2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan

What is the appeal of an SUV for urban and suburban buyers? They likely don't really need the ability to ford raging rivers or climb over boulders - anyone who encounters such on the morning commute is better off staying home. Or really does need a serious off-road-capable truck. What the majority of today's SUV buyers do need is interior space and versatility, preferably with car-like ride and handling characteristics. So, increasingly, modern sub/urban utility vehicles are car-based ``crossovers.''

Such a vehicle is Nissan's Murano. Launched in 2003 with an ``Adventures in On-Roading'' theme and more recently referred to by its maker as ``the smooth-UV,'' the Murano emphasizes comfort, convenience, and style. Named after a variety of Italian glass, not a mountain, tree, or ferocious beast, and available with front- or all-wheel drive, it's meant for the everyday real-world activities of its buyers. It will hold up to five people in comfort, and is also a great vehicle for trips to the home improvement store or a morning of garage sale-ing.

Designed and developed exclusively for the North American market, the Murano is based on the same FF-L platform that underlies Nissan's Altima and Maxima. Its engine is the 3.5-liter twin-cam VQ35DE also found in those cars. It's not much of a stretch to call a Murano an Altima (or Maxima) wagon - it inhabits the same functional niche, and its taller styling gives it even more interior space than a wagon. Changes for 2006 are a minor styling freshening, with a new grille and trim, improvements to instrumentation, and upgrades to the optional DVD and GPS-based navigation system. Trim levels are S and SL in both front- and all-wheel drive, with SE added with AWD only.

I've been driving a new Murano SE for the past week, and, with the first serious rainstorm of the season, it was the perfect week to showcase the Murano's abilities. It was as comfortable as an entry-luxury sedan, with ride and handling nearly comparable. And there was plenty of space for friends, stuff, and even a bicycle, inside. OK, not all at once. Best of all, when the rain hit, hard, the Murano was surefooted and unperturbed by several inches of standing water at up to 40 mph.

APPEARANCE: A Murano is as unique today as it was at its introduction. Any boxes in its two-box design are heavily-modified by rounded lines and three-dimensionally curving planes, with nary a right angle in sight. The sloping front is defined by a bold chromed top grille flanked with faired-in complex headlights. If the upper grille is any different this year, it is very hard to tell, but the lower air intake does have a new design, and a metallic trim piece that looks like a skid plate but is really merely cosmetic. Chrome-accented side sills and an aluminum rear bumper protector are also new. Bold wheel arches and large 18-inch wheels and tires out near the corners say ``street'', not dirt. A kicked-up D-pillar blends well with the rear shape, and is balanced by a unique dropped character line. LED taillights make a Murano distinct and easily visible from behind at night.

COMFORT The Murano's design brief was: first-class comfort for two couples, with ample space for another rear passenger when necessary. No problem there, with two comfortable and supportive front buckets and a flat floor and 60/40 split bench with adjustable seatback angles in the rear. It folds flat for a long and relatively low load floor when the Murano's cargo-carrying ability is needed. There are full-size truck-based SUVs with less room inside. Interior styling is as unusual as the exterior, and from the driver's seat the windshield is way out in front, but there is little glare from the huge windshield. The main instrument panel looks like a video game console, but the instruments are easy to see in all lighting. Brushed aluminum trim on the console and center stack and around the window lifts brightens the interior. All Muranos have an LCD screen at the top of the stack to display information; it is also used for the optional navigation system. Which has some notable upgrades this year that make it much faster and improve its route-calculating abilities. Best of all. if the driver changes from the programmed route, the system doesn't nag ``turn around at the next safe place,'' it merely, and quickly and quietly, recalculates the route. Nissan's backup camera system adds colored lines to the the display to show the vehicle's projected path, a very helpful feature although mirror use is still better for backing.

SAFETY: The Murano's FF-L platform provides a solid base for safety, with Zone Body Construction and front and rear crush zones for crash protection augmented by the Advanced Airbag System and ceiling-mounted side curtain airbags. Four-wheel vented antilock disc brakes ensure secure stopping, and the Vehicle Dynamic Control system, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system are all available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Ground clearance and good approach and departure angles can be as important in the urban jungle as the backwoods. Perhaps you've seen the ugly scrape marks left on curbs, speed bumps, drainage gutters, and steep driveways by low-clearance cars. And don't forget all of the wonderful possibilities for highway debris to damage the underside of a car - mufflers, wood, ladders, you name it, it's probably been dropped on a road near you. Then there is unavoidable standing water or the odd unplowed snow in the road, with questionable hazards beneath. The Murano's seven inches of clearance, short overhangs, and good approach and departure angles allow it to traverse the urban wilds unscathed. Its unibody chassis helps give it a relatively low center of gravity, aiding stability and handling. There is little body roll or pitch, yet the fully-independent suspension is comfortably compliant. It doesn't feel or handle like a truck, but, with its size and weight, it's not going to be playing with the Z-cars, either. Rather, it is the modern equivalent of a luxury-sport station wagon.

PERFORMANCE: Nissan's wonderful VQ35-series dual overhead cam 3.5-liter aluminum alloy V6 is the only engine offered for the Murano, and it fills the bill perfectly. Maximum horsepower is 245 at 5800 rpm, with 246 lb-ft of torque at 4400, but it's strong at any speed. The only transmission is the ``Xtronic CVT'', a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Like other CVTs, it replaces gears and a torque converter with variable-diameter pulleys and a steel-link chain for smooth, no-shift operation. It also helps improve quietness, acceleration, and fuel economy, benefiting the Murano's luxury nature. Befitting their on-road, all-conditions mission, Muranos are offered with front- or all-wheel drive. Mine was an all-wheel drive model, with good traction in wet weather and mud, and no torque steer.

SPECIFICATIONS

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD

Base Price		        $ 31,550
Price As Tested			$ 42.445
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 24-valve
				   aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower			245 @ 5800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			246 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			CVT with 6 manually-selectable ranges
Wheelbase / Length		111.2 in. / 187.6 in.
Curb Weight			3,996 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.3
Fuel Capacity			21.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		        91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				Goodyear Eagle LS P235/65 TR18
Brakes, front/rear	        vented disc / vented disc,
				        ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				        independent multi-link
Ground clearance		        7.0 inches
Drivetrain		        front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
                          city / highway / observed		
                          19 / 24 / 19
0 to 60 mph	  est 9  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Nissan DVD Mobile Entertainment System	$1,720

SE Touring Package with Sirius(tm) - includes:
  memory for driver's seat, pedals, outside mirrors;
  leather-appointed seats; 4-way power passenger seat;
  heated front seats and outside mirrors; Intelligent
  Key; sunroof; 225-watt Bose(r) audio system with
  MP3 compatibility, 6-disc in-dash CD changer, and
  subwoofer; power-adjustable pedals, roof rails,
  cargo cover and net, Sirius satellite radio	$4,650

Carpeted floor mats				$   90

Cargo area protector				$   80
Dynamic Control Package - includes:
  Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC),
  Traction Control System (TCS), 
  Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)	$  750

Nissan DVD-based navigation system		$1,800

Chrome wheels					$1,200

Destination charge				$  605

Complete specifications on the 2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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