On the spec sheet, five-passenger midsize crossover SUVs don’t necessarily make sense. They don’t give you extra space and utility compared to the most space-efficient vehicles one size smaller, yet they cost as much as larger models that can fit in the extra capacity of a third-row seat.
What the numbers don’t show is the extra levels of comfort and luxury that find themselves into crossovers that sit above the Honda CR-V and its ilk. The spec sheet also doesn’t reflect the fact that stylists designing a three-row crossover are constrained by practicality, resulting in the familiar silhouette of an extended-length rectangle.
Two of the most popular two-row midsize crossovers are both enjoying fresh redesigns for the 2015 model year: the Ford Edge, one of the segment’s consistent best-sellers; and the Nissan Murano, one of the class’s pioneering models. Both enter their third generations with fresh styling and new technology, and while both are competitive, the Edge chalks up some significant advantages in driving dynamics, interior comfort, and price.
Although the Edge isn’t a value by its class standards – expect to pay around $36,000 for a well-equipped model with features like leather seats, a navigation system, and a sunroof – it undercuts the Murano while smartly combining driving enjoyment, comfort, and utility.
The Murano is more exciting to look at but less exciting to drive, but it’s hardly mediocre either. The Edge rides and handles better and has superior passenger comfort, but the Nissan has standout fuel economy and few glaring weak points. If you love how it looks, you wouldn’t have to feel like you’re settling for it. However, if the Nissan’s looks are neutral or a negative, you’d find that the Edge offers most of the same strengths along with some notable others.
To look at
For better or for worse, the Murano is the more eye-catching of the two designs. Nissan came into the market with radical looks and trademark orange paint back in 2003, but evolved the styling more cautiously in a 2009 redesign, rounding off the sharp edges but keeping the appearance familiar. The market didn’t respond. So the 2015 Murano is back to bold; not everyone will love the big chrome grille or jumps and jogs of the headlights and windowline, but this Nissan won’t blend into a crowd. And orange has returned to the list of available colors.
The Edge, meanwhile, is ironically enough the less edgy of these two crossovers to look at. The styling is clean and fresh, with tauter lines than the casually rounded shape of previous Edges. Unlike the Murano, it’s not obviously an all-new vehicle – especially from the front, which shares a familiar grille with several other Fords. But at the same time, there’s little to loathe, and some buyers will also prefer understated elegance over boisterous exuberance.
Both models have relatively restrained interior styling, with cabins of decent quality whose look and feel probably wouldn’t be confused with a luxury car’s. The Murano’s interior styling isn’t as radical as its exterior, and indeed some of the shiny silver plastic on the dash and steering wheel are a dated styling cue. The instrument panel is a conventional shape, and the gauges are a little plain. The main unusual choice was that Nissan’s simulated wood mimics the open-pore grains that have become the vogue in some luxury cars; however, the flat plastic trim reveals its nature awkwardly when it catches the light.
Ford took fewer chances, with a look that’s clean but mostly different shades of black and gray. A symmetrical dashboard uses slimmer accents of silver than the Nissan, to better effect. Both dashboards are dominated by a central touchscreen; Ford keeps the buttons and knobs below them rather than to the side like in the Murano, making a more vertical instrument panel.
Ford will gladly sell you the uplevel version of the Edge as the Lincoln MKX; Nissan’s Infiniti brand lacks a Murano equivalent.
See more photos of the Edge and Murano inside and out in the gallery.
While the aesthetics of these two crossovers will come down to personal taste, the Edge is the nicer of the two to drive. Developed from Ford’s outstanding Fusion midsize sedan, it has firm, responsive steering and a nicely controlled ride that are respectable for a big heavy vehicle. It has the agility of a smaller vehicle yet the solid, substantial feel and hushed cabin of a large one. A tall 4,200-pound crossover is bound to make its size evident if you do try to explore its handling limits, mind you, but in routine driving it provides a gratifying and confidence-inspiring experience.
That’s not to say the Murano trails terribly. It’s also pleasant to drive, and never feels bulky or ponderous. But it’s lighter than the Edge, and correspondingly loses some of the Ford’s vault-like solidity on the road. The steering is also lighter and less responsive, and the ride is bumpier.
Another key difference between the two crossovers is their powertrains. The Murano has a fairly conventional engine – a 3.5-liter V6 with 260 horsepower, typical size for a midsize crossover. It’s mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission, which chooses from an infinite number of gear ratios to maximize efficiency rather than shifting among particular gears. In the only sporty aspect of the Murano’s driving dynamics, the V6 is programmed to roar when you start the car, and it’s also noisy (though smooth-sounding) under even relatively gentle acceleration.
