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(Not So) Rotten Rental Car Review: Nissan Murano

Ross Ballot October 5, 2018 Featured, Rotten Rental Car Reviews 7 Comments

The last rental car I had from the very same Enterprise facility was a straight-jacket-white Dodge Journey that smelled like a dirty sock. One that had been misplaced for 25 years, filled with Cheez-Wiz, and left out in the sun.

As such, it was reasonable to go in with low expectations. The line of Sentras glared at me; I hoped my hardest I wouldn’t be allocated one of Nissan’s cringe-worthy sedans. Much to my surprise, it was a midsize crossover in which I was put.

A Nissan Murano is a far cry from the Journey I so feared, and it’s leaps and bounds better than I expected. With the first-gen Murano having been one of the cars to lead the charge in the early days of the mainstream crossover, the newest version of the stylized high-riding nearly-a-wagon has evolved into more of the same: a wanna-be futuristic, desperately stylized, high-riding, near-wagon. But it’s a shockingly good one, from interior to powertrain, even despite some of the highly questionable styling elements.

Some vehicles are just good vehicles, and the current-gen Nissan Murano is unequivocally one of them. It has its flaws, but as a whole, it’s pretty damn solid. 

I remember when the original Nissan Murano debuted in the early 2000s. On the outside, at least, it was unlike anything else on the road, and bridged the gap between the company’s full-on off-road Xterra and the more traditional, mundane wagons and hatchbacks on sale. The proportions were right and the motor was a relative of that in the 350Z, so it had my interest.

As the years rolled on it evolved into the sleeker version of its original self, though other offerings had caught up to it on the front of trying to look like they were from a budget sci-fi TV show. Upon its debut the third generation, the Murano forced the current trend of a floating d-pillar, small windows, and dramatic proportions in the sake of “sex appeal,” or whatever that means these days. And it’s gone largely forgotten ever since.

Though I don’t have any experience with prior Muranos, I do have experience with a last-gen Rogue and the still-current 370Z. And, like those cars, the Murano is good. The current generation Murano has been around since 2014, and was released with intent to draw eyes more so than the more traditionally styled competitors. Even today is certainly still does, but styling isn’t everything, and a somewhat mainstream car like the Murano still needs to be good on its own merits. Luckily, it definitely is.

But first: the bad. It’s not that I don’t like how it looks, but the styling, like so many other cars, worsens visibility versus what it could be. The painted floating d-pillar makes for a big blind spot, and the narrow rear window limits the rear view quite a bit. It’s truthfully not that bad; it just makes for some less-than-ideal aspects that someone like me can nitpick over, but in reality it isn’t any worse than every normal car on sale today. I just don’t know if, for a very mainstream car., even a slight compromise is worth the gain in styling. But that’s just me. Now, to the important parts…

In a car like this you expect it to excel in usability, and the Murano absolutely does. It’s bigger than I want and think it should be, but it makes for true roominess in the process. The styling seems to have made it feel bigger than it actually is; it’s only 4” longer than the original. But it feels even bigger due to a shrunken greenhouse, high hood, and the sweeping roofline. The beltline at the front of the front windows is below that of the hood which makes it feel like you’re sitting in a “fish bowl,” and causes visibility problems at the passenger corner of the hood which very well may be a thousand feet away.

On the front of actual drivability, the Murano is fantastic. It’s light on its feet for its weight and footprint, easy to drive out on the open road, easy to maneuver in parking lots and in traffic, and it doesn’t require any special involvement or attention whatsoever. The Murano rides great, corners well enough, and asks nothing except a base level of inputs from the driver. In practice, it nails its purpose exceptionally. And then there’s the drivetrain.

My first thought was: “A real transmission! With gears! What a novelty in today’s world of CUVs!” Then, in trying to figure out how many gears it has, I was hit with a true shocker: “Wait…it’s a CVT. Holy shit!” I was astounded. I shouldn’t have been, based on how seamless  the“shifts” were, but I’ll be damned. It acts like a real gearbox. Better yet though, is the motor itself.

It really is remarkable how potent the VQ-series engine is in a vehicle like this. It’s unsuspecting, and shines and shocks when you hit the gas pedal with more than “slowly accelerating away from a stoplight” intensity. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a car like this with a motor like this: something almost out of character with what it resides in. To this day the 3.5L V6 is still a strong piece of hardware and it propels the Murano to highway speeds much quicker than you or your passengers would expect. Likewise, the V6 paired with the CVT makes for absolutely effortless high-speed highway cruising. It masks speed in a way few cars and no crossovers I’ve driven have, and that it’s extremely well insulated and smooth helps its case even further.

