Nissan's recent history is for the most part a success story, and part of that success comes from designing one set of parts into a platform and then stretching that platform's length, width, and strength to do other jobs under other kinds of vehicles. Nissan does this better than most manufacturers, and has done it successfully once again with the 2009 Murano, using basically the same kit of parts that goes under the Altima coupe and sedan for a much larger, heavier and more complex crossover SUV. Murano is named after two different luxury items from two very different parts of the world, Murano art glass from Italy and Murano pearls from Japan, which is a good thing, considering it's sold in more than 130 countries.
The outgoing Murano has been one of the most successful models in Nissan's recent history, with sales rising every year since its introduction in 2003, and a loyalty rate upwards of 30 percent. With sales up more than 70 percent, they've stopped production on the original Murano and given us this brand new second-generation version to consider.
The 2009 Nissan Murano is several steps more radically styled that the original. There are many more curves in the body sheetmetal, a much bigger, shinier grille with a less-busy air intake under it, very large, bold, seven-element headlamps, and a completely new rear-end design, more horizontal than vertical, with dual exhaust ports under the bumper.
Murano models come with 18-inch wheels, with 20-inch wheels standard on the top LE model and optional on the others. Once you get beyond the grille and the headlamps, the only chrome on the curvy new body shell is the door handles. This design strategy lets the body and the paint do all the talking. The new body is almost two counts better in aerodynamic performance than the 2007 version, improved from 0.37 to 0.39 Cd. The more slippery design should mean better highway mileage and less wind noise.
The flexible, stretchable platform underneath the new Murano has been reinforced from front to rear, and fitted with several additional bumper beams and crossmembers, for the heavier duty cycles a crossover sport ute encounters, so it's now roughly 150 percent stiffer than the old truck. This is meaningful not only in terms of crash safety and survival, but also in terms of long-term durability and reliability for those buyers who aren't going to be back in the market for six or eight years. Things like doors and hoods and hinges will stay where they are put because the frame is strong to start with.
The redesigned 2009 Murano retails for some $1500 less than comparably equipped 2007 models.
The Nissan Murano made a strong statement with its swoopy lines when it was originally introduced as a 2003 model. The Murano was among the first of a new wave of space-efficient crossover SUVs that are highly styled. Sharing much of its design with the stylish Nissan Rogue launched in late 2007, the new Murano takes crossover styling another step further.
The 2009 Murano has a bolder grille and a more aggressive front end design than that of the compared to the successful original. The grille is more in-your-face and the air intakes under the bumper are larger than before. Very complex aero headlamps hang off the front corners of the body and gracefully lead into the fenders.
Bumper to bumper, this Murano has much more sculpted sheetmetal than the original, with swoops and sweeps and dips from end to end. Nissan calls it curvaceous modern art. One feature that affects both the exterior and interior is a new dual-panel moonroof that lets huge amounts of light into the cabin, but looks from the outside like a single pane of glass covering two thirds of the roof area.
Nissan has redesigned the Murano interior for 2009, starting over with a much more inviting, better organized, and much more modern and user-friendly package of instrumentation and controls, including a new center console and new graphics.
In terms of comfort, we found the new seats more comfortable and supportive than those in the previous version. Every model has a tilt/telescope steering column (manual or power) to accommodate more body types and leg lengths.
Everything on the instrument panel is well marked, and easy to use. The instruments are large, graphically clean and clear, and bathed in red-orange lighting day or night. The multi-function steering wheel is beefier, with better function buttons. The multi-controller knob at the top center of the dash has been redesigned for ease of use. The base AM/FM/CD sound system has been modernized, with a total of six speakers and the inclusion of an AUX plug on lower models and full iPod integration on the LE version, with full control and track information displayed on the central screen. The same deeply hooded screen is used for navigation, backup camera, telephone, HVAC, and radio displays. Pushbutton ignition and an iPod interface are standard.
The interior and exterior dimensions are all within an inch of the previous-generation model, which means it's as roomy and comfortable in the front and second seats as any five-seater on the market, and holds about the same volume of cargo. Many of the midsize crossover SUVs that compete with the Murano, such as the Toyota Highlander, were designed to accommodate three rows of seats. The Murano was designed for just two rows, so the second row in the Murano tends to be roomier than the second row of seats on other vehicles in this class. Bottom line: The back seats of a Murano are comfortable and very roomy for two adults.
For maximum cargo space, the back seats power up and flip down quickly and easily, and there are two different cargo storage systems available, depending on model.
We test drove a Nissan Murano SL, the middle model. Ours was equipped with all-wheel drive ($29,480) and loaded with the Technology, DVD, Navigation, Moonroof and Convenience packages, which added $7,070 to the bottom line (total $36,550), but made for a very nice, fully equipped vehicle for family travel.
Nissan's previous V6 earned awards, and its new V6 produces 25 horsepower more than the old engine, up from 240 to 265 hp at 6000 rpm, a 10-percent hike you can feel every time you accelerate at full throttle. Torque is 248 foot-pounds at 4000 rpm. The engine uses continuous valve timing control and variable induction for maximum flexibility under varying loads, meaning it responds quickly anytime you hit the gas.
All 2009 Murano models will come with an Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission instead of a conventional automatic, and this CVT has been thoroughly tuned to the engine's improved power and torque curves for the new model. The CVT has fewer moving parts, lighter parts for lower mass and decreased operating friction, and software that makes it act more like a conventional transmission, shifting 30-percent quicker, which means the engine doesn't drone on at high rpm during full-throttle acceleration away from a stop. Nissan says it's also adaptive to each driver's style and habits. Based on our test drive, we'd have to say it's one of the best CVTs out there now, controlled by a new inline floor shifter that replaces the previous notched-gate shifter for much less wasted motion.
We won't go as far as to say there's a night-and-day difference in the leap from 2007 to 2009 in the Murano, but almost. It's much quieter in terms of mechanical, wind and road noise. The engine is much more willing, and this CVT transmission shifts properly, kicks down quickly, and lets the engine operate just above idle at freeway speeds, which is another way that it saves on fuel costs for the owner in addition to the reduced internal friction.
The new Murano's front and rear suspension is now made entirely of cast aluminum pieces, lighter and faster to reach to inputs, very well isolated from the cabin, and features a set of premium shock absorbers with built-in rebound springs to handle the big impacts. The TOPS speed-sensitive steering is relatively quick and has some feel to it, so it's not completely isolated from the cockpit and not completely numb or dead at the steering wheel. The new premium shocks with bumpers on them help the suspension keep the body flat and straight in the long sweepers and they absorb bumps and potholes very well.
All-wheel-drive versions of the Murano have a new system onboard called yaw-rate moment control, which is an enhanced version of Nissan's electronic stability control and traction control system. The optional $1200 system is set for 50/50 front-rear torque distribution, but can switch up or down to 0/100 or 100/0 depending on driving conditions. That puts the traction down to the tires with the best grip, improving traction and handling stability in slippery, inconsistent conditions, such as rain, snow and ice.
There is a huge number of competent, comfortable, convenient and roomy crossover SUVs available on the American market for 2009. We think the new Nissan Murano ranks right up there with the best of them. We like the Murano very much, inside and out. It's good looking, easy to use, reasonably powerful, and won't use up all your money on gasoline.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of a Murano SL outside Scottsdale, Arizona.