Vanity Mirrors: Now that You Look Good, Which Midsize Crossover Will Make You Feel Good?
“Have you been working out?” The question strokes the recipient’s ego and encourages further upkeep of those toned biceps. It also brings forth a true maxim: If you feel like you look good, then you’ll definitely feel good.
Another truth: Good-looking people need even-better-looking vehicles to accompany their sartorial choices and hip eyewear. Design-led consumerism seeps from the pores of luxury coupes, sports cars, Apple electronics … and two-row midsize crossovers? Sometimes the hard numbers or your priorities just won’t work with the Mustang GT or Infiniti Q60 you’ve been ogling. And with respect to the rest of the automotive market and today’s outlandish segmentations, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another niche where forming the visual and physical connection is absolutely essential with real-life purchasers. Remember the Pontiac Aztek? Descended from the humble Montana minivan, it remains a largely competent midsize crossover utility vehicle a decade after its demise, gone down in history as a massive design blunder. We’re confident the same judgment will not be handed down on this trio of new and updated CUVs.
Each of these Aztek avengers starts at the same origin. Front-wheel-drive-based underpinnings, though each participant arrived with the extremely popular all-wheel-drive option. Midsize footprint for loads of interior room. No voluntary third row of emergency seats in order to preserve attractive, non-elongated rear proportions and cargo space. The illusion of sporting pretension, as two of the three models include “sport” in the name. From Hyundai, the Santa Fe Sport comes on stage with revised suspension and electric power steering tuning. The second-generation Ford Edge Sport represents Dearborn, Michigan, and bears an extremely potent engine. Nissan shipped over (from Canton, Mississippi) a Murano Platinum, the latest interpretation of the original style-conscious crossover.
Speaking of style, have you seen the wheels on each CUV? Swimming in 19- and 20-inch alloys, every day must be leg day.
Third Place: Ford Edge Sport AWD
The Ford Edge has been a looker since Day One with the 2007 model, but unlike the Murano, its comparison story fortunes have featured more losses than wins. Sad to say, the reversal does not start today.
We originally looked for an Edge with the now-optional 3.5-liter V-6 or standard 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder and ended up with the Sport because of press fleet availability. The Ford was the last of our trio to show up, and what an impact it made. The fantastic 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 made a great second impression after we tested the 325-hp iteration in the F-150; it launched the 4,406-pound Edge to 60 mph in a chest-hair-raising 5.7 seconds. The fabulous showing on straightaways is kept in equilibrium by an understandable 18.5/24.3/20.7 Real MPG city/highway/combined.
The suspension’s sportier tastes are the result of coil springs 10 percent stiffer than the base Edge, 15 percent stiffer anti-roll bars, and the appropriate shock absorber tuning. As expected, ride quality is much firmer than the Santa Fe Sport and Murano but decently supple on smooth roads. On broken pavement, the Edge’s cabin really starts to shake.
But have we talked about the engine? Reynolds did: “The engine note is pleasing — for enthusiasts, at least. I’m not sure about recommending this to the broader public.” In some minds, the Edge Sport is the everyman answer to the Porsche Macan S, and not just because the two share 26.2-second figure-eight laps, the Ford edging the P-car in average lateral g (0.87 to 0.83). Both would be a blast to drive on Mount Palomar, harrying one another all along the way.
The $44,860 USD Edge’s performance of intended function is murky. On one hand, it is fast, fun to tool around in, and is the ideal ride for the consumer who believes speedy coupes and sedans make too much sense. On the other, it falls flat on basic tasks related to simply being a vehicle. The Sport’s suede inserts in the leather seats push against instead of support our backsides, even with the adjustable lumbar support recessed all the way. The shifter was finicky, too, eliciting reminiscences of last year’s F-150s from Truck of the Year. “The gear shift lever is hard to use — the detents felt so vague that I accidentally put the car in neutral when trying to back up a few times,” Pleskot said. “The shift between D and S can also be remarkably stubborn.” There were moments when driving around town where the steering to turning ratio didn’t feel completely natural.
Although the interior’s choice of materials and overall design and layout is first-rate, we were miffed by the hard-to-see small buttons flanking the lower center stack and the center screen, which is substantially less responsive than in the Hyundai and Nissan. Reynolds, who had the kinder quote on Sync, determined the “center stack’s issue (including its terrible reputation for unreliability) just stops this vehicle in its tracks.” Sync 3, coming online first in the 2016 Escape and Fiesta, promises a faster-reacting and more user-friendly interface.
We love the abundance of space and the performance yielded by the suspension and especially the V-6. This is the most stunning Edge yet, but we’d feel even better if we could get along with the entire package.
About the 2015 Ford Edge’s exterior design …
“It’s a contemporary design, but it takes no risks and blends a little too seamlessly into the Ford design catalog.” — Kim Reynolds
“The Edge stands out with a sharp, muscular design, a bit masculine and even imposing. It looks like a commanding SUV.” — Kelly Pleskot
Second Place: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD
Our encounter with the then-new Santa Fe Sport during the 2013 Sport/Utility of the Year event left us with a sour taste in our mouths, force-fed by sloppy body control and indifferent steering. The 2015 model salvages our relationship with a new 32-bit electric power steering microprocessor for sharper resolution, retuned bushings front and rear for greater lateral stiffness, and altered rear suspension geometry.