Combined with the fact that the Murano, especially in black, flies totally under the radar, means you can cover a ton of distance in a relatively short time without worrying. In the time I had the Murano I drove it nearly 3000 miles and included in that were two separate trips from Connecticut to southern Delaware and back. With the long wheelbase, soft and supportive seats, and long legs from the motor/trans…it was fantastic. To my absolute surprise, the Murano was honestly one of the best road-trippers I’ve driven, and it’s something you absolutely wouldn’t expect just by looking at the car from the outside. That it was also capable of pulling nearly 600 miles per tank even at the high sustained speeds I was carrying was also a nice bonus. The Murano has enough power to be a perfect cruiser, and is mated to a transmission and gear ratio that milks a lot of distance out of each gallon of gas. Well done, Nissan.

What is this? Why is this?

Inside is a totally decent place to spend time, but…what the hell is the thing to the left of the gauge pod? A styling exercise? An attempt to keep the interior beltline low? A failed cell phone storage location? I really don’t get it. You can’t stash anything there, seeing as it’s not flat, and it doesn’t do anything to enhance the interior styling. It only drew my eyes towards it, continually questioning its purpose. Luckily the seats are spectacularly comfortable, the material quality is decent, and all the infotainment/tech works well in its application, serving more as appliance than entertainment, so that it meshes with your life quickly and easily. I did like that some controls look like touchscreens but are actually buttons, but seriously…what the hell is this thing?

It’s not even flat! You can’t even use it as storage!

Until I spent an extended period with the current-generation Nissan Murano, I looked at them the same way I look at the weird thing on the dash: “Why did they have to make it look like that?” But– unlike the weird dash space– my time with the car has transformed how I look at it, and I have a newfound appreciation for Nissan’s midsize CUV. So while I don’t understand some of the styling elements inside and out, the Murano is an all-around good car and a fantastic road-tripper. I liked driving it quite a lot, and completely understand why somebody would buy one.

  • Zentropy

    In the mess of mediocre-to-bad rental vehicles, I’ve experienced two good ones.
    First, a CX-9 (2012-ish) in Orlando. I had high hopes for this one, and it didn’t disappoint. It was decently spacious (our family was accustomed to a minivan), and actually fun to drive. I was impressed with both the handling and acceleration, especially considering it was a three-row SUV.
    Second, a Toyota Avalon (2015?), also in Orlando. I had seriously low expectations, but the car blew them away. This was a nicely-sized sedan with good power and surprisingly decent handling. We were vacationing with neighbor friends who rented a Nissan Maxima, and the Avalon absolutely blew its doors off.

    • Mark Thompson

      I rented a Maxima in 2015/2016 for a long weekend, driving about 800 or so miles. Unimpressive car. No more room than any other midsize car and the drivetrain didn’t really distinguish itself in any way: mediocre gas mileage, just OK power, it didn’t even sound very good. A better car than the hateful 2.5L Altima typical “full size” from Enterprise, but it didn’t feel like much of an upgrade.

  • That dash area is simply the left end of the overall dash shape. Because the instrument cluster sits on top of it, it evidently made that isolated section look odd to you.

    https://blogmedia.dealerfire.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/188/2018/02/2018-Nissan-Murano_B3_o.jpg

    • Maymar

      It reminds me of the interior in the current XJ – I’m sure there’s a legitimate design explanation behind it, but I like the XJ, so can’t fault Nissan for trying something similar.

      https://di-uploads-pod6.dealerinspire.com/jaguarcoloradosprings/uploads/2017/05/Jaguar-Colorado-Springs-2017-Jaguar-XJ-interior.jpg

      • In both cases, more so in the Jag, they might be trying to make a high cowl seem lower and feel more open. I think they’re both pretty successful, well integrated shapes. Especially considering how so many dashes are a jumble of intersecting and seemingly unrelated forms.

        I will say that I’m not a fan of round steering wheel airbag covers. They just highlight how out of center the center of a modern steering wheel is.

  • Maymar

    With the Journey you had, was it a cloth-seat’d penalty box with that moaning I4? A longer trek might change my mind, but a quick spin in a GT (so leather, gadgets, Pentastar) was perfectly unobjectionable (although they’re pretty thirsty). The more basic models are punishingly awful though.

    Also, I’m not sure I’d want faux gearshifts out of a CVT – I had a rental Corolla hatch recently (the prior gen we got as the iM), and the CVT was a fairly normal CVT by default (unobtrusive but the whole car didn’t want to accelerate unless you were absolutely sure you wanted forward progress), but it had a sport mode button that I had to turn off after 30 seconds because it had stupid falsified (and sort of aggressive) shift points built in. I just wanted to keep the revs up for engine braking, I don’t need the simulation of the 47-speed transmission from the Bullitt Mustang.

    • Ross Ballot

      Yes– it was the most base of base Journeys available. And it was abysmal.