Do you remember the "personal luxury car?" Vehicles like the Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Toronado, Ford Thunderbird and Pontiac Grand Prix? These vehicles put high style well ahead of function, which made a statement about their drivers. Flash-forward to 2002 and the introduction of the first-generation Nissan Murano, a model that brought style to what had previously been a strictly utilitarian class of vehicles.  In many ways the Murano was the first "personal luxury crossover," designed for urban social outings instead of rustic forays.  Now, in its third generation, the Murano continues that personal luxury tradition, only more so, emphasizing its dramatic design and its intention to be a "social lounge" on wheels.

The number-one cliché regarding design is that form follows function. In the Murano the function of its form is to attract attention, and so it does with a "floating" roof, "boomerang" headlights and taillights and body sides so heavily curved that they presented challenges to the production engineers who were charged with creating the stamping tools. Like the personal luxury vehicles of old, the Murano is a highly stylistic exercise. Some may find the results pleasing, while others think it is all a bit overdone. What is clear is that designer Ken Lee and his Nissan design team did not hide in safe ground. With a coefficient of drag of 0.31, the 2015 Murano was also sculpted with an eye on fuel economy, and the lower grille shutter, front and rear spoilers, rear tire deflectors, rear suspension fairings and even what Nissan describes as an "optimized" fuel tank design all were created to that end.

Hot vehicle for hot market

The new Murano is also being launched into a very hot category. Nissan execs told us the mid-size SUV segment, which includes stalwarts like the all-new Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Edge, will grow by nearly 20 percent between now and 2016. Among that group, the Murano is definitely the "looker." Lee told us the design team sought inspiration from luxury SUV/crossovers like the Lexus RX. While luxury shoppers don't typically dip into non-luxury territory, we anticipate that some RX and Cadillac SRX shoppers might be enticed by the Murano's dramatic looks and decidedly upscale interior.

As befitting a "social lounge," the Murano's interior is the soul of the vehicle. It begins with comfortable seating in the form of Nissan's "zero gravity" seats in all four outboard seating positions.  (The middle passenger in the second row, should there be one, will have to deal without weightlessness.) This demonstrates that the Murano is essentially designed for two adult couples, a notion reinforced by the addition of a rear USB port that enables the rear-seat passengers to hook up a portable music device and fill the cabin with their tunes. The cabin can also be filled with natural light courtesy of the massive available panoramic roof, which opens larger than the two-panel roof in the previous-edition Murano.  The emphasis on providing the right accommodations for two couples extends to the rear cargo area that offers an enormous 39.6 cubic foot area with the second row up and nearly 70 cubic feet with the rear seatback folded.  In addition, the split-folding rear seat can be equipped with power-return so the functions can be controlled from the cargo area.

Also: The Class of 2015 -- New Vehicles Ready to Roll

Luxury interior in 3 hues

The lavish interior is offered in three color schemes - cashmere, charcoal and mocha - and those motifs are accented with either pearlescent or brushed silver trim. Lee said the designers intentionally shied away from plastic wood, but we predict that consumer demand will bring back wood trim in subsequent editions of the Murano. We also predict drivers will be favorably impressed by the new instrument panel and dash. The standard configuration features a 7-inch customizable display flanked by massive round tachometer and speedometer readouts, and an 8-inch multi-touch control display in the center dash for info, audio and navigation.  The new Murano also marks a departure from other Nissan products in fewer buttons and knobs.  Instead of the 25 dedicated switches on the previous Murano, the 2015 features just 10, which makes pushing the wrong button harder.  We found the new premium system easy to use with the exception of its iPod integration, which offered very little time to make a selection before reverting to a previous screen.

So here we are three-quarters of the way through this driving impression without discussing the drivetrain or how the Murano actually drives. That's because in the context of what Nissan is trying to accomplish with this vehicle, the dynamics are not as important as what we've already discussed. It is not that the driving experience in the Murano is irrelevant; in fact we left our initial drive feeling that the Murano offers both reasonably sharp handling and very good acceleration. The 3.5-liter V6 engine offers 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, and it has a willing partner in the Xtronic continuously variable transmission that has been spruced up. The new "D-Step Logic" gives the impression that it is changing gears, and while we personally feel this is an odd affectation, in the 2015 Murano it feels perfectly natural and tames the weird buzziness that plagues some CVTs. In the context of a social lounge, the Murano provides more driving enjoyment and involvement than is likely necessary. A happy result of aerodynamics, weight reduction and drivetrain tweaking is fuel economy 20 percent better than in the previous Murano at 21 city/28 highway/24 combined for both front-drive and all-wheel-drive models. 

Easiest-to-park vehicle

Valets will be happy to learn that the new Murano might be the all-around easiest-to-park vehicle in the world. With four onboard cameras, three radar systems and more than a touch of magic, the Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection combined with Predictive Forward Collision Warning and Cross Traffic Alert mean that one has to be monumentally inept to get involved in a parking lot fender-bender. The suite of available electronic safety equipment also includes Forward Emergency Braking, Intelligent Cruise Control and Blind Spot Warning.

Four grade levels mean you can likely get a 2015 Murano that suits your needs and checkbook, and you have your choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive across the board as well. The zooty Platinum edition has all the electronic equipment, plus 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and the aforementioned power-folding second row of seats. The significantly less expensive SV and SL versions, both very well-equipped, will likely account for a predominant share of the overall sales. Pricing starts at just under $30,000 and runs over $40,000 for the all-in Platinum level.

Check out our Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide for a look at what's new and what's next.


 

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