The verdict? Much improved, but no one is making a beeline for Mount Palomar. Of course, the alterations are focused on bolstering vehicle-to-driver communication and didn’t generate major performance number differences. That Santa Fe Sport from SUOTY managed a 27.7-second time around the figure eight; the 2015 model did the same. The SUOTY vehicle averaged lateral acceleration of 0.8 g and full-stop braking from 60 mph in 122 feet; the better-behaving 2015 version handled at 0.78 g and stopped in 124 feet. Steering and driving the Santa Fe Sport remain processes the driver goes through rather than gets deeply involved with. The turbocharged, 265-hp, 2.0-liter inline-four that “feels punchy but not overeager in both city and highway driving,” per Pleskot, with “only adequate power” (Reynolds). The overarching message is clear: Seeking a handling and dynamics gold star was not at the top of the product-planning priorities.
There may be good (but somewhat depressing to us) cause for that. Current and past Santa Fe customers put driving performance far down the priority list. As in, very far down. Value concerns reign supreme, and value is a facet Hyundai excels at. For $38,370 USD, our Santa Fe Sport is $5,585 USD less than the Murano and $6,490 USD less than the Edge, and it has lots of tech goodies. For less than $40,000 USD, buyers and lessees receive plenty of cabin space and features, along with the requisite tall seating position lusted after by crossover and SUV shoppers. “Cost-consciousness is the theme here, and at its lower price point, the Santa Fe is perfectly understandable,” Reynolds said. “It’s all rather boring and lacking in imagination, though functionally all right.”
In spite of its lower performance ceiling — the tepid 9.3-second 0-60 mph time is well adrift of the other two CUVs, though sticking to front-wheel drive knocks it down to 8.5 — the not particularly sporting Santa Fe Sport is more than capable of the everyday toiling every crossover goes through. Real MPG ratings of 19.7/26.5/22.3 city/highway/combined nip at the Murano’s heels. The $4,350 USD Ultimate package adds all the right items. Cooled front and heated rear seats? Check. Parking sensors? Yes. Memory driver’s seat and an 8-inch touchscreen display? Absolutely. Pleskot on the interior: “Seats are comfortable even though they are on the firm side. I like the simple controls on the center stack. Storage area underneath is also helpful. Front visibility is generally good.” It’s quiet, too. Full-throttle acceleration to 60 mph registered an average of 20.7 in-cabin sones on our sound meter, 18 percent lower than in the Murano and 23 percent less than the growly Edge. Each is sufficiently quiet when gently cruising.
Oftentimes, the highly emotional experience of car shopping has to be more rational than we’d like or like to admit. The updated Santa Fe Sport shows rationality can still be rewarding.
About the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport’s exterior design …
“Bland. Perfect for somebody who doesn’t want to stand out in any way. Despite its extreme conservatism, it is basically good-looking, just too much like the shape of every crossover out there has been averaged into one vehicle — this one.” — Kim Reynolds
“It has the most conventional design, but that’s not a bad thing. I like the grille and overall bodylines, as well as the tapered rear end. It also looks smaller than the imposing Edge and Murano at first glance.” — Kelly Pleskot
“The ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ exterior of the Santa Fe crossover family invokes the impression of irrepressible motion through a new design concept called Storm Edge, which captures the strong and dynamic images created by nature during the formation of a storm. To create the illusion of constant motion, Hyundai designers use a three-bar hexagonal front grille, LED headlight accents, low stance, rising beltline, roof spoiler, and wraparound taillights.” — Hyundai press release
First Place: Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The top purchase consideration factor for the first- and current third-gen Murano, Nissan told us, is exterior styling. Outward appearance took the second spot on the second generation’s preference list. On Gen 2’s top rung? Driving performance. Now there’s a quality we can get behind.
There are reasons the Murano has historically excelled in Motor Trend comparison tests, vanquishing comers such as the Mitsubishi Endeavor and Toyota Highlander. Testing director Kim Reynolds on our 2015 Platinum test vehicle: “Overall, it’s rather delightful — smooth riding, reasonably quiet, a good blend of everything.” Vehicles able to smartly mix work and play are always welcome in our schedule book. The Nissan will contentedly float along on the freeway, and then, as it’s done since model year 2003, surprise with a one-two punch of a normal-feeling continuously variable automatic and astonishingly engaging handling.
