The Murano’s reckoning with its 12-year-old reflection could have prompted one of two reactions from Nissan. One, a 10-page press release and a sympathetic tightening of loose skin, the automotive equivalent of denial; or two, a wholesale makeover that prompts not only fans, but also the unconverted, to perk up and take notice.
Nissan wisely chose option two. With immediate effect, the 2015 Murano becomes the most stylish entry in the hotly contested mid-size crossover segment.
The transformation was long overdue. Having shipped 81,000 units in 2006 in the US – the model’s primary market – Nissan tallied fewer than 45,000 Murano sales in 2013. An aging design was not the only culprit. Other carmakers have embraced the just-shy-of-premium approach to crossover design that the Murano pioneered, and Nissan has watched the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot and, to a lesser degree, Kia Sorento chip away at its former beauty queen’s position.
The course correction began at the 2013 Detroit auto show with the introduction of the Resonance Concept, a styling tour-de-force that has informed much more than just the Murano’s essential outline. It is rare for a concept in this segment to weather the transition to production relatively uncompromised. Of particular note is the floating roof effect, achieved by blacking out the pillars that connect the roof structure to the body sides. Headlamps, which can be optioned with LED daytime running lights, follow a familial “boomerang” pattern introduced on the 370Z sports car.
Features have taken a commensurate step upwards, too. The 2015 Murano receives a forward-collision warning system that scans the road two cars ahead, as well as a backing feature to alert the driver of traffic passing behind the car – both inheritances from Nissan’s luxury subsidiary, Infiniti. The Nissan 3.5-litre gasoline V6 engine, an automotive Old Faithful, should continue to provide smooth if uneventful pickup, here generating 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, through a continuously variable transmission. For all the V6’s age – the fundamental design dates to the ‘90s – Nissan has fiddled with the power plant to achieve a claimed 20% fuel-economy improvement over the previous model, though no EPA estimates were announced. While still available with either front- or all-wheel drive, the Murano does not offer a hybrid powertrain, which may limit its appeal to savvy shoppers hunting a slightly down-market alternative to Lexus’s ubiquitous RX 450h.
“Any discussion of innovative car companies has to begin and has to end with Nissan,” said Andy Palmer, chief planning officer for Nissan Motor, at the Murano’s unveiling on 16 April at the New York auto show. Given the brand's leadership on battery-electric vehicles and its brightening of mainstream car design, the point is taken, but powertrain innovation for its crossovers – Rogue, Pathfinder and now Murano – remains a glaring exception.
Look for pricing to take a mild step up from the Murano’s current $29,000 base figure when the car arrives in US showrooms in late 2014.