Before diving in here, I acknowledge that comparisons of this sort are somewhat akin to deciding which child you love the most, or which vacation paradise you’d choose to live at for the rest of your days if you could pick only one.
It’s a bit of an unfair question to ask because you should love ALL your kids equally, and choosing which thing is better (television, suitcase, smartphone, riding lawnmower, etc.) often rests on subjective preferences rather than empirical facts.
This brings me to the subjective evaluation that serves as the premise for this story. Which road trip vehicle is better: the Nissan Altima or the Nissan Murano?
The rationale for this comparison is twofold. One, new car buyers not only shop within categories (SUV, sedan, hatchback, truck, etc.) but also within lineups, so a comparo of this sort is appropriate given that reality and the fact that both the Altima and Murano are chasing the same market: families. Reason number two is I recently spent a good deal of time driving both on Route 66 where they performed the same functions on the same roads and in similar weather conditions. Both cars are also range-topping, Canadian-spec, 2020 models.
With that out of the way, let the subjective evaluating begin!
THE CASE FOR THE ALTIMA
The sixth-generation Altima sedan was all-new for the 2019 model year, and there were a lot of changes thrown at it, including a revised chassis, fresh exterior and interior design, more technology and, for the first time, all-wheel drive. In fact, the Altima is available in AWD only for Canada. From a powertrain perspective, all Canadian-spec Altimas (S, SV and Platinum) are powered by a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine (182 hp / 178 lb-ft.) that’s paired with Nissan’s Xtronic CVT.
My Route 66 test vehicles were all top-line Platinum models that come with, among other things, standard 19-inch alloy wheels, BOSE premium audio, in-dash navigation, heated leather seating, a heated leather wrapped steering wheel, and a slew of safety tech including Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist driver aid that works in conjunction with the car’s adaptive cruise control.
The Altima is a fine all-around performer, with sharp styling, a comfortable, well-stocked interior and loads of standard-issue technology, particularly on the safety front. Cruising along in the Altima on both the rougher Route 66 and smoother Interstates proved to be a pleasing experience. The BOSE audio system sounds magnificent, and the zero-gravity seats and ProPILOT Assist made long interstate hauls considerably less fatiguing. And that’s to say nothing of its cavernous interior and massive trunk, which swallowed up our bags with ease.
One of the few things I found a bit lacking in the Altima was the powertrain. The 2.5L 4-cylinder is a perfectly adequate engine, but it doesn’t make for a particularly exciting drive. Power output is low overall and the power that is there is socked away high in the rev range. Combined with a CVT that doesn’t offer any real shifting, the Altima has little to offer from a performance perspective. Making available the 2.0L VC (variable compression) turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that’s currently offered in the U.S. market Altima would help to offset this problem somewhat.
While it’s driving dynamics aren’t the most engaging and it doesn’t sell as well the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Altima’s value proposition is hard to ignore given it’s lower MSRP, handsome styling, standard AWD and loads of safety tech. The Accord and Camry are available as hybrids and the latter can still be had with a V6 engine, but the Altima’s focus on value is wise and I think it will find favour with consumers.
THE CASE FOR THE MURANO
The third-gen mid-sized Murano SUV was all-new in 2015 and received a mid-cycle styling refresh for 2019 that brought new front and rear fascias, grille, headlights, taillights and more available tech to the lineup. Four models are available in Canada (S, SV, SL and Platinum), all of which are powered by a 3.5L V6 (260 hp / 240 lb-ft.) that’s paired with a CVT. All-wheel drive is standard on all models apart from the base S.
As is the case with the Altima, all Muranos I drove on Route 66 were top-line Platinum models which come equipped with a length list of features and amenities. Among these are a power panoramic moonroof, Around View Monitor with moving object detection, 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front seats, leather seating, and BOSE premium audio.
It was with great relief when my drive partner and I found out we’d be plugging along Route 66 the next day in a Murano. As the only Nissan in our driving pool equipped a V6 engine, the Murano felt the most at home travelling on highways at higher speeds. It’s greater mass, wider track, and more powerful engine made the inevitable diversion onto the Interstate much less of a concern than it was for the other cars. The luxury amenities (heated and cooled front seats, quilted leather seating, power liftgate) and acres of room for both luggage and passengers are also tough to beat. The Murano just feels like a natural for long road trips.
The Murano’s interior, while spacious and comfortable is starting to show its age. The navigation screen’s graphics look grainy and low-res compared to other newer Nissans, and the dash layout, while functional, has a last gen look and feel to it, from the plastics to the knobs and switches. Even the steering wheel, while thick and meaty, has an old design. The other thing the Murano suffers from is because it’s built on an older platform, it isn’t available with Nissan’s latest safety tech, namely ProPILOT Assist. Will have to wait for the next-gen Murano for that stuff to be offered, I guess.
I like the Murano a lot. Yes, after five years it’s starting to show its age but that means there’s likely a new one around the corner and if it’s anything like the current model, I think Nissan will have another winner on its hands. Having a smooth and powerful V6 engine really cures a lot of ills on long road trips and, as I said in the plus segment, when combined with loads of comfort-enhancing amenities it makes for a winning combination.
This really is a tale of old Nissan versus new Nissan. The Murano represents where the company was and, in many ways, the Altima embodies not only where the company is now but also where it’s headed.
The Murano is smooth and powerful, comes loaded with amenities and acres of space and is built for comfortable highway cruising. Sure, its interior feels a bit dated and there’s no ProPILOT Assist, but it has regular cruise control along with many other safety nannies we’ve come to expect on new cars in recent years.
The Altima, on the other hand, feels fresh and designed from the ground up to act as a delivery device for Nissan’s latest innovations, from ProPILOT Assist to Intelligent Forward Collision Warning and Intelligent Lane Intervention and more. Nissan Intelligent Mobility, the company’s brand for future autonomous tech and electrification strategies, feels like a natural fit with the Altima.
But this story isn’t about that. It is about which vehicle is better suited for a long trek and having just completed the longest road trip of my life at 3,945 km (2,451 miles), the Murano is the one I’d pick if I could do it over again. Power, room and comfort are must-haves for these endeavours, and the Murano has all three in spades.