Nissan Murano, 2012: Flagship SUV offers smooth drive as segment leader

James Raia

By Mary Ellen Ash

In the highly competitive crossover SUV segment, Nissan offers buyers its flagship, the five-passenger Murano. First presented almost a decade ago, the Murano has stood apart from its competitors for years and is still an industry leader. Its appeal goes deeper than ts distinctive styling — the drive quality is also a step above the rest.

The combination of Nissan’s strong 260 horsepower 3.5L V6 engine, smooth shifting CVT, well-tuned suspension, and a plethora of features adds up to a crossover that rides like an oversized Maxima. New for this year, the 2012 Nissan Murano is available in five trim levels each with varied specifications to attract potential buyers.

2012 Nissan Murano

Build & Styling

It’s always nice to greet a new car and be impressed by its outward visual appeal. First thing I noticed, the 2012 Murano had small modifications to its bodywork giving it a sleek, more refined styling compared to previous models. Upon closer inspection, the Murano comes across with strong build quality — all panels were aligned evenly with no flimsiness.

The 2012 Murano comes equipped with the latest safety equipment, including Nissan’s advanced airbag system, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with traction control, and high-strength steel side-door guard beams. Those side-door guard beams are no joke. Recently, the Murano received the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) highest rating — 5 stars — for side-impact crash safety.

2012 Nissan Murano

Interior Design & Features

Always refined and comfortable, I like the Murano’s interior design and attention to detail. The interior is impressive with quality materials on the dashboard and door panels that were soft to touch. Passengers are treated with stylish and comfortable seats, upholstered in dark leather. The front seats are electronically adjustable in multiple directions, provided additional lumbar support, and had optional heating buttons.

A lovely addition to our test vehicle was the dual-panel moonroof which added a sense of openness to the whole cabin space. The only minor quibble was the pronounced wind noise while driving at freeway speeds with the moonroof open.

The steering wheel controls and information displays were simple and too-the-point — providing all the necessary in-drive information. Additionally, the center console stack was well laid out and easy to navigate with the help of a 7-inch QVGA touch screen interface. It was more than adequate for toggling between GPS, radio, CD, iPod & AUX media, as well as other vehicle information.

Nissan Murano interiorDual Zone Automatic Temperature Control (ATC) with in-cabin microfilterNissan Hard Drive Navigation System with 7.0" VGA touch-screen monitor and voice recognition

Moving into the rear, passengers will be happy with the spacious rear cabin with ample leg room and headspace. Seats can offer varying tilt levels for added comfort. It’s nice that Nissan hasn’t overlooked and forgotten the back-seat passengers.

Our Murano also had great cargo space even with the rear seats up (31.6 cubic feet). And with the rear seats folded down, the cargo area increased to 64.0 cubic feet.  Another great feature was power rear lift-gate which was operated by the touch of a button. Overall, the Murano’s interior cabin was very functional, spacious and comfortable that added up to a pleasantly refined driving ambiance.

Performance and Handling

The driving impressions of the 2012 Murano was very similar to the Maxima; its suspension was dialed for a smooth ride with passenger comfort being a priority. The Murano comes standard with Nissan’s Intuitive All-Wheel Drive (AWD) drivetrain, but our test vehicle was equipped with the optional FWD instead. It is just another way Nissan provides potential buyers with even more choices. In the end, the final choice will depend on which is more important: slightly better MPG with the FWD or better all-round stability and control with the AWD.

Estimated EPA fuel economy for FWD models are 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. Fuel economy for the AWD edition is 18/23/20 mpg city/highway/combined.

Nissan has invested a lot of time and money into the development of one of the industry best CVTs (Continuously Variable Transmission) for their engines which is found in several of their vehicle models, such as the Maxima, Altima, and Rogue.  Even for the most skeptical drivers, the CVT improvement in drive quality is immediately noticeable when driving the Murano. It’s such a great improvement over the usual 4 or 5-speed automatic transmissions which often lag and take away power when asked to accelerate.

64 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats folded

Not the case here. The Murano’s CVT is paired with a strong V6 engine (260 hp and 240 lb.-ft. of torque) which provided good power and acceleration. With just a small push on the pedal, there was a constant, smooth linear acceleration the whole time.  There was no lag time or clunky gear changes. It felt effortless and it was fun to go really fast (grinning ear-to-ear). At times, you almost forget you’re in a mid-size SUV. Overall, I was impressed by how calm and composed the Murano performed.

Final Thoughts

The latest edition of the Nissan Murano continues to improve on an already great SUV line. From the exterior and throughout the interior, it is easy to see why the Murano is a top choice for buyers in the crossover SUV market. During my week with the Murano, the drive quality was always predictable with smooth car-like handling. I was pleasantly surprised by the evolution of CVT technology over the last few years and how it pairs with V6 engine providing a smooth delivery of power and acceleration.

The exterior styling was appealing without being ostentatious. For a vehicle with great long-term reliability and owner retention, Nissan offer buyers many features and options. The manufactures makes it easy to spoil yourself by choosing the trim and features for the best Murano drive experience. Whether you are in the market for a hip crossover that caters to an active lifestyle or a new family car, the Murano is a worthy choice.

2012 Nissan Murano

2012 Nissan Murano SL w/optional Navigation package:

  • Engine: 3.5L V6
  • Horsepower: 260 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 240 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 rpm
  • Transmission: Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission)
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Estimated EPA fuel economy: 18 city / 24 hwy / 20 mpg combined
  • Price as tested: $39,255

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Article Last Updated: January 18, 2012.

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