PHOENIX â The second-generation â09Murano is a nicely updated cross/utility vehicle that balances sport and refinement with a softer but still lively ride, tight steering offering plenty of feedback and a higher quality interior than its predecessor.
The vehicle has been a top performer forsince its introduction in 2002 as an â03 model, with 72,159 units moved through November, Ward's data shows, making the Murano Nissanâs best-selling light truck in the U.S. and its fourth best-selling model this year.
The Murano also helped spark the CUV craze of recent years in the U.S., boasting many imitators that have borrowed its sinuous, shapely profile.
For this reason, Nissan cautiously approached the Muranoâs revision, focusing on sharpening but not radically changing the exterior styling and retaining the vehicleâs âMurano-ness,â a blend of style and sporty handling that has become a brand characteristic for Nissan.
Many of the Muranoâs mechanical changes mimic those applied last year to the new Altima midsize sedan, including the updated 3.5L VQ V-6, making 265 hp in the Murano, up from 240 hp in the â07 model (Nissan skipped the â08 model year).
Like the Altima, the Murano moves from the old âFFâ front-wheel-drive platform to Nissanâs new âDâ architecture.
With multiple reinforcements to its body structure, the Murano now is one-and-a-half times more rigid than the outgoing model, as first-generation owners complained about noise and vibration.
As with the Altima, the Murano is solidly planted in hairpin turns on the winding mountain roads here heading to Sedona, absorbing bumps better than its sportier linemate, while providing a more refined ride, particularly on rough pavement.
Nissan has replaced the first Muranoâs SE sport grade with a new luxury LE trim (which includes softer suspension tuning), finding the CUVâs buyers are not interested in feeling every imperfection in the road.
Also new is the transmission integration. The new shifterâs path is straight, rather than gated as on the old Murano. Owners complained in the influential J.D. Power Initial Quality Study that the Z-pattern gate was too complex.
Nissan should have left well enough alone because the new design makes it easier to accidentally select an unintended gear, as the buttery lever slips too easily between settings.
On the road, the Murano is nimble, but its powertrain is challenged by the steep ranges in the Phoenix area, faltering before the needed torque arrives.
An overdrive button on the shifter lessens the hesitation slightly but elicits a hearty growl from the VQ. The âsophistication seekersâ Nissan is targeting likely will not appreciate the racket in exchange for minimally better torque.
Itâs possible the extra weight of the all-wheel-drive system is to blame. No FWD versions were available for testing.
Fuel economy during the 3-hour jaunt to Sedona averaged in the low-to-mid 20-mpg (11.8 L/100-km) range.
Nissan says both FWD and AWD Muranos are rated at 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km) city and 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) highway, according to the new â08 Environmental Protection Agency methodology.
The â07 FWD Murano achieved the same numbers when calculated according to the new standards, while the AWD version achieved 1 mpg (0.42 km/L) less in city driving.
|Vehicle type||Front-engine, all-wheel drive 4-door cross/utility vehicle|
|Engine||3.5L DOHC V-6 with aluminum block, head|
|Power (SAE net)||265 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||248 lb.-ft. (336 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||95.5 x 81.4|
|Wheelbase||111.2 ins. (282 cm)|
|Overall length||188.5 ins. (479 cm)|
|Overall width||74.1 ins. (188 cm)|
|Overall height||68.1 ins. (173 cm) w/roof rack|
|EPA fuel economy city/hwy (mpg)||18/23 (13.1/10.2 L/100 km)|
|Market competition||Highlander, Edge, Saturn Vue, CX-7|
|High-class interior||Front grille is scary|
|Plenty of hp from VQ||Torque-challenged on hills|
|Best at combining sport & lux||Could harm Infiniti FX|
The interior was a major focus in developing the second-generation Murano, as Nissan tries to overcome a reputation for having the cheapest looking interiors of the Japanese Big Three.
It is successful in its mission, as soft-touch materials in lieu of hard plastics abound, most notably on the upper door panels, which also have an attractive gathered-leather option.
A notable strike against the cockpit is the high-gloss upper dash in models with a black interior.
High-end features include an available power hatch and power-folding rear seats, as well as the excellent touch-screen navigation system borrowed from Nissanâs Infiniti luxury brand.
When the first Murano arrived in the U.S. five years ago, its edgy styling set it apart from more pedestrian CUVs.
With the second iteration, the profile remains intact, but wheel arches and character line are more exaggerated.
The chrome grille appears even more sinister now. The toothy look remains but is augmented by long horizontal headlights that wrap underneath, resembling angry, squinted eyes.
In the rear, Nissan has replaced the first-generationâs distinctive large, vertical taillamps with small, horizontal and more conventional units.
The â09 Murano goes on sale Jan. 4 at U.S. dealerships. The auto maker says it anticipates sales in the range of 70,000 to 80,000 units.
While there are certainly more models to choose from in the midsize CUV segment today than six years ago when it debuted, the softer-but-still-sporty ride and handling coupled with the luxury quotient for the Murano means it should continue to be a top performer for Nissan, as long as prices remain in the upper $20,000 to low-$30,000 range.