Design, tech, value make 2015 Murano AWD a contender

It is on. The battle for the best midsize five-passenger SUV has started, and it’s gonna be a 12-round fight. The 2015 Nissan Murano Platinum all-wheel-drive midsize SUV joins the Ford Edge atop this class of striking, advanced SUVs.

The Murano brings looks, value and efficiency to the match.

The new Murano and Edge — both arriving in dealerships now— are perfectly matched opponents for a summer showdown: Ironman vs. Ultron. Their superhero powers are design, technology and value.

They lead a growing class of five-passenger SUVs that fit between compacts like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape and the bigger family-hauling Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.

The Murano and Edge compete with vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Jeep Cherokee, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Kia Sorento.

Murano prices start at $29,560 for a base front-wheel-drive model. A 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine and continuously variable automatic transmission are standard equipment. All-wheel-drive models start at $31,160. I tested a very well-equipped top of the line AWD Platinum model that had adaptive cruise control, a big sunroof, navigation, blind spot and front collision alerts and much more. It stickered at $43,100. All prices exclude destination charges.

That’s a couple of thousand dollars lower than a comparable Edge, although the Edge would offer some features not available on the Murano, like automated parallel parking.

The Murano’s exterior design is arresting. Sweeping lines run from the front fenders to artistically sculpted taillights and the roof falls away into the tailgate. It’s one of the few SUVs ever made to use the classic narrow-waisted Coke bottle shape.

The interior of my test car was less dramatic. The perforated leather seats and most of the trim were black, with ample padding on the arm rests. The front seat has a huge center console and plenty of places to stow glasses, phones, iPods and more. Both seats offer good leg and headroom, even with a big optional sunroof that extends nearly to the cargo bay. The luggage compartment is the biggest in the class, but it has a relatively high cargo floor, thanks to the presence of a full-size spare tire underneath.

The controls are simple and intuitive. The voice recognition responds quickly and accepts normal-speech commands like “Call Tom Dooley’s mobile.” The center stack also has conventional dials and buttons for most climate and audio controls, and a big clear touch screen. The combination of controls should mean every driver will find whatever method they prefer.

The blind spot over the driver’s right shoulder is substantial. Blind spot and cross-traffic alerts were standard on my well-equipped test vehicle. The less expensive models S and SV have optional wide-angle side mirrors. The electronic alert is standard starting with the $36,950 front-wheel-drive Murano SL.

The Murano is quiet on the highway. The suspension holds the car steady in quick maneuvers and also absorbs bumps for a comfortable ride.

Nissan’s 3.5-liter V-6 is among the biggest engines in the class, but the Murano is not particularly powerful. Its 260 horsepower trails the 3.6-liter Chevy and GMC V-6, 3.2-liter Jeep V-6 and Hyundai’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo. It matches the Sorento’s 2.0-liter turbo and has more power than the same-sized engine in the Edge. The Murano’s 240 pound-feet of torque trails all the engines but the Jeep V-6.

The Murano’s CVT transmission does not draw attention to itself and provides acceptable acceleration in town and on the highway.

The CVT helps the AWD Murano achieve class-leading Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway and 24 combined. The combined rating is 1 mpg better than the Edge and Cherokee and up to 5 mpg better than the others.

That combination of efficiency, value, looks and comfort makes the 2015 Nissan Murano hard to beat. Consumers will be the winners as first Nissan and Ford, and then other automakers square off to see whose midsize SUV is the real superhero.

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