The basics: 265-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, CVT, all-wheel drive. Seating for five.
Safety: Four stars frontal, five stars side impact, NHTSA; 'Good,' frontal, side, and rear tests; Top Safety Pick
Fuel economy: 18/23 mpg
Rating: 8.2 out of 10
When the Nissan Murano was completely redesigned for 2009, Nissan improved the 'shift logic' that governs the CVT's behavior, making it much better at anticipating when you expect to quickly access power (out of a tight corner, for instance). But we still wish for a manual mode, like that on the Nissan Maxima for curvy back roads.
It's a shame, as the Murano does handle quite well, with better body control than most mid-size crossovers and a crisp turn-in. The Murano's all-wheel drive system splits power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels, but sends more to the front or rear wheels as needed.
Even though the LE is loaded to the gills, it doesn't always feel like a luxury vehicle. For instance, the V-6 is a bit too load when passing at full throttle, and there's more road noise than you might expect. The seats are comfortable, but overall passenger space isn't that impressive, and the steep roofline takes its toll on cargo space.
With nearly perfect crash-test scores, scarred only by four-star federal frontal scores, the Murano is a very safe pick. The IIHS even went so far as to vote it the safest midsize SUV last year. Equipment-wise, the Murano doesn't have the high-tech features that you might find on a Lexus though—or Nissan's Infiniti brand for that matter.
Overall, the top-of-the-line Murano LE comes with a few more standard features than the base-model Lexus RX 350. Items like a power tailgate release, heated front seats, a backup camera, and rain-sensing wipers—all optional on the RX—are included on the LE. So are HID headlamps and the larger 20-inch wheels that really fill out the wheel wells and just make the Murano look sportier and more serious from a distance.
Bottom Line: The 2010 Nissan Murano appeals to those who value style and refinement above absolute practicality.
2008 Los Angeles auto showEnlarge Photo
If we had to choose between these two on a backroad of our choice, we'd rather be behind the wheel of the 2010 Nissan Murano, but then again buyers wanting driving fun in a crossover should be looking elsewhere—to the Infiniti FX35 or Audi Q5, among premium offerings, or the 2010 Mazda CX-7 for those on more of a budget.
Bust the badges off, and the Murano and RX are almost even. The 2010 RX 350 feels more refined and isolated, while the Murano is just a little more responsive, less calming. To option the RX up to the features found in the Murano LE could cost thousands. Yet for a little more money the Lexus can be appointed with some truly impressive tech features that aren't offered on the Murano.
Finally, perhaps most important is the brand experience. When you go back to service the Murano you'll be lumped in with Versa owners, while the Lexus dealership experience is second to none.
Simply put, in the real world where badges do matter, the Lexus RX 350 is the $40k price of entry into a luxury experience, while the Nissan Murano is a $40k vehicle that might be taken even when new for a $30k vehicle.
Not enough? Check out TheCarConnection.com's Car Compare feature, and this comparison of the 2010 Lexus RX 350 vs 2010 Nissan Murano.