The Edge, meanwhile, has a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, but comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s turbocharged to 245 horsepower. Ford calls its line of turbos “Ecoboost,” the idea being that you get the fuel efficiency of a small engine in gentle driving, but then the turbochargers can jump in to provide a boost during hard acceleration. It’s done so nicely in the Edge that there was no evidence during the drive that it was anything but a conventional V6. Power never overwhelmed, but the throttle was calibrated nicely for smooth acceleration, and the engine’s deep muted rumble was far from the stereotypical sounds of a little motor.
Ecoboost’s actual fuel economy advantage is trickier to say. The Murano gets a slight edge in EPA testing, with an outstanding 21 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg in mixed driving, with the tested all-wheel-drive. (As on all crossovers, front-wheel-drive models do a little better.) The Edge is a little behind – 20 city / 28 highway / 23 in mixed driving – but it’s also 200 pounds heavier.
Moreover, drivers who frequently accelerate hard, demanding lots of work from the turbochargers, have often found that their mileage falls far below EPA estimates, whereas gentle drivers might beat those ratings.
The Edge is also available with a conventional 3.5-liter V6 for $425 extra, which drops EPA ratings by 3 mpg but will likely be the better choice for lead-footed drivers. (Top-of-the-line Edges get a turbocharged V6.)
To be in
Inside the cabins, both the Edge and Murano offer comfortable front seats and a high-quality tech-laden dashboard.
The Murano shines for its ergonomics, though. Its infotainment system uses an impressively responsive touchscreen and intuitive graphics and menu options, including a handy option on the main menu for the navigation system to direct the car home. The screen is also surrounded by an intuitive layout of buttons and knobs.
Meanwhile, the Edge has made great strides toward simplifying its own control layout – which was a mess in the previous generation. Gone are the touch-sensitive buttons that required too much concentration to identify and use, and that were easy to activate accidentally. Simple knobs now control the radio’s volume and tuning, and physical buttons and toggles handle basic climate settings. The buttons are still a little small compared to Nissan’s, but at least ergonomic issues are no longer a source of potentially deal-breaking frustration.
The infotainment screen – the MyFordTouch system – has still been known to freeze up due to glitches or required updates, but there are now more workarounds outside the system than before. That’s really the best solution to managing the complexity of such a system: saving complex functions for the screen while allowing quick, simple inputs for basics like radio volume and climate mode. An overhauled infotainment system dubbed Sync 3 is also in the works, due for the 2016 model.
The highlight of the Edge’s cabin is the seats, which are downright outstanding both in the front and rear. The fronts are cushy yet supportive, hugging you better than some sports sedans without feeling confining. The rear offers ample space and a well padded, nicely shaped cushion.
The Murano’s front seats are also very comfortable and decently supportive, but they’re more ordinary. It’s possible, though, that the widest occupants might find their flatter cushions more inviting. Nissan also adds a generous piece of padded leather to the side of the center console where a knee might hit. The Murano’s rear seat is tighter than the Edge’s, though, with less leg room and a lower, less comfortable cushion. A tall center-rear passenger will also need to duck a bit, though both crossovers are wide enough to fit three across.
For cargo, the Murano’s slightly larger exterior dimensions are compromised by its swoopier shape, leading the two to essentially tie for capacity. Both have just under 40 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, and folding the rear leads to 69.9 cubic feet in the Nissan and 73.4 in the Ford. The Murano’s rear seat lies perfectly flat when folded; the Edge’s sits at an angle. Both fold via handy controls located in the cargo area; the Murano has levers on either side of the cabin for opposite sections of the split-folding seat, and the Edge has a clever single button that can operate both sections.
The Edge can be rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds with either the four-cylinder or V6; the Murano tops out at 1,500 pounds. Both have relatively low ground clearance – 7.9 inches in the Ford and just 6.9 inches in the Nissan. That puts them closer to a passenger car than to an off-road capable competitor like the Jeep Grand Cherokee; except to use their all-wheel-drive to maintain traction on a slippery road rather than to conquer the world around you.
Neither the Edge nor the Murano has great visibility, but the Ford is a little better, especially out the front. The Nissan’s rear window is styled to look as though it connects to the rear windshield, though actually the connection is just a large piece of black plastic and the glass stops far short of the rear of the car. Nissan does have an outstanding camera system – rare on the market – that projects an overhead view of the car and its surrounding obstacles. This eases what would otherwise be tricky maneuvering in tight spaces. The Edge has cameras at the front and rear but not the sides of the car. The Ford also has optional sensors that can automatically steer the car into or out of a parking space (parallel or perpendicular), though expect the system to be cautious about where the car can actually fit, whereas the Murano will make it abundantly clear.
