Honda HR-V and Nissan Murano
2015 Honda HR-V | Starting price: $19,000
The HR-V is one of those vehicles that could define a segment. Mini-sized SUVs are gaining popularity among urban commuters. They’re small, agile, and get great fuel economy. They are decidedly convenient. But they are also quirky. There’s the Nissan Juke, the Kia Soul, and the Jeep Renegade. All possess good qualities, but at the same time, their quirkiness stands out like a city slicker in hill country. Enter Honda. No flash, no gimmicks, just a good-looking vehicle that does its job well. It’s the grownup in a segment filled with toddlers.
The HR-V is based on the Fit platform, though it is substantially bigger. Its wheelbase is 3.2 inches longer than the Fit and 9.1 inches longer overall. Its lines are restrained in design, giving off what is likely the most sophisticated look in the subcompact crossover category.
Because it is bigger than the Fit (and naturally heavier) the HR-V needed a more powerful engine. Outfitted with a 1.8-liter engine mated to either a 6-speed manual or CVT, you’ll get a not-quite-brawny 141 horsepower — though it is enough to zip up in traffic when needed. The HR-V comes in either front- or all-wheel drive models. If you choose the all-wheel drive version, you also choose the CVT as part of the deal. Opt for the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to give yourself a little more control over seven “virtual” gears. You’ll almost forget you’re driving a continuously variable transmission.
Certainly, the HR-V was not intended to win any races; it was designed to move commuters about in city traffic — and it does it extremely well. Honda’s electric power steering offers excellent feedback; not too mushy and not too stiff. Combined with the well-tuned suspension, this miniute rides and behaves beyond its $19,000 starting price. Its agility makes it a pleasure to drive and the cabin remains quiet and comfortable.
Like other manufacturers these days, Honda offers trim levels within trim levels. There’s the base LX and a myriad of features on your way up to the fully loaded EX-L, with leather and navigation. Even then, the HR-V tops out at $25,480. Overall, the interior feels clean and refined. Honda’s quality is apparent in its use of materials. All models are outfitted with a 5-inch touchscreen and plenty of USB ports for modern tech needs. Steering-wheel-mounted controls, push-button start, and a rear-angle camera are nice touches.
This five-seater boasts a lot of cargo space. With the rear seats folded down, you get 58.8 cubic feet. Fold down the front passenger seat for added space. As a bonus, the rear seat cushions fold up if you’re looking for four feet of vertical space.
With sophisticated styling and handling, plus generous versatility, the HR-V is well on its way to redefining the subcompact crossover segment.
2015 Nissan Murano | Starting price: $29,500
If cars can be considered works of art, then the Murano is a Picasso. The Murano is decidedly modern in its design, and while its lines are not the cubist disjointed lines of a Picasso painting, they do work together to suggest continual fluid movement.
The Murano was a head-turner when it was first launched 12 years ago. Today, line it up next to its competitors in the mid-size SUV/Crossover category (Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Edge, Toyota Highlander) and the more athletic, back-to-the-future styled Murano definitely stands out.
Inside stands out as well, with an interior design that feels open and modern, much like a conversation lounge. The expanded center console actually plays a key part in this design. It creates extra space between the two front seats, allowing passengers in the back to have a better view of what’s going on up front. Front armrests are also built directly onto the console, again, contributing to the modern feel of the vehicle. Borrowing the “NASA-inspired zero gravity seats” from the Altima, all of the outboard passengers can ride in comfort. Also adding to the enjoyment of the refined interior is a panoramic moonroof.
The Murano comes in four trim levels. The base model S starts at $29,560 and starts out with BlueTooth and streaming audio, 18-inch wheels, smart key, and dual-zone climate control. For about $10,000 more, you can move all the way up to the Platinum edition, which includes everything in the other models plus 20-inch wheels, LED headlights, climate-controlled front seats, and a heated steering wheel as well as heated rear seats. In between the S and Platinum, leather seats, USB ports, and Bose audio get thrown in.
All Muranos are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 mated to the Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). With that you get 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. At a time when many auto makers are opting for small turbo-charged engines, this makes the Murano seem less modern. However, when you factor in that this vehicle will get 28 mpg on the highway, it becomes obvious that Nissan made fuel economy a priority. Even the all-wheel drive model gets the same fuel economy as the front-drive version, suggesting that Nissan found ways to lighten up without having to retool for a new powertrain. Riding on an independent strut suspension up front and a multi-link in the rear, the Murano’s ride is exceptionally well-balanced for a car in this price range. Handling sits in the sweet spot of involving the driver while isolating outside noise, vibration, and harshness.
The Murano offers a lot of bang for the buck. It’s a modernist’s crossover in every sense of the word.
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