2012 Nissan Murano SL AWD review

The Murano is not without a blemish or two, and the biggest blight on an otherwise solid performance has to be its lackluster fuel economy.
The Murano is not without a blemish or two, and the biggest blight on an otherwise solid performance has to be its lackluster fuel economy.
The Murano is not without a blemish or two, and the biggest blight on an otherwise solid performance has to be its lackluster fuel economy.

Highs

  • Interior is logically designed and comfortable
  • High-quality cabin
  • Intuitive navigation and infotainment system
  • Capable powertrain

Lows

  • Over-stylized and eccentric design
  • Cargo space lacks the size of competitors
  • Rigid handling
  • Poor fuel economy compared to competitors

DT Editors' Rating

The crossover SUV segment is one of the most competitive in the market, and the Nissan Murano has been steadily cementing its place among the crowded scene for nearly a decade. Upon its debut in 2003, the Murano was heralded not only for its unique styling and competent handling (thanks in large part to its car-like underpinnings), but for fuel efficiency that was still quite rare within the budding segment.

Now, some three years into its second generation, the 2012 Nissan Murano soldiers on, but does it still possess the same characteristics and quality that made it so popular throughout the years?

A face only a mother could love

If we had to describe the 2012 Nissan Murano in one word, it would have to be bulbous. We’re not entirely sure if “bulbous” has ever been used in a positive manner, so take from that what you will. Nevertheless, we’re not fans of the Murano’s quirky, and yes, bulbous design.

We’ve come to appreciate many eccentric designs among the riff raff of the automotive world — Nissan’s own Leaf included — but the 2012 Nissan Murano isn’t one of them. The mish-mash of excessive contours and overblown styling cues certainly don’t make the crossover derivative of anything else we’ve seen. On the contrary, the 2012 Murano is entirely unique, but just because it is original doesn’t make it good.

With so many great looking CUVs roaming the market, the Murano is in desperate need of a visual overhaul in order to retain any sort of styling relevancy. It may have been able to turn our heads back in 2003, but now it just makes our stomachs turn. We’re open to creative and “out there” design languages from automakers the world over – we’d just prefer they twist our tongues, not our intestines.

2012 Nissan Murano Crossover Review exterior right side car review
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Knocking on luxury’s doors

While the 2012 Nissan Murano’s exterior may be highly stylized to a fault, the interior couldn’t be more different. Despite the fact that its dimensions suffer at the hands of its peculiar design, the interior of the Murano features an attractive cabin that effortlessly blends both form and function.

From a layout perspective, the Murano keeps things simple, yet efficient. The instrument cluster adds a degree of sportiness with its sharply lit, three-ringed design, while the three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel felt comfortable to grip and features controls for the car’s Bluetooth, navigation, and audio system.

Nissan offers up one of the better arrangements, with three different ways to control the infotainment system: the aforementioned steering-wheel controls, an LCD touchscreen, and a center console dial just below it. After a few minutes maneuvering between each system, it becomes extremely intuitive. 

2012 Nissan Murano Crossover Review interior steering wheel car review
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Bigger doesn’t always mean better, and the Murano makes due with its size. The front half of the vehicle offers up plenty of space for both driver and passenger. Seating is comfortable, with our SL model sporting rich leather seats. Passengers in the back will have little to complain about as the 2012 Nissan Murano provides ample room for longer jaunts. A dual-panel moon roof with automated blind shutter was also included in our review unit, which lends to the cabin’s spacious feel.

Compared to some of its competitors, cargo space in the 2012 Murano is limited. The low roofline and sloping rear end does reduce available real estate, but for hauling groceries and camping essentials, the Murano manages. Cargo space measures in at 31.5 cubic feet, but that number swells to 64 cubic feet with the back seats folded forward. Our model even included the optional power liftgate, which quickly became indispensable.

Simply put, the 2012 Murano sports an excellent cabin. Minor touches like real aluminum trim, quality materials and the upgraded Bose sound system help round out an already stellar package.

Poise and power, but struggling for miles

At the heart of the 2012 Nissan Murano is a 3.5-liter V6 producing 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and is available in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive systems, with our review unit adopting the latter.

