Vehicle Overview
Nissan added the Murano "crossover" sport utility vehicle to its lineup in the 2003 model year. Specifically designed and engineered for the U.S. market, the Murano "gets away from the slab-sided design that's so common," said Bill Kirrane, former Nissan Division general manager.

A rollover sensor system has been added to the side curtain-type airbags for 2005, and a new base S model is available. A new Convenience Package is offered, and Touring packages add an Intelligent Key feature.

Also offered in SL and SE trim levels with either front- or all-wheel drive, the Murano has a four-wheel-independent suspension and a continuously variable transmission. For 2004, the CVT unit in SE models gained a manual-shift mode.

Nissan says the Murano's wraparound surface construction features a sloping hood line and a steeply raked windshield. Each wheel is pushed out toward the corners for a wide stance. The "sculpture in motion" theme focuses on an "architectural" grille and a sporty, upswept D-pillar that blends into the rounded cargo door.

Aerodynamic enhancements include an under-engine cover, a chin spoiler and a rear spoiler. Built on a 111.2-inch wheelbase, the Murano measures 187.6 inches long overall and stands 66.5 inches tall; it rides on 18-inch tires. High-intensity-discharge headlights and a sport-tuned suspension are installed on SE models.

Equipped with either cloth or optional leather upholstery, the Murano has flip-out door pockets and removable cupholders. Adjustable pedals are optional. The split folding rear seat reclines. SL and SE models have a 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support. The floating instrument panel is trimmed in aluminum. A Bose audio system and a navigation system are optional.

Under the Hood
A 3.5-liter V-6 sends 245 horsepower to Nissan's continuously variable transmission, which has no gears but works with a steel belt and twin pulleys. An available Vehicle Dynamic Control stability system improves stability by controlling brake pressure and engine torque.

Dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags are standard. The seat belts have pretensioners and load limiters. Active head restraints for the front seats are installed. All-disc antilock brakes have brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.

Driving Impressions
The Murano performs with splendid passion. Acceleration is vigorous, and passing at highway speeds produces no unusual sensations. The gearless CVT operates seamlessly and delivers plenty of immediate energy with no fuss; it ranks among the best. Engine noise is minimal, but a high whine emerges if you keep your foot to the floor.

Handling is the Murano's prime attribute. This SUV corners heartily and stays impressively flat through curves. There's little body motion or roll even in quick turns, and the Murano feels solid. Ride quality is pleasing as the standard suspension cushions quite a bit of roughness.

The magnificent seats have great back and thigh support and appealing cushioning. Huge back pillars constrict over-the-shoulder visibility.