An all-new Nissan Murano debuted for the 2009 model year and it carries into 2010 unchanged. This second-generation Murano is several steps more radically styled than 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.
Most Muranos come with 18-inch wheels, with 20-inch wheels standard on the top LE model. But once you get beyond the grille and the headlamps, the only chrome on the curvy 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 points better in aerodynamic performance than the previous version, improved from a Cd of 0.39 to 0.37. The more slippery design should mean better highway mileage and less wind noise.
Meanwhile, the flexible, stretchable platform underneath the 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. It's roughly 150 percent stiffer than the previous version. 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.
Changes for 2010 are relatively minor. The LE is now available with front-drive only as well as all-wheel-drive, and standard equipment has been added at all trim levels.
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 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 were highly styled. Sharing much of its design with the stylish Nissan Rogue launched in late 2007, the latest Murano takes crossover styling another step further.
Murano now has a bolder grille and a more aggressive front end design than that of the successful original. The grille is more in-your-face, and the air intakes under the bumper have been simplified. 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 the optional 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 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. Like the new exterior styling, those changes have been carried over for 2010.
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 is standard on all models.
The interior and exterior dimensions are all within an inch of the previous-generation model, which means Murano is 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 in 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 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 ($31,200) and loaded with the DVD and Navigation, plus the Moonroof and the Technology Package, both of which require the Leather Package, which in turn requires the Premium Package. So our options added $8,750 to the bottom line (total $39,950, plus destination and delivery) 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 6,000 rpm, a 10-percent hike you can feel every time you accelerate at full throttle. Torque is 248 foot-pounds at 4,400 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 Murano models come with an Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission instead of a conventional automatic, and this CVT has been thoroughly tuned to the engine's power and torque curves. The CVT is lighter and has fewer moving parts than a traditional automatic, but also has software that makes it act more like a conventional transmission, shifting 30-percent quicker than its predecessor, 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. It's controlled by an inline floor shifter that replaces the previous generation's notched-gate shifter for much less wasted motion.
We won't go as far as to say there's a night-and-day difference between the first and second-generation Muranos, but almost. The new vehicle is much quieter in terms of mechanical, wind and road noise. The engine is much more willing, and the 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 Murano's front and rear suspension is now made entirely of cast aluminum pieces, lighter and faster to respond 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 new premium shocks help the suspension keep the body flat and straight in the long sweepers and they absorb bumps and potholes very well. The TOPS speed-sensitive steering is relatively quick and has some feel to it, so it's not completely isolated and not completely numb or dead at the steering wheel.
All-wheel-drive versions of the Murano now list for $1,600 more than their front-drive counterparts. The AWD 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. Murano's AWD also connects with the stability control system's sensors for yaw rate, wheel slip, and steering angle for safer control under those conditions as well.
There is a huge number of competent, comfortable, convenient and roomy crossover SUVs available on the American market, but we think the 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.