Fortune favors the bold. History is littered with characters who took the safe way out by sticking to the straight and narrow, but we really only celebrate the ones who took a chance -- win or lose. The 2011 Nissan Murano is a bit like an anti-establishment maverick, with concept-car styling and engaging driving dynamics that bucks the crossover trend.
Under the sleek, modern skin of the Murano, buyers will find sophistication and clever engineering usually associated only with pricier cars. The 3.5-liter V6 provides a decent punch and the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is simply one of the best of its kind. Riding on a sporty yet compliant suspension, the Murano is as capable carving turns as it is transporting a small family in comfort. Inside, the cabin boasts premium materials, fine craftsmanship and spacious seating for all five occupants. The 2011 Murano further breaks with convention with a two-door convertible model called the CrossCabriolet.
On the downside, the 2011 Nissan Murano lacks a third row of seats (something some of its rivals have) and it's also slightly more restrictive in its cargo capacity. For lower-trimmed editions of the Murano -- those without a rearview camera -- reversing may require some guesswork due to the roof's thick pillars.
Fortunately, the Murano gets a few improvements for 2011. Ordering one is easier, thanks to a simplified trim level structure that eliminates the complicated option packages from previous years. The navigation system also gains the added functionality of real-time traffic and weather, a Zagat restaurant guide and Bluetooth streaming audio.
Stacked against other crossovers, the 2011 Nissan Murano's uncommon performance places it well out of reach of the competition. Sure, a 2011 Buick Enclave, 2011 Ford Flex or 2011 Toyota Venza might have a third row of seats, but they feel geriatric compared to the Nissan. The new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee offers a long list of features and also scores with off-road capabilities. In the grand scheme, the Ford Edge with its modern styling and high-tech slant represents the Murano's closest rival. Both share comparable cargo capacity as well, so we recommend taking a look at both before making a decision.
The 2011 Nissan Murano is a five-passenger midsize SUV available in S, SV, SL and LE trim levels. A two-door convertible called the Murano CrossCabriolet will arrive later in the model year and will feature appointments similar to those of the SE.
The base S comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, rear tinted glass, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a reclining rear seat and a six-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack.
The SV adds a panoramic sunroof, roof rails, automatic headlights, foglights, a 7-inch color display screen, a rearview camera, power front seats (eight-way driver and four-way passenger), satellite radio, iPod integration, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and Bluetooth. Stepping up to the SL trim gets you a power liftgate, automatic wipers, heated outside mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, driver seat memory and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with digital music storage. The LE trim adds 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, heated rear seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and wood interior trim.
An optional navigation system is available on the SL and LE trims and also includes voice recognition, real-time traffic and weather, a Zagat restaurant guide, Bluetooth streaming audio and increased digital music storage. Those Murano trims are also eligible for a twin headrest-mounted rear DVD entertainment system.
The five-passenger 2011 Nissan Murano features a cabin with high-quality materials and excellent fit and finish, rivaling its more prestigious Infiniti FX cousin. Second-row passengers enjoy plenty of head- and legroom as well as reclining seatbacks. The range-topping LE trim boosts the comfort level with heated rear seats. Luggage space behind the rear seats provides up to 31.6 cubic feet, which is about average for competing crossovers. Folding the seats flat unlocks 64 cubic feet, which is slightly smaller than the Murano's rivals.
The Murano scores points for the user-friendliness of its in-car technology, particularly its iPod interface, optional navigation and rear entertainment systems.
The 2011 Nissan Murano is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. This engine is mated to a CVT. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional on all trim levels. EPA estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined regardless of whether it's front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The 2011 Nissan Murano is a standout among midsize crossovers for its finely tuned suspension and responsive steering, making it one of the most rewarding and involving cars in its class. The Murano is also notable for its comfortable ride, easily soaking up bumps and potholes. The LE trim's 20-inch wheels do transmit more impact harshness, however.
The willing V6 engine proves more than adequate for most drivers, while the CVT is one of the best available transmissions of this kind. Most other CVTs we've tested are slow to react and keep the engine at a constant, annoying drone. The Murano CVT, however, reacts quickly to throttle inputs and is superior to a traditional automatic.
Every model of the 2011 Nissan Murano model features antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, active front head restraints, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, an AWD Murano with 18-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet -- a good performance for this class.
The Murano has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in four out of five stars for frontal protection and five stars for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Murano its highest rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
For 2011, the Nissan Murano receives a few styling updates as well as a new SV trim level. Power output is slightly reduced, but fuel economy remains the same. The optional navigation system gets real-time traffic and weather, a Zagat restaurant guide and Bluetooth streaming audio. Most of the previous year's option packages have been integrated into trim levels to simplify ordering. The Murano CrossCabriolet, a two-door convertible, will also debut later in the model year.