Executive wheels: Nissan steps up

2015 NISSAN MURANO SL AWD                                     

As probably everyone knows, Nissan, like all of the Japanese-based car makers, has a luxury division, and that is Infiniti. I drove these two vehicles back-to-back over two weeks, and I put them here in the same review because getting into the QX60 in the second week was something of a déjà vu – they are remarkably similar vehicles.

The QX60 is a bit longer than the Murano – the Infiniti has was the manufacturer laughingly calls third-row seating to the Murano’s standard two rows – and there are some obvious cosmetic differences and luxury upgrades on the QX 60, but all week long in the second week it felt as though I was driving the same vehicle.

Then I discovered why: the QX60, launched as the JX in 2102 and renamed the QX for 2014 in an Infiniti-wide naming streamlining (all QX models are now SUVs and Crossovers), is built on a Murano platform, elongated. And I mentioned Japanese-based automakers before on purpose: while the Nissan company is Japanese, both the QX60 and the Murano are completely built in the U.S. – the Murano in Canton, Miss. and the QX60 in Smyrna, Tenn.

For its part, the Murano, launched in 2003, is an interesting vehicle. When it first came out it was among the first vehicles of this type labelled “crossover” rather than SUV and it was something of a styling leader.  So in that bold styling vein, my take on the 2015 Murano is that it looks like a large Nissan Juke, the line’s small crossover (which I review in March; see that here). The first day or so of my review I didn’t like the Murano. There’s its Juke-ness look, which I count as a negative, and the bad thing I noticed right off was that when you pushed on the front door panels to open the doors the panels move as if they weren’t attached properly. 

Aside from that, however, the more I drove it, the more I liked the Murano. The vehicle is very quiet, drives exceptionally well, and it has great power. With a 3.5-liter V6, coupled to CVT (continuously variable transmission), this Murano, with 260hp, is both very smooth for cruising around town and rather quick on the highway with surprising acceleration for this sized engine in a relatively heavy vehicle. The mileage is 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway.

The inside was quite comfortable, with a large, roomy back seat, and the huge sunroof that goes from over the front seats (where it opens) to behind the back seats (where it is just glass) is impressive. I wouldn’t call the interior beautiful, more like handsome, but the gauges are nice looking, and the touch screen for operating the sound system, nav and apps is very easy to use and not distractive. Speaking of the sound system, the standard here is a BOSE 9-speaker premium system that sounds great.

Perhaps the best thing I found in this Murano is the “camera” button. Sure it has a back-up camera, but this button is for a camera to the front that makes parking, especially in a dark garage, easy as pie. A nice touch.

On the down side, the keyless entry for Nissan (and Infiniti) is odd – you have to push the button on the door handle to both unlock and lock the doors, where in most vehicles the unlock just happens. Also, the push-button start and stop has an annoying lag, which constantly made me feel as though I didn’t push it hard enough.

All the technology is here, of course, in this AWD crossover, and most of it comes standard with the $38,550 base price. They added on the panoramic sunroof, intelligent cruise control (presumably using the front camera), predictive forward collision warning and forward emergency braking, all in a package costing $2,260. Then with $210 in floor mats and $885 in destination charges, the bottom line is $41,905. Not cheap, but competitive. They call this a mid-sized station wagon for government category purposes, but it felt larger, so if you’re looking for something in this category, the Murano must be on your list.

2015 INFINITI QX60 3.5 AWD

Years ago, I used to describe the Infiniti G20 sedan as a Nissan Maxima in a tuxedo; it was pretty much the same car, but had better leather, more insulation and nicer gauges. As I said earlier, this Infiniti QX60 is an elongated Murano, but instead of its being a Murano in a tuxedo, this one is garbed in white tie and tails. The QX 60 is very similar to the Murano, but it is so much more. And that begins with its beauty – the exterior is much more sophisticated, and the interior – Wow! – well, no one who got in the car failed to mention how beautifully spectacular it was. Hard to believe, but it felt even better.

Essentially, this is the same vehicle. The engine is apparently the same – 3.5-liter V6 – but they get a little more hp out of it, up to 265 hp (rated here at 19 city/26 highway). It also has the CVT. And the base price is just slightly higher: $43,800. But then the fun starts. They tack on another nearly $13,000 in options that boost the bottom line here to $56,090. That’s a lot, but the packages are great: the front camera, and back camera, with every warning system and collision avoidance stuff you can imagine; a BOSE sound system with cabin surround sound and 13 speakers, climate controlled seats, heated ear seats, power third-row seating,  second- and third-row power moonroof, maple interior accents; remote start; and then the Around View Monitoring with moving object detection with front and rear sonar (Sonar!!) {“Four cameras positioned around the vehicle give you a virtual 360° bird’s eye view on your display,” the brochure says). There’s even remote door lock/unlock.

I used a ton of the technology while driving – Bluetooth phone, voice commands, smart phone music hookups, and all that – but I really appreciated all the warning systems. Once you get used to the beeps, it works well and keeps you alert. 

All this was great, of course, but just driving is the real pleasure. The leather here was magnificent, the vehicle extremely quiet, the sound great. And the handling for such a large vehicle was excellent.

I’ve been driving and reviewing vehicles for a long time and I can’t imagine what they will feature in the next 10 years that isn’t already in this Infiniti QX60. It’s just about as luxurious and gadget-filled as there is on the market, and a pleasure to drive. It’s pricey, but I have driven the competition in this price range and, trust me, it’s every bit as nice and perhaps more.