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Car reviews - Nissan - Murano - Ti 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth performance, quality cabin fittings, spacious interior, easy to drive, Ti’s many features, unobvious SUV choice
Room for improvement
Ti’s busy ride, toned-down styling

30 Apr 2009

POPULARITY is regularly undeserved while its opposite is often unfair.

And so it was with the previous-generation Z50 series Nissan Murano, a mid-sized SUV that should have sold its socks off, but instead languished as one of the forgotten 4WDs, in an era that saw unprecedented growth for vehicles of this type.

Nevertheless, we really, really liked that first Murano – by far the sleekest SUV available at the time – with its distinctive design, stylishly simple interior that offered sumptuous seating for five and a super-smooth V6 petrol engine. In total, the plusses outweighed the 4WD’s hard plastic trim, leisurely response of the CVT gearbox and softly set-up handling.

Or, in other words, the old Murano looked and sounded a bit like the 350Z’s long-lost fraternal twin that grew up in America (where it was conceived, by the way) and adopted that country’s SUV values, as well as SUV sizing.

You would think people would have fallen over themselves to get a piece of this characterful and affordable rorty family runabout. So what went wrong?

Was Nissan too greedy with the north-of-$50K pricing? Did the Murano’s brazen styling upset people? Or were perspective buyers expecting something altogether sportier to drive as a result of that aggressive visage?

Fast-forward to, well, now, and you will find that Nissan seems to have addressed every one of the above issues with the second-generation Murano.

Released rather quietly in January 2009, this Z51 series model is newer than that awkward nose job and Hyundai Santa Fe-esque posterior suggests.

Built on the company’s fresh D-platform that also underpins the latest Maxima among a host of other transverse engine front-wheel drive Nissans, it features a redesigned rear suspension system in the form of a multi-link device that employs aluminium extensively to reduce unsprung weight.

Result: Behind the wheel, the wallowy body roll and heaviness of the old Murano are banished for a tauter, more controlled handling that feels far more agile than its SUV proportions suggest. Though the new speed-sensitive steering is still a long way from being tactile, it responds with enough enthusiasm to match the car’s newfound handling accuracy and ultra-stable roadholding capabilities.

Nissan’s claims that torsional stiffness is up by 45 per cent and front lateral stiffness is improved 95 per cent seem sound.

And speaking of which, noise and vibration levels are also slashed, by 75 per cent each, says Nissan, thanks to improved aerodynamics, more sound deadening material, better engine mounts and dual-rate suspension dampers. Brake feel is also greater than before, and we could not fault their performance.

But … we loved the old Murano’s almost French-like cushy quality that seemed to smother out road irregularities, so the somewhat firm and fidgety ride of the Ti’s 235/65R18 Desert Dueller tyres is quite a disappointment. The occupants are always aware of the suspension busily toiling away underneath.

As before, both of the two Murano models available boast Nissan’s classic VQ35 petrol unit. This 3.5-litre V6 virtuoso is one of the world’s greatest, and continues to be central to the Murano’s appeal in the way that it performs and sounds.

It now delivers 191kW of power at 6000rpm and 336Nm of torque at 4400rpm, improvements of 19kW and 18Nm respectively, as well as even better smoothness and efficiency due to improved cooling, and friction reduction techniques.

Nissan’s stated zero to 100km/h acceleration time of eight seconds seems about right, but it does not fully convey the reality of the Murano’s performance envelope: this V6 actually has a deep set of lungs, and so power can be drawn from it across a large rev range and delivered on cue.

Also revised is the CVT transmission. And, you know what? Thanks to a lack of inertia and drag, we bet most people will struggle to pick this as a CVT. Slick, responsive and – yes of course – ultra smooth, this gearbox and engine work together as one so the Murano steps off from the mark briskly and without hesitation.

Only when you are driving at low speeds and you want to zip ahead in an instant does the CVT’s lack of sudden kickdown become apparent, but – really – this transmission is a dead ringer for a regular torque-converter auto. It also comes with a Tiptronic-style sequential shifter offering six ‘stepped’ ratios.

Besides performance, we believe SUV buyers will appreciate the real-world fuel economy that the VQ35 provides – in fairly heavy urban traffic we achieved low-to-mid 13L/100km figures, when equivalently sized petrol V6s from some rivals would have been in the 15s or even 16s. That’s the efficiency of the CVT right there.

It is also worth noting that the Murano is a 4WD, employing Nissan’s All Mode “4X4i” system, which directs 100 per cent of torque to the front wheels in normal conditions, then up to 50 per cent to the rear wheels when traction losses are detected. There is also a lock mode operated from a console button, which splits drive 50:50 front/rear.

