Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Nissan Murano

1. What’s new for 2015?

Designer fashion at outlet prices. The first full redesign of this five-passenger crossover since model-year 2009 brings flamboyant new styling and a coolly contemporary cabin, but retains an aging powertrain.

Seeking distinction in a jammed midsize-SUV field, Nissan reshapes Murano’s body with creases and waves and chrome-trimmed rear-fender blades that seem inspired by the tailfins of a 1961 Dodge.

Wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) is unchanged and the roofline is lower, but the body is 3 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider, adding needed cargo volume. Among available new features are a host of driver-assists, including automatic braking.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Base prices — including the manufacturer’s $885 destination fee — begin at $30,445, near the upper margin of the competitive set. But a Platinum-grade Murano with all the factory options comes in around $44,000, about what you’d pay for a comparably equipped top-of-the-line rival.

A new trim for 2015, the Platinum starts at $39,885 and joins the returning base S model (priced from $30,445), midline SV (from $33,505), and step-up SL ($37,835). All-wheel drive (AWD) replaces standard front-wheel drive for an additional $1,960 on the S and an additional $1,600 on the other models.

Nissan was offering no customer cash incentives or cut-rate financing as of Spring 2015. But dealers are discounting. For the popular SL model with AWD, for example, pricing service reports the average transaction at $1,272, or 3.2 percent, below the $39,435 manufacturer’s suggest retail price. TrueCar says it’s 2 percent, or $696, off an AWD SV’s $35,105 base price, and 3.2 percent, or $1,340, under the AWD Platinum’s $41,485 base price.

3. When will the next big change be?

Look for a minor freshening around model-year 2017, probably no more than revisions grille and wheels and some new color choices. The all-new fourth-generation Murano is unlikely to appear before model-year 2021.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Credit Nissan with making its fine navigation system optional even on the base S model — at just $860, no less — meaning a nicely equipped AWD version of this crossover stickers for as little as $33,265. If, however, you want the new safety features and other desirable upgrades, we’d recommend an SL with the $2,260 Technology Package.

Also offered on the Platinum at the same price, the Tech Package includes a cabin-brightening panoramic moonroof, nerve-calming adaptive cruise control, and the assurance of blind-sport and rear cross traffic alerts and forward-collision warning with automatic braking. Add AWD and you’re looking at a suggested retail of $41,695. That enhances a standard-equipment list that contains leather upholstery heated mirrors and front seats, a power liftgate, Nissan’s handy 360-degree Around View Monitor, and ambient cabin lighting.

To all that the Platinum adds exclusive but non-essential perks: front-seat cooling and rear-seat heating, power-return folding rear seatbacks, a heated steering wheel with power tilt/telescope column, driver-seat memory, LED low- and high-beam headlamps, and 20-inch alloy wheels in place of the 18s on the other models,

Every ’15 Murano comes with keyless entry and pushbutton ignition, a rearview camera, Bluetooth linking, and LED daytime running lights. Also standard is the automaker’s clever Easy Fill Tire Alert, which toots the horn when you’ve reached proper inflation. All but the S have fog lamps and power-adjustable front seats. Move up to an SV to get the panoramic roof; it’s part of a $2,200 Premium Package, which also includes a Bose audio upgrade. To equip an S with USB iPod connections you need the nav-system option.

5. What engine do you recommend?

There’s just one, a 3.5-liter V-6 with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It links to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This is essentially the same combination employed in Muranos and various other Nissans for some 20 years, and while its output has been surpassed by V-6s and even turbocharged four-cylinders standard or optional in many rivals, it remains a smooth powertrain well-suited to duty here.

Acceleration never really feels inadequate and midrange throttle response is satisfying because this CVT imitates a conventional automatic more convincingly than most of its ilk. Nissan makes little pretense that Murano is an off-roader; in fact, the AWD system no longer includes a locking mode for extra low-speed traction. But if you live where it snows, we recommend it for its ability to automatically shuffle power between the front and rear axles to quell tire slip.

