First drive: 2015 Nissan Murano

Free from awkward adolescence, the 2015 Nissan Murano settles into stately adulthood

I am not a 45-year-old woman. Despite this sobering fact, I found myself comfortable, enthused, and impressed by Nissan’s new crossover.

And why does my age and gender matter? The Japanese automaker is marketing the mid-sized Murano as a ‘premium social lounge,’ where middle-aged couples, colleagues, and other sophisticated adults gallivant through their respective habitats, free from the constraints of car seats and angsty teens.

Having driven the new Murano through California wine country, I’m still not quite sure what that means. Still, the flagship crossover scores high marks in almost every category, with strong driving fundamentals and a well-crafted cabin being the standouts.

To get to know the Murano a little better, however, you have to know its customers first.

Empty nesters

According to Nissan, Murano buyers will primarily be women — 45-year-old women in fact — who are married but don’t live with their children.

Through the use of acoustic glass and sound deadening, the Murano’s cabin is exceptionally quiet.

While this might seem oddly specific, these ‘empty nesters’ are a big market, one that’s full of couples looking to comfortably downsize now that the little ones don’t need chauffeuring.

Unlike many SUVs and vans, the Murano has a backseat designed for adults, not kids. You’ll find adjustable, NASA-inspired ‘Zero Gravity’ seats all around, with climate control availability up front. There are USB ports front and back for smartphone charging and connectivity, and plenty of storage throughout.

Through the use of acoustic glass and sound deadening, the Murano’s cabin is exceptionally quiet, even with Sonoma County’s uncharacteristically heavy rain pounding down on the optional panoramic moonroof.

The front console is streamlined and attractive, with 10 buttons instead of the 2014 model’s 25. There, you’ll find an available 8.0-inch touchscreen, 360-degree camera functionality, and control over the fantastic Bose nine-speaker stereo.

Despite these features, I’m not so sure how intrinsically ‘social’ the Murano is. Nissan uses terms like “multi-functional communication alley” to describe the interior, and even though it’s soft and spacious inside, it’s no more communal than other vehicles in its class.

Perhaps the bold styling will get you talking. The third-generation five-door looks much, much better than the unibrow-clad 2014 model, with an expressive ‘V-Motion’ front end, sexy, floating roof, and flowing accent lines running down the sides.

Strong fundamentals

A fatigue-reducing cockpit would be a wasted effort if the Murano was a chore to drive, but thankfully, it’s quite the opposite.

The odometer ticked by without resistance over our 120-mile voyage through Napa and Santa Rosa, despite atypically stormy weather and a plethora of closed roads due to flooding.

Even with the 20-inch wheels of our range-topping Platinum edition, it handled the imperfections without drama.

This can be mostly attributed, of course, to the interior, but the independent suspension deserves credit as well.

As we traversed around the countless potholes, road cracks, and downed branches of backwater Sonoma, it became more and more apparent how confident Nissan was with the Murano’s suspension. Even with the 20-inch wheels of our range-topping Platinum edition, it handled the imperfections without drama.

A carryover 3.5-liter V6 provides 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, which is channeled to the wheels via Xtronic CVT transmission. There’s little evidence of the stretched, rubber band feeling of some CVTs, and there’s just enough power to keep things interesting.

2015 Nissan Murano review rear angle 3

The crossover is officially rated at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway — an impressive 20-percent increase over the previous year. There are several reasons for this, including a 146-pound weight loss and an improved .031 drag coefficient.

That’s right; thanks to underbody covers, active grill shutters, and a sculpted body, the Nissan Murano is now as slippery as a Porsche 911 Turbo.

The five-door also flaunts best-in-class rear cargo volume with the seats up (39.6 cubic feet), which is right up there with the 2015 Lexus RX 350’s 40.0 cu ft. With the seats down, it measures in at 69.9 cu ft.

On the brink

With its plethora of available features, the Murano teeters on the precipice of the luxury class, without falling into the lavish, high-priced waters on the other side.

As tested, our Platinum model ran $43,745, which included the $2,260 Technology Package. Incorporated in the bundle were the Power Panoramic Moonroof, Intelligent Cruise Control, Forward Emergency Braking, and Predictive Forward Collision Warning.

Unlike many SUVs and vans, the Murano has a backseat designed for adults, not kids.

The base front-wheel drive Murano S is significantly cheaper at $29,560, which should keep it competitive with the $28,100 Ford Edge. Considering Nissan’s target demographic, however, the automaker figures most buyers will spec up to all-wheel drive and add a few options, allowing it to compete with the $40,970 MSRP of the Lexus RX 350.

The Lexus has a more conservative look to it, but offers a 12-speaker stereo as opposed to the Murano’s nine. It also features available monitors for rear passengers. Point Lexus.

However, when the Lexus is fitted with AWD, it jumps to $42,370, and you still don’t get heated or cooled seats, navigation, a power moonroof, or larger (19-inch) wheels. Adding these options will bump you significantly above our Murano’s asking prince. Point Nissan.

Conclusion

To sum up, the Nissan Murano may not be the social lounge the automaker was hoping for. Regardless of that shortcoming, though, I found the mid-sized crossover a really nice place to be.

Yes, it may be made for middle-aged empty nesters, but whether you’re out on the town, cruising around wine country, or commuting day-to-day, folks of any age would be happy riding around in the cozy, chunky Nissan.

The 2015 model is on sale now.

Highs

  • Streamlined and quiet cabin
  • Luscious ‘Zero Gravity’ Seats
  • Crystal clear Bose stereo
  • Smooth suspension

Lows

  • Bulky A-pillar
  • ‘Concept car styling’ won’t be for everyone
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