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2009 Nissan Murano SL AWD Review

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By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

This second generation, boldly styled Nissan Murano is little changed from the original introduced as a 2002 model. You may remember the ads showing an up-scale young couple in front of an antique store loading a small piece of furniture into the rear hatch of a really unusual, humpy, stylish SUV. These are obviously folks to whom the word “antique” is a verb. I guess that was the demographic Nissan was after originally.

Nissan was one of the first to see the value of what has become the fastest growing segment in the automotive universe – “crossover” utility vehicles, or CUVs. No longer would we have to suffer the inefficiency of a truck-based SUV or the image-busting embarrassment of a station wagon to get some extra utilitarian value. All they had to do was put a tall, modestly large, body with a full hatch on an existing car platform. Development costs are minimal and practicality is maximized.

After Nissan and a few others broke the ice on this genre it became obvious that this was a huge trend. Now all manufacturers are making CUVs out of just about all of their car platforms, big and small.

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This Los Angeles-built Murano, 5-passenger luxury CUV is on the popular Altima platform. The first generation broke styling ground as well as design and engineering ground with minimal overhangs and a distinctive, triangular D-pillar. This modest, incremental upgrade has kept it current, competent and relevant. The innovative shape has remained essentially unchanged. The grille and front fascia provide a fresh look, sort of a flashy gap-toothed grin. Other body details are freshened just enough that it appears completely current, particularly with the LED taillights. The standard 18-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear all-season tires look huge – plenty big enough to balance the high, bulbous body. Just imagine what the 20-inchers (only available on the top-of-the-line LE) would look like.

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Inside we find that bold, modern styling as well. The gauge cluster under a conventional brow features large, analog tach and speedo with attractive electroluminescent surrounds. The broad, deep dash is convex – perhaps too much of a temptation for some to fill it with clutter. The center stack has two horizontal metal trim pieces around the climate and audio controls that resemble stylized box-end wrenches – rather eye-catching. The center console slopes gently forward to a deep cargo slot. Metal trim and good quality plastics contribute to the overall luxurious feel of the interior. Even our standard fabric seats look and feel upscale.

I’m not sure what the push-button start system is meant to accomplish over a conventional smart key. We still have to push the fob into a slot in the dash, then push the start button. I much prefer the systems on most luxury cars that allow us to leave the fob in our pockets.

Murano is powered by Nissan’s versatile 3.5-liter, 265-hp V6, mated to the efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine generates a respectable 248 lb.-ft. of torque, which is more than enough to motivate this classy two-ton people and cargo hauler. The CVT in this Murano does not feel nearly as crass as the one we had in the Altima Hybrid a couple of weeks ago. In fact this whole car feels much more quiet and luxurious. EPA rates the Murano at 18-mpg in the city and 23 - for both FWD and AWD versions - on the highway burning regular fuel – certainly not best-in-class, but not bad. The 21.7-gallon fuel tanks will provide and excellent cruising range.

Towing capacity is reasonable at 3,500 pounds and 350 pounds on the tongue.

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Cargo capacity is also less than best-in-class with 31.6 cubic-feet behind the second seat and 64-cubic feet with the rear seat folded. The 60/40 rear seat back folds almost flat, but not quite. The rear seats also recline slightly, and our rear seat passengers were amazed at all the room back there.

On the road the Murano feels luxurious. The seating position is high providing a commanding view. Visibility is excellent through the steeply sloping windshield. And it is very quiet. They’ve done a great job of insulating the cabin from road noises. Suspension is reasonably well balanced and is particularly smooth on the good roads. On some of our busted up Michigan roads it seemed a bit harsh jouncing in and out of the potholes. Murano’s independent suspension design is conventional with struts up front and a muli-link system in the rear.

All safety features are standard including the chassis dynamics, six air bags, side door beams, etc. The NHTSA rates Murano one star less than maximum on frontal driver and passenger crashworthiness and rollover protection and maximum on side crash.

Murano is not cheap, but not overly pricey either. Nissan offers two trim levels in the front-wheel drive version and three levels in the all-wheel drive. The range goes from an SE FWD starting at $27,680 on the low end to the LE AWD starting at $37,260 on the high end.

Our tester is the mid-level SL in the AWD configuration and it shows a base price of $30,830. Considering the content, quality, ambiance and feel of the Murano that’s not a bad price, I guess. We have the $1,000 Premium Package which includes Bose Audio system, XM Satellite Radio, rear view monitor, auto-dimming rear view mirror w/compass, Homelink, folding cargo organizer, roof rails, 7-inch dash monitor, and auxiliary audio/video inputs. We also have splash guards and floor mats at $125 and $120 respectively. With the $780 destination charge we’re looking at $32,855 on the bottom line. With the dismal market you’ll find a variety of incentives and probably a local dealer desperate to make you a happy buyer.

I have always been fond of the look of competence projected by Murano, even though I’m not one to whom antique is a verb. This updated CUV has lost none of that ambiance.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

MORE: Nissan Specs, Prices and Comparisons-Nissan Buyers Guide