Nissan Murano 2014 road test

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Renting a brand-new Murano, with only 200 miles on it for the past week, I got to run this vehicle though all sorts of conditions while using it on my job, and here’s my findings on what it’s like:

Body: The Mirano has a sleek, aerodynamic body that definitely keeps wind noise down quite well, but the windshield wipers generate a disruption of the wind flow over the low sloped windshield. The effect is a swirling sound similar to a “phaser” pedal being switched on an electric guitar. A little annoying, but easily drowned out with the radio. The shape of the body is similar to the old AMC gremlin of the seventies…with a short, stubby body, long hood line and a flat rear end. No matter what your opinion is of what the old misfit automobile it looks like, there is no doubt that the same shape of the rear windows in both of these vehicles produces annoying blind spots around the rear fenders for drivers.

One thing the old Gremlin did have that the Mirano doesn’t was real steel bumpers. I give car companies a lot of flak for this lately because small bumps that inevitably happen during the life of a car will result in expensive repairs to fiberglass bumpers. Another negative is the largely un-protected air conditioner condenser hanging below the bumper. If one were to bump something slightly too tall to fit under the vehicle, but too short to hit the bumper, the result would be a VERY expensive repair to this component. Although this vehicle is essentially a tall car (it’s chassis is basically the Nissan Maxima), it is being sold as an SUV, and these are very un-SUV like attributes. A plus side in the body design however is fender liners  these help keep mud and dirt out of nooks and crannies where rust could develop.

 

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Handling and suspension: In short, the handling of this vehicle is particularly good. It is an excellent balance of both absorbing rough, damaged pavement, and giving great cornering ability and responsive handling. This vehicle beckons you to sort of push it a little harder on highway on-ramps and through curves…it’s truly fun to drive. I drove it on the poorly maintained roads around downtown Richmond, and it absorbs all the potholes, ruts, joints and other abnormalities quite well. It’s rare that a vehicle gives you both a good ride and good cornering ability.
Nissan has gone the way of Toyota, using electric power steering, and dispensed with the mushiness and looseness associated with old-school hydraulic power steering. The turning circle is surprisingly tight and makes maneuvering in and out of tight parking garages almost as easy as a car…just be careful about the lack of visibility out the rear.

Engine & transimission: On the good side, this is one of the best engine and transmission combinations I have driven in quite a while. The engine is a 3.5 liter V6 with direct fuel injection. It’s the same one used in Nissan pickups, in the Pathfinder, and in the Maxima. It is very powerful, yet extremely smooth, and the transmission is the same. The transmission is continuously variable…no surging or jumping of gear shifting…just a nice smooth application of power. The engine settles down to about 1800 RPM at a 70 mph highway speed which makes things very quiet. Another nice thing too is that the vehicle actually slows down when the driver lifts one’s foot from the gas…something that many modern vehicles annoyingly do NOT do, but instead, continue to coast along at the same speed.
The biggest “con” in the engine and transmission is the terrible fuel mileage delivered by this vehicle. It’s EPA rating is 18MPG city and 24 highway. I have not been able to get anywhere near this. Driving it in-town and in a mix of suburban traffic (through all the poorly timed traffic signals in the surrounding counties of Richmond) the on-board computer registered about 16 MPG’s. I was able to muster almost 20 MPG’s by keeping the air conditioner off, and my speed below 70 on a cool overcast day in an empty vehicle. Comparing this to other vehicles, the Chevy HHR wagon I typically drive has about the same interior space and gets 28 MPG on the highway, and around 24 around town, and I achieve that mileage with the vehicle packed with a few hundred pounds of junk inside.