Other technology exclusive to the Ford includes an optional hands-free power-operated liftgate, which activates when a foot is waved under the back bumper; rear seatbelts that inflate in an accident; and a lane-keeping system that alerts you if you drift out of your lane and can nudge the vehicle into a slightly different direction. The Nissan, meanwhile, has automatic emergency braking in the event of an impending accident. Both cars can alert you to a possible rear-end collision, to vehicles in your blind spot, and to cross traffic as you back up, and both offer adaptive cruise control that keeps you at a set following distance to the car in front of you even if its speed drops.
The Edge and Murano both start in the high $20,000s, and both easily reach well into the $40,000s as options accumulate. The tested cars both had all-wheel-drive, leather seats, and navigation systems. Adding a sunroof and power liftgate to the price of the tested mid-level Edge SEL and removing its optional trailer package brought its sticker price to just shy of $40,000; removing a few cosmetic items from the tested mid-level Murano SL brought its sticker to just over $42,000 (though Nissan bundled some features together that are only offered on pricier Edges, including adaptive cruise control). Truecar.com estimates that you can haggle about $3,500 off each crossover’s MSRP, so the Edge retains a modest but not negligible price advantage over the Murano.
If value matters more than luxury, a couple of other midsize crossovers stand out: the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Chevrolet Equinox. The Equinox is the cushier and less expensive of the two; the Santa Fe is the more agile and fuel-efficient. Both are priced in the low $30,000s comparably equipped to the aforementioned Murano and Edge.
Two other crossovers in that price point are the Honda Crosstour and Toyota Venza, a pair of models from automakers that tend to be experts on crossovers yet failed to capture the appeal of this segment. The Crosstour drives more like a nice family sedan than a crossover, but its odd long, low hatchback shape robs it of the segment’s expected levels of cargo capacity, and its cabin has become dated. The Venza is better at looking the part as an Edge or Murano competitor, but its luxury aspirations aren’t matched by its driving dynamics or interior comfort. The Crosstour and Venza are both being discontinued for 2016 rather than improved, with Honda and Toyota apparently focusing instead on their wildly popular crossovers in different niches — surely a disappointment for buyers who’d like more options in this class.
The newly redesigned 2016 Kia Sorento is another promising contender among midsize crossovers if you don’t mind its boxiness, which is shaped around an available third-row seat. It’s polished and comfortable, and less bulky than most seven-passenger crossovers, but don’t expect the Kia name to mean that you’d pay much less than a Murano or Edge. And if sleek, elegant styling isn’t at all a focus, the Subaru Outback offers outstanding levels of user-friendly versatility and safety at reasonable prices.
Prices of these models also inch close to the low end of the premium-branded competition. The Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC are a little smaller than the Edge and Murano but offer higher degrees of luxury without huge penalties in interior space.
Photo gallery of the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano
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Vehicle tested: 2015 Ford Edge / 2015 Nissan Murano
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $28,100 / $29,650
Version tested: SEL AWD / SL AWD
Version base price (MSRP): $33,890 / $38,550
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $37,820 / $42,885
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $39,755 / $42,065
Estimated transaction price as comparable:** $36,309 / $38,497
Test vehicle provided by: Koons Ford of Annapolis, Md.; Bayside Nissan of Annapolis, Md.
Length: 188.1 / 192.4 inches
Width: 75.9 / 74.4 inches
Height: 68.6 /66.6 inches
Wheelbase: 112.2 / 111.2 inches
Weight: 4,191 / 3,977 pounds
Ground clearance: 7.9 / 6.9 inches
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 39.2 / 39.6 cubic feet
Maximum cargo volume: 73.4 / 69.9 cubic feet
Maximum towing capacity: 3,500 / 1,500 pounds
Turning circle: not published / 38.8 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.0-liter I4 / 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 245 / 260
Torque: 275 / 240 pound-feet
Transmission: 6-speed automatic / CVT automatic
EPA city mileage: 20 / 21 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 28 / 28 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 23 / 24 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 18.0 / 19.0 gallons
Assembly location: Canada / Mississippi
For more information: Ford website / Nissan website
* Prices as comparable refer to models equipped with all-wheel-drive, leather seats, a sunroof, a navigation system and a power liftgate.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.