The body rolls and pitches a bit, but the driver doesn’t lose track of the pavement, even with the sensation you’re a couple cornering miles per hour away from picking up the inner rear tire while turning a 27.8-second figure-eight lap time of 0.64 average g, slowest in the comparison. Having run it up and down the hugely fun and technical roads around Palomar Mountain in Southern California, the Murano is presently co-holder of my “Most Bizarrely Entertaining Vehicle to Drive Up and Down Palomar Quickly” award (shared with a 2012 Buick LaCrosse). After lapping the Nissan around the figure eight, Reynolds’ praise for the dynamics was effusive. “The Murano was really fun to toss around, as its stability control allows a lot of latitude before intervening,” he said. “It’s inherently rather well-balanced.” On the dragstrip, the CVT and 260-horsepower VQ-series V-6 collude for a 7.4-second 0-60-mph time, 0.4 second behind the front-drive model. At parking lot speeds, however, the electrically controlled hydraulic steering can be tardy feeding power assist, leading to a heavier than expected effort.
The more responsible driver in our clique, associate online editor Kelly Pleskot, picked up on the details in the luxurious cabin. “The Murano has the nicest interior of all three competitors,” she said. “The navigation system was one of the best I have ever worked with, thanks to the large, responsive touchscreen and crisp graphics. The seats were very comfortable. It was pretty clear the Murano has more legroom than the other models in the second row.” We never take manufacturer-supplied interior dimensions as gospel, because we aren’t SAE-sanctioned test dummies. The specs allege the Nissan to have the least rear legroom here — 38.7 inches to the Edge’s 40.6 and Santa Fe Sport’s 39.4 — but our collective perspective says otherwise. Potential customers’ best course of action is checking everything in person. Diligent consumers will notice all three CUVs pack big cargo areas, and Murano earns a nod with the flattest load floor and Platinum-specific powered return for the folded back seat.
“Other than the weird inset material, I like the interior,” Reynolds said. “It has a sense of really trying to deliver a higher style, higher material quality experience. The over-the-shoulder C-pillar view is rather hampered, though.” The Murano’s visibility was indeed sacrificed to the style deities when it came to the thick A- and kookily-drawn C- and D-pillars. But at $43,955 loaded with the Technology package (adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with auto braking, and a panoramic sunroof) the appeal of a harmonized, all-wheel-drive crossover achieving 20.3/26.8/22.8 Real MPG city/highway/combined knocked it straight into a first-place finish.
About the 2015 Nissan Murano’s exterior design …
“I can’t decide which disturbs me more — the fang-tooth grille or the unnecessarily complex C-pillar treatment. That said, though, I do admire its boldness and attempt at originality.” — Kim Reynolds
“Eclectic. It looks right only at certain angles. The large snout and bulging rear taillights kind of bug me.” — Kelly Pleskot
“One of the central constructs for both the exterior and interior of the new Murano was to ‘elevate your experience,’ which is counterintuitive to the heaviness and chunkiness of the traditional sport/utility vehicle. This helped inspire the push for leading-edge aerodynamic and three key elements of our future designs — the V-Motion front end, signature lighting, and the ‘floating’ roofline.” — Shiro Nakamura, Nissan senior vice president and chief creative officer
|2015 Ford Edge Sport AWD||2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD||2015 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, iron block/alum heads||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||164.4 cu in/2,694cc||121.9 cu in/1,998cc||213.5 cu in/3,498cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||315 hp @ 4,750 rpm||265 hp @ 6,000 rpm||260 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||350 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm||269 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm||240 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,000 rpm||6,750 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.0 lb/hp||15.0 lb/hp||15.6 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||6-speed automatic||Cont. variable auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||13.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in vented disc, ABS||12.6-in vented disc; 11.9-in disc, ABS||12.6-in vented disc; 12.1-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||20-in, cast aluminum||7.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum||7.5 x 20-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||245/50R20 102V M+S Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2||235/55R19 101H M+S Continental CrossContact LX Sport||235/55R20 102H M+S Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport AS|
|WHEELBASE||112.2 in||106.3 in||111.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.8/64.7 in||64.1/64.5 in||64.6/64.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.1 x 75.9 x 68.6 in||184.6 x 74.0 x 66.1 in||192.8 x 75.4 x 66.6 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.0 in||7.3 in||6.9 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.3 ft||35.8 ft||38.7 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,406 lb||3,983 lb||4,048 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||60/40%||57/43%||58/42%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||2,000 lb||3,500 lb||1,500 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.2/40.3 in||38.2/37.4 in||38.1/37.8 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||40.5/40.6 in||41.3/39.4 in||43.6/38.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||60.3/60.5 in||59.4/58.3 in||59.6/58.8 in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH F/R||73.4/39.2 cu ft||71.5/35.4 cu ft||69.9/39.6 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.8 sec||3.2 sec||2.9 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.1||5.1||3.4|
|QUARTER MILE||14.3 sec @ 95.9 mph||17.0 sec @ 83.0 mph||15.6 sec @ 91.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft||124 ft||115 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.87 g (avg)||0.78 g (avg)||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.2 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)||27.7 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)||27.8 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||2,000 rpm||1,200 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$45,000*||$38,370||$43,955|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/unlimited||–|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.2 gal||17.4 gal||19.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||17/24/20 mpg||18/24/21 mpg||21/28/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/140 kW-hrs/100 miles||160/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.99 lb/mile||0.96 lb/mile||0.82 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||18.5/24.3/20.7 mpg||19.7/26.5/22.3 mpg||20.3/26.8/22.8 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular|