Nissan adds the brand-new Murano crossover sport utility vehicle to its lineup in December 2002. Crossover vehicles blend the virtues of several body styles into a single model, and they appear to be especially hot items for the 2003 season. Infiniti, Nissans luxury division, will follow suit early in 2003 with its FX45 an SUV thats similar to the Murano.
Specifically designed, developed and engineered for the U.S. market, the Murano gets away from the slab-sided design thats so common in the category . . . [and it] offers an emotional alternative to typical SUVs, said Bill Kirrane, vice president and general manager of the Nissan Division, during the vehicles unveiling at the New York International Auto Show in March 2002.
Named after the sculpted glass art that comes from islands near Venice, Italy, the Murano will ride a new FF-L platform that is shared with the Altima sedan. Offered in SL or SE trim levels with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Murano has a four-wheel-independent suspension and a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Nissan says the Murano uses wraparound surface construction that features a sloping hood line and a steeply raked windshield. Each wheel is pushed out toward the corners of the vehicle in a design that permits a long wheelbase and wide stance. Nissan says designers followed a sculpture in motion theme that focuses on an architectural grille and a sporty, upswept D-pillar that blends into the rounded rear cargo door located behind tiny quarter windows.
According to the automaker, the Murano features SUV strength below the belt line and sport sedan openness above. The cargo door is made of steel-reinforced plastic, and a sunroof is optional.
Aerodynamic enhancements include an under-engine body cover, front and rear tire deflectors, a chin spoiler and a rear spoiler. The Murano rides a 111.2-inch wheelbase, measures 187.6 inches long overall and stands 66.5 inches tall. The tires measure 18 inches in diameter. Vertically stacked high-intensity-discharge headlights and a sport-tuned suspension go on the SE models.
Nissan promises first-class seating for two couples on sculpted seats in the Murano. Equipped with either cloth- or leather-upholstered seats, the Murano has flip-out door pockets, an easy-to-use coin holder and a removable cupholder. The driver can have an optional eight-way seat adjuster along with a tilt steering wheel and a padded gauge-cluster setup. Adjustable throttle and brake pedals are optional and have a 3-inch range and a memory function. The split, folding rear seat reclines and has a remote slip-down function.
Trimmed in aluminum, the instrument panel is a one-piece floating design. A seven-speaker Bose audio system and a navigation system are optional. A lockable, two-tier console in the cockpit is large enough to hold a laptop computer or a purse. The rear cargo area is fitted with a large, lightweight drawer. The Muranos cargo volume totals 81.6 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
A 3.5-liter V-6 engine sends 245 horsepower to Nissans Xtronic CVT, which has no gears but works with a steel belt and twin pulleys. No other transmission is offered.
An available Vehicle Dynamic Control system improves stability by controlling brake pressure and engine torque automatically during certain difficult driving conditions.
Standard features include dual-stage front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and side curtain-type airbags that protect front and rear occupants. The seat belts have pretensioners and load limiters. Child-safety seat anchors, a tether system and active head restraints for the front seats are installed. All-disc antilock brakes have Brake Assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
Not only is the Murano one of the most distinctive-looking SUVs, but it also performs with splendid passion. Its acceleration is vigorous, and the gearless CVT ranks among the best offered; it operates seamlessly and effectively. Passing at highway speeds produces no unusual sensation. The CVT delivers plenty of energy right away, and with no fuss. Engine noise is minimal even when pushed hard, but a high whine eventually appears if you keep your foot to the floor. A Sport mode keeps engine revs higher.
The Muranos handling is its prime attribute. This SUV corners heartily and stays impressively flat through curves. Even in fast, tight turns, theres little body motion or roll, and the Murano feels utterly solid on the road. Ride quality is also pleasing, as the standard suspension cushions quite a bit of rough pavement.
The Muranos magnificent seats have great back and thigh support, as well as appealing cushioning. On the down side, the huge back pillars constrict over-the-shoulder visibility, glove box space is slim, and the small tachometer isnt easy to read at a glance.