Time to Catch Up and, Yes, Fill Up

February 26, 2012 12:00 am

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TESTED 2012 Nissan Murano SL

WHAT IS IT? Midsize crossover with two rows of seats.

HOW MUCH? Base S starts at $30,365 with front-wheel drive. SL as tested was $41,280 with all-wheel drive, cargo mat and navigation package.

WHAT MAKES IT RUN? 3.5 liter V-6 with a continuously variable automatic transmission.

IS IT THIRSTY? Somewhat, as are some other vehicles in its class. The federal mileage estimate is 18 m.p.g. in town and 23 on the highway with all-wheel drive; the rating for front-drive versions isn't much better at 18/24 m.p.g.

ALTERNATIVES Ford Edge, $28,350; Hyundai Santa Fe V-6, $25,950; Mazda CX-7 s Touring, $27,250; Toyota Venza LE V-6, $30,125.

THE drive from New Hampshire to Montpelier, Vt., on U.S. Highway 302 can be challenging. The road twists and turns, and the pavement is rough and rumpled, making it a perfect testbed for judging how well the Nissan Murano has held up since the second-generation crossover was introduced three years ago as a 2009 model.

Last year the Murano received some cosmetic upgrades, including a new grille, bumper and taillights, and some interior refinements. There have been no significant mechanical changes.

The Murano rides on the company's "D" platform, which also underpins the Altima midsize sedan. With the Murano, Nissan has struck a nice balance between a smooth ride and responsive handling, a crucial compromise that has tripped up many an automaker. The bias here is toward comfort, but I suspect that most drivers will find the Murano's driving dynamics perfectly acceptable.

The power comes from a version of Nissan's familiar, and much praised, VQ V-6, rated at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of peak torque. The engine responds smartly pretty much whenever you want it, thanks partly to one of the best continuously variable transmissions from any automaker. The only downside is a droning sound around 2,000 r.p.m. under a very light throttle.

  The interior looked good with beige leather seats and heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, an appreciated feature on a chilly New England day. The front seats are heated, of course, and toasted rear seats are available on the fancy LE.

First Published 2012-02-25 23:10:14

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