6. How is the fuel economy?

At the top of the class. Basically, only diesels, hybrids and smaller, less powerful four-cylinder crossovers beat it. The ’15 Murano is as much as 145 pounds lighter than the third-generation; it’s more aerodyanamic, too, and has lower-rolling-resistance tires and a powertrain tweaked for efficiency. The result is an impressive 20 percent improvement in EPA fuel-economy ratings, to 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with both front- and all-wheel drive. (The outgoing model rated 18/24/20 mpg with front-drive and 18/23/20 with AWD.)

7. How does the Murano handle?

With utter competence but without much involvement. The overassisted steering provides little feedback and is particularly light and numb in straight-ahead cruising. Balance and grip are good enough to rid daily driving of drama, but Murano somehow feels cumbersome when you attempt anything more than wide, gentle changes of direction. And oddly, the hood’s extravagant angles and plains trigger some driver-distracting reflections, especially in models with darker exterior colors.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Yes, thanks to clear labeling, a logical layout, and a reduction in audio and navigation switches from a cluttered 25 to a calmer 10. Like the rest of the interior, the dashboard is modernity done right. All models have a 7-inch display between the speedometer and tachometer; it’s packed with easily accessed audio, phone, trip, and vehicle-systems data. Navigation-equipped Muranos get an 8-inch central-dashboard screen serving a system with intuitive icons and better-than-average voice recognition.

9. Is it comfortable?

Quite, though the Platinum’s 20-inch wheels and tires degrade ride quality from very good to rough-over-bumps and tar strips. There are few compromises inside, with liberal space front and rear on what the automaker bills as NASA-inspired, pinch-point-free “zero gravity” seats. Whatever the muse, their padding is pillowy yet sufficiently supportive to mitigate fatigue on long drives. The rear-center position is even adult-acceptable for short trips, and the rear seatbacks recline generously.

Returning from orbit, Nissan pitches the cabin as a “social lounge” and indeed its simple, organic shapes have a certain calming effect. Soft-touch surfaces are plentiful; we especially like how the front center-armrest padding is bisected by a spine of interior trim. It’s an artsy touch. That trim, incidentally, consists of plastics matched to the interior color, including a strange “brushed” finish that’s oddly compelling, even if it does remind some of a Formica tabletop.

10. What about safety?

The ’15 has not yet undergone government crash testing (the previous generation earned four of five possible stars overall for occupant protection). Neither has it been tested by the influential, insurance-industry-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the previous version earned the IIHS’s highest “Good” ratings in most tests). Every Murano comes with a driver’s knee airbag and curtain side airbags, although rear torso bags are unavailable. The rear seat provides three child safety-seat anchors.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

Based on previous editions, expect great quality but average residuals.

The ’15 version hasn’t established a record for reliability, but the ‘14 was among the top three midsize SUVs for initial quality as ranked by J.D. Power, the leading automotive-consumer-assessment firm. (It was neck-and-neck with the Hyundai Santa Fe, behind the No. 1-ranked Ford Edge.) Better yet, it ranked No. 1 for overall dependability in Power’s surveys of owners of three-year-old midsize SUVs, finishing ahead of the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Durango among leaders in the category.

As for resale value, the ‘15 should be about average. It earns three of five stars for depreciation from the residual-value-tracking firm, ALG. Intellichoice, which tracks cost of ownership, projects the new Murano will retain 45 percent of its value over five years. That compares to the 49 percent estimated value retained by the Chevrolet Equinox and 53 percent by the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the two sales leaders in the five-passenger midsize-crossover class.

12. Is it better than the competition?

Lots of rivals deliver performance that’s equally ordinary and similarly inoffensive. None looks anything like this, however. True, a lot rides on whether you consider the new Murano a paragon of style or a pastiche of ornamentation. But now that Nissan has your attention, it hopes outstanding fuel economy and a Yogi-friendly cabin can seal the deal. We say your two-row midsize-crossover shopping list should also include the Grand Cherokee, Subaru Outback, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and Kia Sorento.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]