When driving most sport utility vehicles or crossover sport utility vehicles, the term sport rarely comes to mind. With a high center of gravity and massive weight, these transportation devices are more useful as family haulers than true sports sedans. There are exceptions, like the BMW X5, but few can afford the X5's lofty price. Thankfully, Nissan has helped address this with the introduction of the Murano crossover SUV, named after sculpted glass that comes from islands near Venice. Laugh if you want, but this new Nissan is a serious, strong contender in this category. Like all crossover SUVs, the Murano takes the best elements of an SUV (available all-wheel-drive, increased ride height and cargo carrying capacity) and mates it to a car platform. In this case, the platform in question is the Altima front-wheel-drive sedan. The Murano is available in front-wheel or all-wheel-drive. If you've read about or driven the new Altima, you know what that means: strong acceleration, sports sedan handling and a funky shape. The strong acceleration is courtesy of Nissan's ubiquitous 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, tuned to produce 245 horsepower. Acceleration is just as spirited as it is in the Altima, but with a difference. The difference is the transmission. The Murano is the first Nissan vehicle in North America to use Nissan's new Xtronic continuously variable transmission. The Xtronic doesn't step through a set of specific gear ratios, the way a traditional automatic transmission would do. Instead, the Xtronic uses a metal belt, stretched between two pulleys of differing diameters. The pulleys move along the belt, continuously varying the ratio. You never feel the car upshift or downshift, resulting in a smooth, strong surge of power. Another benefit of the transmission is improved fuel economy over that of a standard automatic transmission. That's why the EPA rates the Murano at 20 mpg city, 24 mpg with all-wheel-drive. Front-wheel drive models see a 1 mpg improvement on highway mileage and both ratings beat many SUV competitors. Indeed, test mileage of the all-wheel-drive Murano reached 22 mpg, outstanding considering this vehicle's weight and power. Handling matches the acceleration, with sporting manners when the road starts to bend. A four-wheel-independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution and Brake Assist combined with all-wheel-drive inspired confidence. The handling comes at the expense of ride comfort. The ride was quite firm, almost harsh. So, you won't mistake it for a luxury vehicle. Inside, the Murano uses a mixture of aluminum accents and modern style. The dash shelf over the instrument panel is rather large, which some may find disconcerting. But the controls were easy to use and operate. The Nissan Murano comes fully equipped with all the power assists and convenience items appropriate for a vehicle in this price range, as well as the full complement of safety gear one would expect, including side airbags. Interior storage is excellent and includes a two-tier center console with a lockable compartment large enough to hold a laptop computer. The seats were comfortable and head and leg room was good both front and rear. The test car featured optional power adjustable pedals, which ensure that shorter drivers will find a comfortable driving position. The rear seats fold easily to increase cargo capacity, which isn't as large as some might require. A cargo net and cargo cover are included. But you might want to forgo some utility considering the vehicle's most obvious feature: its style. Arrestingly modern and distinctive, the Murano's lines recall that of some recent Renault models. Since Renault has a controlling interest in Nissan, that result isn't very surprising. The Murano's individuality is refreshing in a field of sameness. Prices start at $28,199 for the front-wheel-drive model, $29,799 for the all-wheel-drive SL Nissan provided for testing. Bottom line was $32,016, right in the heart of the crossover SUV price range. What propels the Nissan Murano to the top of a crowded crossover SUV field is its bold style and equally bold performance, offering an affordable alternative to the BMW X5.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||December 9, 2002|
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|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||January 10, 2003|
|John O'Dell||Los Angeles Times||December 11, 2002|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||December 8, 2002|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||November 20, 2002|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 3, 2002|
|Jason Stein||January 19, 2003|
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