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Comfort: The Murano has rather comfortable seats that for me, are at a “right height” to just hop right in. I didn’t need to climb or bend down. The driver’s seat in the model I had was not power adjustable, but did have lumbar support that could be adjusted…a nice feature. The seats are quite comfortable for extended road trips without bringing on any aches or pains. The view from the windshield is pretty good. And one thing I do like is that I can see the edges of the hood, as there are upturns on it that bring the edges into visiblility. Many modern vehicles are for some reason designed so the driver cannot see the hood…this makes parking and maneuvering an annoyance when you cannot tell how far things extend out in front.

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The rear seat is spacious too, and there’s plenty of room for an adult to ride comfortably back there. I did not ride back there, but I did climb back there and check out the seat to see how it was. There’s also plenty of cargo space beyond the rear seat for all sorts of luggage and other materials you may want to take with you on a road trip. The rear seat folds down “split” so you can still carry a back seat passenger while carrying a long object.
The HVAC system performs particularly good, moving LARGE volumes of air. However, on the higher fan speeds, the system cools the interior down, but does not do a good job on humidity. The system includes an “auto” function that will automatically adjust the fan speed slower as the set temperature is achieved. This helps with humidity and is one less thing the driver needs to adjust.

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Controls: This Murano was sort of a bottom-line model when it comes to the entertainment and electronics system. A large amber display screen in the middle center of the dashboard displays the radio mode on the top, and the HVAC selections made on the bottom, and there’s a large black bar in the middle where absolutely nothing is displayed on the screen. I recommend getting one with a more sophisticated system where this cheap amber screen is replaced with a color touchscreen that also serves as a backup camera display, and thus helps with the bad rear blind spot issues. This also will resolve some problems with the use of the HVAC controls.

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The controls are not particularly intuitive and easy to use while driving. The HVAC controls are a group of 10 buttons with the fan control in the center. All the buttons are about the same size, and the buttons are not particularly grouped together in any intuitive layout, so it’s easy to hit the wrong button while driving. The wiper controls are particularly annoying too, as the intermittent control is located halfway down the stalk and is not easy to turn to adjust the speed of. The radio controls are a bit better and are very simple and easy to use, but the radio is a non-standard size, so replacing the radio would mean adapter plates, and another large blank area on the amber LCD screen above.
The instrument cluster is very bright and clear, illuminated with LED “cool white” lights and red needles. The function keys to change the multi-function readout for mileage however were not particularly easy to work. These functions are typically placed on the steering wheel of most cars, but not this one. They are placed on the corner of the gauge cluster, where one has to reach behind the steering wheel to operate. Not a good location to use while the vehicle is in motion. There is no oil pressure or voltage indicator available in the gauge cluster or in the multi-function screen, however it does display an economy gauge that moves up and down with fuel flow delivered to the engine.

Looking forward, 2014 is the last year of this design of the Murano, a new one is to be introduced next year. Reliablity in Nissan vehicles has run the gamut between being totally rock-solid tanks, to being total disasters, even within the same model. Typically, buying the last year of a design may get you a dated vehicle, but will usually result in the most reliable. With the Murano, this design has been out since 2006, so that’s 8 years. One other item to mention too is that this vehicle was designed prior to the runup in fuel prices, and the economic collapse. Many vehicles that have had a full re-design after about 2009 have been engineered for better fuel economy as customers demanded it. It will be interesting to see if the updated model performs better in the mileage category. I am quite surprised really by the deplorable mileage it delivers, as it has all the “modern” improvements that typically result in good mileage, like a streamlined body, direct fuel injection, and a CVT transmission. I am truly at a loss as to why this vehicle performs as poorly as it does in mileage. The mechanically similar Maxima sedan which is largely the same car delivers slightly better EPA mileage numbers, and now I am curious to see what it’s real-world mileage would be like.
If you are looking to purchase a new SUV or wagon, I do recommend checking this vehicle out…that is if gas mileage is not an important issue for you. Or, you could wait till next years to see if it brings better economy performance…but risk getting a less reliable vehicle. I’ve seen lots of Murano’s out on the road, so they appear to be popular and well liked. I have never heard of anyone complaining particularly about theirs either.

 

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