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A blog about the cars I drive

Nissan Murano: fun is not the point

Writing about crossovers may be the least appealing part of my job.

As a rule, crossovers are comfortable, utilitarian and economical. They’re just not a lot of fun.

Even so, compact crossovers form auto industry’s fastest-growing segment. Next year, they’re likely to overtake the family sedan as America’s best-selling vehicle.

2015 Nissan Murano

On the passenger side, the fall-way dash creates a open, spacious feel.

My current tester, a 2015 Nissan Murano, is responsible in some small part for the crazy proliferation of crossovers. When it debuted in 2003, it was among the first of the breed.

Twelve years later, the Murano enters its third generation. This is largely a styling update, as last year’s mechanicals (160-hp V-6 mated to continuously variable transmission [CVT]) continue forward. It’s a little bigger than last year and suspension tweaks give it a softer, more compliant ride. New NASA-inspired “Zero Gravity” seats (they’ve been available in Nissan sedans for a few years) are among the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a mainstream — i.e., non-luxury — vehicle.

Murano’s exterior styling is an acquired taste but I haven’t acquired it. The chrome-trimmed bump-up rear quarter panel feels fussy and disjointed to me. Worse, it’s hell on rearward vision from the driver’s seat.

Interior design is sterling. On the passenger-side, the dash falls away from the occupant to creating a sense of expansiveness. The full-color display screen is well integrated into flowing dashboard lines. A clever floating hood hovers over the gauge pod, shielding the windshield from reflections.

I’m less enamored of the faux wood trim. The silver hue of my tester’s trim seemed forced and out of character with the handsomely stitched dashboard cover.

But I set out today to write about the CVT. Nissan’s CVTs are among the best of a not especially impressive crowd. CVTs are more efficient than conventional transmissions but have some majorly annoying characteristics. The worst of which is a tendency to cause the engine to run ahead as the single-gear pulley-based transmission races to catch up. Step on the throttle like you mean it, and the CVT responds with sturm und drang and precious little forward momentum.

A car equipped with a CVT isn’t necessarily slower than any other, but that moment while you’re waiting for the engine and transmission to sync up can seem endless. If the transmission has a Sport mode, I’ll use it to step down the engine RPM when I need instant acceleration.

Turns out the Murano has enough power to overcome the worst of the CVT’s quirks. I drove it into town three or four times (winding, downhill dirt road onto two-lane highway onto limited-access highway onto freeway) without even being aware of the CVT.

Before it goes away, I’ll do a few impromptu acceleration runs so I can gauge its behavior under pressure.

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