Powered-up Murano is strong silent type
Nissan has more than a few-high riding vehicles in its line-up, with an entrant in most of the major segments.
The compact Qashqai will soon be followed by the smaller Juke, we're already familiar with the X-Trail, and for those that want 'em big and tough, the Pathfinder and Patrol fit the bill - or, of course, the Navara. Also in the mix is the Murano, one of the larger crossovers available. Now in its second generation, our former Crossover of the Year has been updated as it soldiers on in the market.
So what's new? Typical face-lift revisions to the bumpers, lights and wheel design, and there's another take on the infamous Murano grille. More equipment features in the interior, particularly stuff that's powered.
The Murano comes in just one guise, a luxury-spec Ti model that retails for $65,950, a loftier price than before, but then a higher spec is now part of the package. This includes keyless entry and starting, leather trim, heated seats up front, auto xenon lights, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, a reversing camera, cruise control and a Bose sound system. This time round, the power-operated bits include the steering column, front seats, tailgate and rear seats. The latter fold via a tug on a lever and can be set back in place by a press of a button - quite a cool trick, even if the seats take their time. If you're in a hurry, they can be righted by hand. Stability control and six airbags are a given.
While the Murano takes five passengers only, it's spacious in the rear, and thanks to its reclining backrest, the seat is super-comfy. The boot is wide but has a high-mounted floor because a full-size spare is stowed beneath it, cutting down on the luggage space. Up front, the seats, though multi-way adjustable, lumbar included, lack ideal support. All feels well made in the cabin, where the alloy dash inserts, backlit main dials and the colour central screen are a vast improvement on the design of the original.
As before, only one engine is offered: a 191kW/336Nm, 3.5-litre, petrol V6 that drives through a CVT and uses an on-demand type of all-wheel-drive system. The result is a silky driveline, and the torquey V6 is smooth and hushed, even when stretched out to 6000rpm and beyond. There's simply no clamour, just the sweet mechanical sound of power. The trouble is, though, that when you have the power, you do tend to use it. Drive the Murano with a heavy foot, and the average fuel use soars; however, find some restraint (and preferably throw some easy-going motorway kays into the mix), and somewhere around the 13L/100km mark is achievable.
The CVT can be a little abrupt on take-up; otherwise, its seamless nature is a good match for the smooth V6. While there's no Sport mode, a manual shifting gate is there for when the need takes you. A good stomp on the go pedal usually suffices, whereupon the CVT does its impression of kick-down and whips the V6 into a frenzy, making short work of overtaking. Despite its ample weight, the Murano is fairly brisk on the straights. With the cruise control set to 100km/h, the engine sits happily at just over 1500rpm - although given the wildly optimistic speedo of our sample car, its true 100km/h was probably more like 2000rpm.
While the big Nissan doesn't lack for power, it's a mite short on finesse when it comes to the bendy stuff. The car is stable and rides quite well, but the hefty count of kilograms overhanging the front axle means that understeer is all too easy to unearth; this is no dynamic match for the Territory. The key to driving the Murano is to keep things smooth, and if treated thus, it can be caressed along quite nicely, provided the passengers will let you. A note about the steering, however: though it has some feeling and a consistent weighting, it wiggles around in your hands over bumps and is prone to kick back, sometimes quite aggressively.
Back in suburbia, where the Murano is most likely to prowl, its suspension can struggle to isolate the sharper bumps, but manages to iron out most others, and there's little in the way of unwanted road or mechanical noise. Considering that this is a crossover, the driver's outward vision is great, particularly rearward, and a reversing camera is there to help, too. Like the Maxima, the Murano has an average steering lock, which makes parking more of a chore than it should be, but otherwise, it is a relaxing machine to drive.
'The strong silent type', 'the big easy'... You choose the cliché. Keep in mind, though, that there are cheaper options about, and model ranges that offer more choice.
MODEL: Nissan Murano Ti.
ON SALE IN NZ: Dec 2011.
ENGINE: 3498cc, V6, 191kW@6000rpm, 336Nm@4400rpm.
TRANSMISSION: CVT, on-demand AWD.
VITALS: 8.59sec 0-100 km/h, 10.9L/100km, 1896kg.