In a segment where many of the choices are little more than uninspired boxes on wheels, the Nissan Murano has long stood out from the crowd. And while familiarity has made its rounded design seem somewhat less radical than when it was introduced nearly a decade ago, the Murano's look is still distinctive enough to turn heads.
Thankfully, there's more to the 2012 Nissan Murano's appeal than just its sheet metal. The combination of the strong 3.5-liter V6 and continuously variable automatic transmission -- one of the best CVTs in the business -- with a sport-tuned suspension results in a crossover SUV that's more enjoyable to drive than the norm. The Murano's five-passenger interior also earns points for its attractive styling, high-quality materials and many standard features.
The Murano does have a couple minor drawbacks, however, including compromised rear visibility and a maximum cargo capacity that's a bit smaller than its rivals. You might want to comparison shop the Murano's main competitors, the equally stylish Ford Edge, the more wagonlike Toyota Venza or the more off-road-capable Jeep Grand Cherokee. But overall the Nissan Murano still stands out thanks to its blend of keen styling, upscale design and lively performance.
The 2012 Nissan Murano is a midsize five-passenger crossover SUV available in four trim levels: S, SV, SL and LE.
The entry-level S comes well-equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, variable intermittent wipers, deep-tinted rear privacy glass, keyless entry/ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a reclining 60/40-split rear seat, a 7-inch monochrome screen, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and an auxiliary audio input jack.
The SV adds automatic headlights, foglights, a panoramic sunroof, roof rack side rails, power front seats (eight-way driver and four-way passenger), a 7-inch color display, a rearview camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth and an upgraded audio system with satellite radio and iPod integration.
Stepping up to the SL trim gets you rain-sensing wipers, heated outside mirrors, a power liftgate, leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, driver seat memory, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with digital music storage. The LE trim adds 20-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, heated rear seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and wood interior trim.
Optional on SL and LE models is a navigation system that includes voice recognition, real-time traffic and weather, Bluetooth streaming audio and increased digital music storage. Those two trim levels can also be had with a twin-screen headrest-mounted rear DVD entertainment system. New for 2012 is a Platinum Edition option for LE models that bundles exclusive 20-inch alloy wheels, a special Sapphire Black paint color and the navigation system.
Inside the 2012 Nissan Murano's cabin you'll find an attractively styled space that rivals that of its upscale Infiniti FX cousin for quality of materials and assembly. The Murano also gets high marks for the intuitive operation of technology features including the navigation system, rear seat video entertainment setup and iPod interface.
There's also seating for five passengers, including a backseat with abundant head- and legroom and seatbacks that recline for greater comfort. Behind those rear seats is 31.6 cubic feet of cargo room, a number that's on par with the Murano's competitors. Folding those rear seatbacks down creates a nice flat load floor with 64 cubic feet of room, which falls a tad short of the space available in other midsize five-passenger SUVs.
The 2012 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 and a choice of standard front-wheel drive or an available all-wheel-drive system. EPA estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 18/23/20 with all-wheel drive.
While the 2012 Nissan Murano has its share of imitators, none can quite measure up to it in terms of the driving experience. For example, the nicely tuned suspension gives it nimble handling while still managing to deliver a comfy ride (at least on models without the available 20-inch wheels). Precise steering feel adds to the enjoyment.
The marriage of the eager V6 engine and CVT also works well. While other CVTs tend to respond sluggishly or keep the engine revving at a nearly constant drone, this unit performs as well as any traditional automatic.
All 2012 Nissan Murano models feature standard antilock brakes, traction and stability control, active front head restraints, front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, an all-wheel-drive Murano with 18-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet -- a good performance for this class.
In government crash testing, the Murano received an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for overall front impact protection and five stars for side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Murano its highest rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
The 2012 Nissan Murano sees only minor changes, including a new Platinum Edition option package for top-of-the-line LE models and a new 7-inch monochrome screen on the entry-level S trim level.