2012 Nissan Murano Crossover Review exterior engine car review

Relative to others in the segment, the 2012 Nissan Murano’s powertrain looks like a heavyweight contender on the scales, but ultimately slips back down into middleweight mediocrity in the ring. It’s not that the vibrant V6 won’t (mostly) satisfy your need for speed or your lust for power, it just doesn’t seem to truly offer up enough of that get-up-and-go we would have liked. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it just… is — which we imagine will be fine for most.

That said, the 2012 Nissan Murano makes a consummate highway cruiser. The engine responds smoothly to light acceleration — it’s not until you truly put pedal to the metal that you start to see a hint of sluggishness. It doesn’t impede passing capabilities or make getting up to speed on the freeway particularly difficult, but it was noticeable.

Where the Murano did deliver a mild degree of discomfort was is in its handling. Macpherson struts comprise the vehicle’s front suspension, while a multi-link configuration takes up residence in the rear. Despite its front and rear stabilizing bars, the Murano feels sluggish when asked to do its duty, and not just on more demanding turns. The car’s tendency to lean and sway on even mild curves was a cause for concern. Suffice to say, for an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the Murano never truly instilled that vote of confidence we’ve come to expect from its road-gripping brethren.

Unfortunately for Nissan, things don’t fare much better when it comes to gas mileage, where the 2012 Murano is rather unremarkable in this department. EPA estimates sit at 23 mpg on the highway, 18 mpg in the city, and 20 mpg combined. By comparison both the Honda CRV and Mazda CX-5 offer better fuel economy than the Murano, while a similarly equipped Ford Edge manages to best the Murano by 2 mpg in both city and highway driving.

Price and trim

Options abound for the 2012 Nissan Murano. The five-door midsize SUV is available in four trim levels: S, SV, SL, and LE. Standard features on the S model include 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, seven-inch monochrome screen, six-speaker stereo with CD changer, and aux jack, to name a few.

2012 Nissan Murano Crossover Review interior gps navigationStepping up to the SL model, our review unit came equipped with an undeniably useful power liftgate, heated front seats and steering wheel, 20-inch alloy wheels, upgraded nine-speaker Bose sound system, and leather upholstery. Additionally, an HDD navigation system with seven-inch color touchscreen and voice recognition was also included as part of our SL’s navigation package.

Base price for the S model (all figures exclude an $810 destination fee) starts at $29,960 and jumps to $39,960 in the LE model. Our SL AWD review unit carries an MSRP of $37,230, but once we factor in its floor mats and carpeted cargo mat ($195) and Navigation Package ($1,850), that price bumps up to $40,850, which is dangerously close to Infiniti FX 35 territory.

Finish line

The 2012 Nissan Murano is a curious creature. On the outside, the voluptuous crossover SUV is simply too hard to look at, and its excessive and over-stylized designed immediately destroy any appreciation we could muster for its outer shell.

However, those willing to dig deeper will quickly unearth the Murano’s inner beauty: a luxuriously appointed cabin with all the comfort one could hope for. Here, the Murano doesn’t need to reply on visual gimmickry. Instead, we’re treated with a smart design, a logical layout, and ample space for both pilot and passengers. Toss in amenities like an excellent rear-view monitor and an easily navigable infotainment system and we’re hard pressed to find much fault.

Of course the Murano is not without a blemish or two, and the biggest blight on an otherwise solid performance has to be its lackluster fuel economy. As a pioneer of the CVT engine in its segment, the 2012 Murano has fallen behind the times. Maybe Nissan has become too complacent, we’re not sure, but the years have not been kind to the Murano. At a time when its competitors are netting highway mileage returns in the low 30s, the Murano embarrasses itself by lagging behind in the low 20s, with things fairing even worse in the city. Nissan needs to reinvigorate the Murano, and not just its design (we’re begging you) but more importantly in regard to fuel efficiency.

Ultimately, whether the 2012 Nissan Murano is the right crossover SUV for you will largely depend on two things: style and miles per gallon. The first is easy to decipher; beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you either like the Murano’s look or you don’t. But for those concerned with mpg returns, the fact that the Murano trails behind so many of its competitors is reason enough to seek less fuel-thirsty alternatives.

Highs:

  • Interior is logically designed and comfortable
  • High-quality cabin
  • Intuitive navigation and infotainment system
  • Capable powertrain

Lows:

  •  Over-stylized and eccentric design
  •  Cargo space lacks the size of competitors
  •  Rigid handling
  •  Poor fuel economy compared to competitors
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