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2006 Nissan Murano SL AWD Review

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MODEL: Nissan Murano SL AWD
ENGINE: 3.5-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 245 hp @ 5800 rpm/246 lb.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
WHEELBASE: 111.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 187.6 x 74.0 x 66.5 in.
TIRES: 235/65R18
CARGO CAPACITY: 81.6 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 20 mpg city/24 mpg highway
PRICE: $35,960 (includes $580 destination charges)

I have always been impressed by the design of the Nissan Murano. I think Nissan's design department seems to be doing it right in almost all areas, and the Murano is a perfect example of their skills. It is cutting edge in its design, with curves in places other designers don't seem to realize there are places. Throw on 20-inch tires that fill up the wheel openings, and the Murano is as together as almost any vehicle on the highway.

It's no surprise that the Murano is based on Nissan's popular Altima sedan platform. The Altima is a midsize sedan from the same design studio and is cutting edge. It isn't just the lines, either. Nissan's color palette also pushes the envelope. I saw a Murano on the highway a few weeks ago that was a metallic bronze. I had never seen that color before and it was stunning. Our tester was a red, "Merlot" Nissan called it, that was equally spectacular.

So it's hard to be totally objective when you're dazzled by the design. But I forced myself. Oh, the sacrifices I make.

Under the hood the Murano has a 3.5-liter double overhead cam V6 that pushes out an impressive 245 horsepower. Hooked to a seamless continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Murano zips down the road with absolutely no jerkiness when gears are shifting, because gears don't shift. We've driven several cars with CVTs and this is one of the better ones. Since the Murano isn't designed for tough off-roading, the CVT is as good as any gearbox. In fact, Nissan calls the Murano "The On-Road SUV" with good reason. Besides, you wouldn't want to mess up that glorious paint with dirt, would you?

The seats were powered on the driver's and passenger's side. This allowed us to set them up in almost any configuration for the best comfort. I liked the side support and felt the seats were comfortable.

The rear seat was a bench, with no third-row option. This is okay, since most rear seats offer limited comfort anyway, so why try to force the issue? In most cases, smaller adults would be relegated to the rear of a third row. With just two rows, second-row passengers gain a bit in legroom, which is an advantage. Those seats were comfortable as well. Despite the sloping rear on the exterior, there's good cargo capacity in the Murano on the inside. With the rear seats folded nearly flat, cargo volume grows to 81.6 cubic feet. The seats fold by flipping a couple of levers at the back of the cargo area, and you don't have to remove the rear headrests.

Other storage includes a cell-phone receptacle in the center console as well as dual storage areas in the console itself. The cupholders are Murano's one design flaw; it's tough to remove cups.

As with many vehicles, the navigation option is somewhat intuitive, but not totally. It is learnable, as we found. We used the screen primarily to find our favorite XM Satellite stations, at least until the system crashed on us.

The SL trim level is Murano's middle-of-the-road and costs $3,500. It includes leather seats, 4-way power passenger seat, silver colored lower bumpers, sunroof, 225-watt Bose Audio system with 6-disc CD changer, power adjustable pedals, and a cargo cover and cargo net. XM Radio added another $400 to the base, wood-tone trim $100 , floor mats $80 and 18-inch chrome wheels $1,200.

The Murano isn't cheap, but it's enough like an Infiniti FX to make it an acceptable low-cost option.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate