideration for families who frequently head north, “a freak snow squall provided little challenge for the all-wheel-drive SUV shod with Yokohama winter tires.”
Count on It
No matter the weather, the Murano was always easy for staffers to hop into, get comfortable in, find the controls, and load with people and gear. Fuel economy was reasonable for such a large vehicle: 23 mpg for the test duration. Our right feet tended to be particularly heavy driving the Murano to keep it moving swiftly despite the sluggish-feeling CVT. At the test track, however, the brightly colored crossover turned in respectable sprints, including a 7.3-second zero-to-60-mph time. The Murano bested most of its competitors in the 50-to-70-mph passing test, but it lagged behind in 30-to-50-mph acceleration.
Speaking of the Murano’s rivals, many of its road-ready, family-friendly traits are shared with other two-row mid-size crossovers on the market, and vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Ford Edge, the Kia Sorento, and the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport are better suited to towing a trailer, too, since the Murano is rated for a meager 1500 pounds. Blame the CVT.
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Our Murano proved extremely reliable during its stay, with only two hiccups. Less than 1000 miles before the conclusion of the Murano’s test, we noticed that the window glass in the driver’s door was crooked and needed a helping hand to return it to the closed position. Our local dealership’s service department remedied the issue by repositioning the channel for the glass. Also, the proximity key failed to register properly on a couple of occasions. Other than that, the Murano was as reliable as a five-year-old saying “I gotta go potty” 10 minutes after getting back on the road following a fuel stop.
This Nissan was also easy to live with when it came time for maintenance. Visits to the dealership came at the manufacturer’s prescribed 5000-mile intervals for oil changes. Five of those visits cost within 92 cents of each other—about $60—and one cost only $35. The 15,000- and 30,000-mile services cost $111 and $88, respectively, and gave our Murano a new cabin air filter each time, in addition to the standard fluid freshening, inspection, and tire rotation. All told, we paid the service department $531. That’s pretty reasonable, and it’s less than half of what we spent to service our recently departed long-term 2015 Volkswagen Golf.
Pretty much every vehicle in this segment is an excellent road-trip companion by its very nature: commanding view of the road, easy ingress and egress, spacious cargo holds, abundant available creature comforts. Yes, we’d rather live with a Jeep Grand Cherokee, we’d prefer to steer a Ford Edge or a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport on a lonely country road, we’d sooner stretch out in a Kia Sorento, and we’d rather admire a lot of alternatives in our driveway. But this is increasingly the type of car that people are buying, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (In 2015, Nissan sold 62,907 Muranos in the United States, a far higher annual total than it had seen since 2008, and sales through the first half of 2016 were nearly 40 percent higher than they were the year prior.) For folks who don’t mind a CVT and bold styling, we see few reasons to dissuade them from owning a Nissan Murano. We’d recommend they put a trip to northern Michigan on the agenda, too.