With just (a Ford Territory-matching) 185mm of ground clearance, forget about hitting the off-road paths with this Nissan. We didn’t even try. For the record, its Approach, Departure and Ramp-over angles are 28, 26 and 14 degrees respectively.

The platform may be straight out of the box but new Murano has exactly the same 1885mm width and 1730mm height dimensions as the old one, as well as an identical 2825mm wheelbase. Only does the body length change – increasing 65mm to 4835mm.

Inside, however, many things have changed.

Bad things first: due to the inclusion of a full-sized alloy rather than a space-saver spare wheel, and despite that extra 6.5cm of overall body length, boot space has shrunk to just 402 litres from 476L.

Pull out that excellent cargo lever to drop the rear seats automatically (and then toggle a switch back in the Ti model to amaze your friends with the rear seats’ old-zombie-movie-motion rise back up into place), and total luggage volume increases to 838 litres … not bad, but that softer old Murano gave you 877L.

Oh well. At least the tailgate is now electric, for its slow but oh-so-easy rise up and down at a push of a couple of handily-sited buttons (dash, key fob and within the tailgate itself).

If you have ever wondered what the interior of those intriguing US-market Infiniti luxury sports sedans and coupes are like, then wander into the latest Murano because it benefits from a big shot of upmarket premium material application.

In here, the interior’s refinement finally matches the V6 engine’s.

Clearly, Nissan has been spending time and money making the dash look and feel upmarket, with soft plastics, slick metallic (or metallic-like) trim, supple leather surfaces, a fine rock-like grain for the centre console, and subtle use of chrome in areas such as on the door handles, dials and gear lever.

The instruments are in the modern-Nissan norm of being large, clear and outstandingly easy to use, with the binnacle now integrated rather with the wider dashboard presentation rather than plonked on 350Z-style like an old Meccano set.

There are some lovely touches in here. The almost horizontally placed satellite navigation and vehicle systems control settings appear and operate as well as any luxury car marque’s efforts – so it is a pity that the GPS graphics are a little on the low-fi side, especially when the reversing camera that also uses that screen is actually quite crisp in resolution. Strange. Still, being a touch-screen unit, it is also so superbly effortless to use.

Happily, the Z51’s seating front and rear have lost none of their predecessors’ big cushiness. Yet the front pair are sculptured enough for most people to find ample comfort and support, and the driver’s pew is nigh-on perfect as far as its relationship with all major switches and controls are concerned.

Obviously, being the Ti model, everything from the (heated) front seats to the steering column is powered, so finding that foot-operated park brake is a shocking blast from the past. More than the Nissan brand itself, this one anachronistic item singularly explodes the Murano’s chi-chi aspirations to pieces.

Never mind, because we love the driving position, find the interior invitingly sumptuous, and appreciate the ample space allocated to all outboard occupants. The cab-forward styling that is a result of the Murano’s transverse-engine application is used to its fullest effect here.

That rear seat area is quite roomy and well catered for in terms of passenger comfort and ventilation due to reclining backrests, face-level air vents, cupholders and storage spaces, while access is no hardship thanks to the wide-opening doors and hip-high chairs that help afford such commanding views forward.

The driver, however, is not likely to appreciate the thick roof posts up front or the fat D-pillars that make parking harder than it should be. On the flipside, besides that excellent rear camera, the Murano benefits from VistaVision-vast exterior mirrors.

Still on safety, every Murano includes stability and traction controls, ABS anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and front, side and side curtain airbags

Both models offer Xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, six-CD stacker audio with auxiliary input jack and steering wheel controls, trip computer and cruise control.

Our Ti also touts GPS and rear-vision camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a Bose audio upgrade with MP3/WMA capability, a rear cargo cover and luggage net, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, auto on/off headlights, a powered steering column, heated front seats, auto dimming rear mirror, power flip-up rear seatbacks, power tailgate opening, fog lights, black roof rails, electric-folding mirrors and keyless start and entry.

So the latest Murano makes a strong value-for-money case simply because equipment levels are so high.

Factor in that plush interior, effortless V6 performance, smooth handling and all-wheel drive grip, and we cannot help but think that Nissan has come up with a viable alternative to a base-model BMW 320i, Chrysler 300C, Ford Falcon G6E Turbo, Land Rover Freelander II, or VW Passat V6 wagon.

But a Mazda CX-7 Luxury – though smaller overall – is a better drive and $10K cheaper, while impressive prestige SUV newcomers like the Volvo XC60 and the Audi Q5 are only slightly more expensive, if way short of equipment at the Murano Ti’s price level.

So we don’t hold out much hope for buyers suddenly switching on to the many and myriad delights of the latest Murano.

Still, apart from the toned-down styling and hardened ride, we think it deserves even more recognition than the underrated old Murano did.

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