2009 Nissan Murano SL AWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Nissan Murano SL AWD

Back when it was launched in 2003 as an early 2004 model, the Nissan Murano was different from the then-typical SUV or even crossover. It was named after an Italian city known for artistic glassmaking, not some ferocious beast, imposing tree, or technical off-road trail, and meant for the sort of people who appreciated Murano glass. With its "Adventures in On-Roading" tagline, the Murano made no pretense of being a rugged, off-road-ready, go-anywhere 4x4 SUV, merely stylish, comfortable, and practical upscale transportation for urban and suburban professionals.

The Nissan Murano was not only successful, it was ahead of the curve of crossover evolution. Cowboy chic is dead; most of its newer competitors take a similar approach in design and marketing. And what's not to like about a vehicle that is as comfortable as an entry-luxury sedan, and can hold four or even five people in comfort or haul home improvement materials, proceeds from a morning of garage saling, sports equipment, or fragile Murano glass?

The Murano is all-new for 2009, again an early release. While at a glance it's immediately identifiable, very little besides the name is carried over from the first-generation vehicle. As before, it's based on the same platform as Nissan's popular Altima sedan, but that platform has changed since 2003. It's now the new transverse-engine, front- or all-wheel drive "D" platform, and is considerably stiffer than the old Murano underpinnings. Soundproofing has also been improved, as has the suspension, making the new Murano even quieter and smoother than the old one.

Power is still from Nissan's award-winning 3.5-liter VQ-series V6, now with 265 horsepower, 20 more than before. As previously, the transmission is Nissan's smooth "Xtronic CVT"(tm), which, with no discrete gear ratios or shifting, enhances the Murano's luxury nature with no detriment to performance. Fuel efficiency has improved - the last time I drove a first-generation Murano, I got 19 mpg for the week, and got 21 this time around.

There are five different models offered, the entry S and well-equipped SL trim levels in front- or all-wheel drive trim and the premium, all-wheel drive LE. Many of the luxury features standard in the LE may be optioned in the SL, as was the case with the AWD SL I've been driving for the past week. With the Premium Package's audio upgrade, color information display and rear-view monitor, and other interior enhancements, and the Leather Package's leather seats and additional niceties, it made for a pleasantly comfortable and quite capable entry-luxury vehicle.

APPEARANCE: It's instantly recognizable, yet completely different. No sheetmetal is shared by the 2004-7 and 2009 Muranos, but no one will confuse it with anything else - quite an achievement in a class (crossovers) where generic boxiness is the norm. If the general shape is unchanged, with no straight lines, compound curves everywhere, a well-raked windshield, and distinctive rear window, nearly all details are. At the front, the headlights are integrated into the triangular grille to a greater degree than previously seen, while a rounded bumper fascia with integral foglamps and a lower intake bordered by a metallic panel that could be seen as either a skid plate (SUV) or splitter (sports car) set the tone. The complexly-curved hood and prominent wheel arches are familiar, as is the long cabin, with thick D pillars. The greatest change is at the rear, where the old vertical taillights have been replaced with horizontal LED-based lights.

COMFORT: As outside, the second-generation Murano's interior is familiar, but further developed. The upright, high-eyepoint seating position is comfortable, and visibility, especially to the rear quarters, is better than might be expected with the large D pillars as the large outside mirrors work well. The rearview camera, part of the Premium Package, is a worthwhile option as it shows the otherwise hidden area directly to the rear, with lines indicating both closeness of objects and the projected vehicle path. To the front, the thick A-pillars do require some occasional head movement, an issue with many more vehicles than the Murano. Despite the large expanse of windshield glass, glare is no problem thanks to the dark, textured material on top of the dash. "Fine Vision" backlit gauges are easily visible in all light conditions. The major controls are simple to use, even the information accessed through the flat-screen display which was fitted to my test car. Cloth is the standard SL seating material; the optional leather adds a luxury touch and should wear well. With the Premium Package, both front seats, not merely the driver's, are power-adjustable. Rear accommodations are at least business class, with a 60/40 split-folding contoured bench that is roomy enough for two in comfort, and more than merely acceptable for a third passenger thanks to good width and a flat floor. The optional dual-panel moonroof is best appreciated by the rear passengers. A space-saver spare tire is under the cargo floor, which can optionally contain the pop-up cargo organizer, useful for grocery bags and similar small or medium-sized items.

SAFETY: The Murano's unibody structure was designed and built with Nissan's Zone Body Construction, to protect occupants with front and rear crumple zones and a safety cage around the passenger compartment. Six airbags - dual front, front-seat side, and full-length head curtain - controlled by the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System are standard, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system. Brakes are large antilock ventilated discs all around, for fade resistance, with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist. Traction control and the Vehicle Dynamic Control system are also standard fare in all models.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Car-like unibody construction with fully-independent suspension by means of struts in front and a multi-link setup in the rear mean ride and handling characteristics that are "car", not "truck". Greater use of lightweight aluminum suspension pieces reduces unsprung weight for further improvements in suspension response. Spring and shock rates are correctly matched for a comfortable, compliant ride, but with minimal body roll for better than typical crossover handling. There's a little more ground clearance now, 7.5 inches, for protection from road hazards and debris. Greater use of soundproofing materials and techniques, including engine mounting, has reduced interior noise and vibration.

PERFORMANCE: If the new Murano's weight has increased by a few pounds, the output of the 3.5-liter V6 has increased even more, from 245 to 265 horsepower (at 6000 rpm), with maximum torque increased slightly, from 246 to 248 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. That, plus enhancements to the computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT) benefit both performance and fuel efficiency. Sixty mph can come up in less than seven seconds, plenty quick enough for the daily commute merges, and with the recorded 21 mpg during my test period, the Murano is efficient for a vehicle of its size and mass. There is no manual over-ride for the transmission, but it's not needed as the control logic ensures that the engine is always at the correct rpm for the given driving situation.

CONCLUSIONS: There is more new to the 2009 Nissan Murano than meets the eye, making it an even better vehicle.

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 Nissan Murano SL AWD


Base Price			$ 29,480
Price As Tested			$ 33995
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam V6
				  with continuously-variable cam phasing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			265 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			248 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			electronically-controlled CVT
Wheelbase / Length		111.2 in. / 188.5 in.
Curb Weight			4030 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.2
Fuel Capacity			21.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91-octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P235/65R18 104T Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear		4-wheel vented disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multi-link
Ground Clearance		7.4 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 23 / 21
0 to 60 mph				6.9  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Dual Panel Moonroof					$ 1,170
Premium Package - includes:
  BoseĻ 9-speaker audio system, XM satellite
  radio, RearView monitor, auto-dimming
  rearview mirror with HomelinkĻ universal
  transceiver, foldable cargo organizer,  roof
  rails, 7-inch QVGA color display, 
  retractable cargo cover, vehicle security system,
  auxiliary audio/video inputs behind console		$ 1,000
Leather Package - includes: leather-appointed seats, driver power lumbar support, heated front seats, 4-way power front passenger seat $ 1,600 Destination Charge $ 745

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