When Nissan decided to redesign its popular Murano midsize crossover SUV for the 2009 model year, it wisely refrained from making any drastic changes. The subtle exterior modifications won't alienate fans of the previous generation, yet there are enough improvements under the hood and inside the cabin to justify the yearlong wait for a new model (the Murano skipped the 2008 model year while Nissan worked on the new one). Like its predecessor, the 2009 Nissan Murano SL 2WD is a stylish crossover with a luxurious interior, an engaging powertrain, nimble handling and an attractive sub-$30,000 price tag.
Most crossovers share at least some of their underlying architecture with sedans from the same automaker, and so it is with the Murano, which rides on the same basic platform as the Altima and Maxima. These sedans' sporty reputations are well-known, so it comes as no surprise that the Murano's driving personality skews toward the higher end of the fun meter. But there's no shortage of solid contenders in this segment, including the athletic Mazda CX-7 and the sensible Toyota Highlander. Read on to find out how the Murano stacks up.
Every 2009 Nissan Murano comes with Nissan's familiar 3.5-liter V6; in this application, it cranks out a healthy 265 horsepower, enough to whisk our Murano SL test vehicle from zero to 60 mph in a very respectable 7.8 seconds. As our track driver noted, such "effortless, uninterrupted acceleration is unexpected in a small SUV like the Murano." The standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth, refined and quicker to shift than the previous version, and even though it no longer features a manual mode, it performed so well that we didn't really care.
During performance testing, the Murano's antilock disc brakes produced a competitive 126-foot panic stop from 60 mph. Around town, the brake pedal felt appropriately firm, and the brakes were quick to respond when we depressed the pedal even a little. Like the previous-generation Murano, our two-wheel-drive test car felt agile and predictable. We noted significant body roll around corners, though this isn't unexpected from what is essentially a tall wagon.
Fuel economy is about average for this class, with EPA estimates of 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
In the 2009 Nissan Murano, you feel the road more than you hear it: Sound deadening is excellent, but the taut suspension means bumps of all sizes make their presence felt inside the cabin. The standard eight-way power driver seat allowed editors of many different shapes and sizes to find a satisfactory driving position, thanks to a fairly wide range of adjustments. The tilt-telescoping steering wheel helped, too, though we found the two different levers necessary to make these adjustments a bit annoying — one multifunction lever is preferable.
We found the front seats to be soft and plush, yet supportive enough to keep us content on a two-hour road trip. Though the front-seat cushions are fairly flat, the seatbacks offer decent side bolstering. The door-mounted armrests are covered in the same pleasant terrycloth-like fabric found on the seats, which gives bare forearms and elbows a little pampering.
Rear-seat cushions are firmer than those in front, but Nissan's decision not to include a third-row seat in the Murano is a boon for rear-seat passengers, who enjoy tons of legroom. Even with the front seats all the way back in their tracks, a 5-foot 7-inch staffer could still fit just fine in back.
Even though the distinctively shaped rear window was enlarged with the 2009 redesign, the Murano's wide triangular rear roof pillars and high stance limit rear visibility a great deal. As such, we highly recommend the rearview camera, which is included in the optional Premium package.
For the most part, the audio and climate controls are simple and user-friendly, consisting of a just-right array of knobs and differently shaped and textured buttons on the center stack. However, thanks to the Premium package, our navigation-less test car's dash also had a 7-inch color monitor and the prominent bank of large buttons that come mounted below it. Though perfectly necessary and useful in cars with the nav system, these buttons seem like a waste of space otherwise, since they don't add much in the way of functionality. Auxiliary input jacks reside behind the center console, which is awkward for MP3 player connectivity but excellent for portable rear-seat entertainment systems (you'll need your own three-prong A/V cable — the one with the red, white and yellow plugs — to utilize those input jacks). When you order the top-of-the-line Murano LE, you get an outstanding iPod interface and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
Interior storage is hit-or-miss. The main center console bin is usefully large and features a compartmentalized tray, but the front doors lack bottle pockets. The glovebox is remarkably deep, but the small front-seat cupholders won't adjust to accommodate larger mugs or beverage cups. The rear-seat cupholders reside in the pull-down armrest and are size-adjustable, and rear-seat occupants have access to a narrow but deep storage bin behind the front center console; however, the door bins back there are tiny and also lack bottle holders.
Measuring just 64 cubic feet, the 2009 Nissan Murano's maximum cargo space is on the small side for a midsize crossover. But what it lacks in volume, it partially makes up for with clever design. The optional pop-up compartmentalized cargo holder is brilliant — we used it practically every time we loaded something into the back. Thick, wooly carpeting covers the floor and sides of the cargo area, protecting your gear from scratches and dings. And the rear seats flip forward via super-simple levers in the cargo area.
Design/Fit and Finish
For the 2009 redesign, Nissan didn't stray too far from the general idea of Murano-ness established by the previous model. Evolutionary changes were the order of the day, such as a reworked front grille, scattered sheet metal tweaks and new headlights and taillights. The interior received more extensive revisions, as its clean, modern design now resembles that of a luxury vehicle, with restrained style and attractive materials. The only soft-touch surface on the dash was where the driver's knee hits the center stack, but the plastics look rich, and the brushed aluminum trim adds visual interest. Our test Murano was put together well.
Who should consider this vehicle
Single folks and couples who are interested in a sporty, fun-to-drive midsize crossover, don't need class-leading cargo space and are willing to spring for pricey options packages in order to get the bells and whistles they want.
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