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First drive: Nissan's Murano reprieve

MkII Murano: Second-generation Nissan luxury SUV is a year away.

Nissan’s rejuvenated SUV/crossover will arrive in the first half of 2009

16 May 2008

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in PORTUGAL

NISSAN will stick with the Murano in Australia after all.

With sales of the existing model running below initial expectations, the replacement for the mid-sized five-seater SUV had been under a cloud, prompting the company to admit last year that a replacement for Australia was not necessarily guaranteed.

Last year, the Murano’s 1546 unit tally fell 20 per cent shy of the 2006 result – the car’s first full year of availability in Australia.

However, Nissan Australia confirmed to GoAuto at this month’s ‘Nissan 360’ global drive event in Portugal that the Murano II is back on track.

“We will seek to reinforce the Murano’s position as a ‘boutique SUV’,” said Nissan Australia corporate communications manager, Jeffrey Fisher.

“As heightened activity in that segment has produced increased competition, we are extremely keen to explore the new model’s full potential,” he added.

Unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show in November last year, the Murano II will be released in the second quarter of 2009.

Although much of the exterior is similar to the existing model that was launched in Australia in mid-2005 (and globally two years earlier), every body and interior panel is new.

Nissan calls its design philosophy for the Murano II “Super Evolution”, and it will also underscore the next-generation Z-Car – dubbed 370Z – later in the year. Expect to see a hint of the coming SUV’s controversially styled grille on the sports car.

Size-wise, the Murano II sticks closely to the shadow and footprint of the existing vehicle, with an overall length of 4788mm (+18mm), 1795mm width (+3mm), 1703mm height (+18mm), and wheelbase of 2825mm – which is the same as before.

Built off Nissan’s D-platform architecture that was previously known as the FF-L (Front-engine, Front-wheel drive Large) platform, the Murano II is claimed to be measurably stiffer than before, and uses lighter suspension components to help achieve greater efficiencies.

12 center imageIt shares much of its basic hardware with the US-market Maxima unveiled in March at the Los Angeles Auto Show, a full-sized people-mover created expressly for the American market but unseen in Australia called the Quest, and the Toyota Camry-rivalling Altima sedan and coupe (also devised strictly for American consumption).

Meanwhile, the all-new Teana/Maxima, which was only revealed last month at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition and set to start selling in Australia at around the same time as the Murano II, is very much the sedan version of the mid-sized SUV.

Common parts include Nissan’s VQ35DE 3.5-litre double overhead cam 24-valve V6 petrol engine, which is mounted transversely and mated to a completely revamped version of the Continuously Variable Transmission known as Xtronic CVT.

In this application, power and torque outputs are 198kW at 6000rpm and 336Nm at 4400rpm respectively. Carbon dioxide emissions are around 232g/km.

More frugality might be in the wings in the form of a long-rumoured turbo-diesel application.

Nissan Australia will not confirm it, but 2010 is the date that speculators are saying will be the release date for a new 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel co-devised with Alliance partner Renault.

As with the unit that might end up in the next Maxima, this 2993cc powerplant is based on the newly released 2.0-litre four-cylinder dCi unit, and should deliver around 195kW of power and 550Nm of torque, while emitting less than 200g/km of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Although front-wheel drive Murano II models will be made available abroad, Australian-bound cars are likely to stick with an evolution of the current car’s electronically controlled on-demand all-wheel drive system.

Some of the Murano II’s features include a dual-panel sunroof, a foldaway cargo organiser, heated front and rear seats, a powered tailgate, a folding and powered rear-seat lifter, and a reverse camera.

Nissan Australia will not confirm pricing or positioning, but the Murano II is expected to follow its predecessor in being pitched as a larger and more luxurious alternative to the top-line Mazda CX-7 compact SUV, as well as a sportier and more compact rival to the likes of the Subaru Tribeca and Mazda CX-9.

“Empty-nesters and younger couples wanting a sporty crossover are the target,” Mr Fisher says.

Built in Kyushu in Japan, the Murano II was released in North America in January this year. European deliveries will commence late in 2008.

Drive impressions:

NISSAN calls its latest styling philosophy ‘Super Evolution’ and ‘Provocative Modernity’… and it certainly is true of the Murano II, with its busy proboscis and taut surfaces.

Gathered in Portugal along with some 95 other Nissans from around the world for the world’s press to put it through its paces, the second-generation mid-sized SUV has a big task ahead, since its predecessor has been a curious sales disappointment – if not a flop – in Australia.

Why have so many buyers forsaken the Nissan? It has road presence, strong performance, reasonably good dynamics and high levels of comfort. We can only put it down to a somewhat dated interior, which – though fairly avant-garde when revealed way back in December 2002 (we had to wait until July 2005 in Australia to see the car) – today looks downmarket and austere.

Well, there is no danger of Australians being unimpressed with the cabin of the Murano II, thanks to a beautifully styled and presented dashboard that not only looks contemporary and is finished in expensive-looking materials, but also works well and fits in with the Nissan’s upmarket aspirations.

While previously you would never consider the Murano in the same league as a Volkswagen Touareg, you might now expect cross-shoppers to jump from this to a BMW X3 or a Land Rover Freelander II.

Happily, the Murano II keeps the old model’s sumptuously padded seats, which have an old-school French car’s level of padding and comfort. Perhaps this is Renault’s influence.

Ample front-seat space, adequate room for rear-sited adults, and a sufficiently commodious cargo area also reveal functionality to the Murano II’s layout. It is, after all, a sort of Maxima wagon on stilts.

And many pleasing features abound: The rear seat reclines and now folds and electrically rises again via a lever in the back for when a quick interior rearrangement is required rear occupants have face-level vents there is an electrically operated tailgate a twin sunroof design takes away the feeling of claustrophobia that the old model’s upsweeping DLO daylight opening caused and there is an up-to-date media monitor and audio/Bluetooth interface available.

Only the wildly anachronistic foot-operated park brake detracts from an otherwise appealing interior.

On the road, the Murano II might win a few more friends with its ease of driving and smooth performance delivery.

Nobody will deny that Nissan makes brilliant V6 engines, and the uprated 198kW/336Nm 3.5-litre VQ35DE unit is no exception, with its ultra-smooth performance delivery and responsiveness, combined with an evocative muffled-baritone exhaust note.

The Xtronic gearbox will have sceptics of the continuously variable transmission think twice about their prejudices, so ‘normal’ and natural is this CVT’s driveability.

‘Our’ car wore 18-inch alloy wheels, which resulted in a noticeably firmer ride than we remember in the Murano, but the upshot of this is great levels of grip for easy and controllable handling capabilities.

However, we aren’t going to pretend that the Murano II is a sporty SUV in the spirit of the Mazda CX-7 – never mind a BMW X5 – because it patently is not.

Even with the low-profile rubber set-up, the car we drove displayed some bodyroll through faster corners, and somewhat detached steering feel. You can immediately feel the front-wheel bias of the Nissan.

This shouldn’t diminish any enthusiasm you may have developed for the Murano II though. Even after our brief drive, we think potential Lexus RX buyers should definitely check the Nissan out if they’re willing to wait a year.

We cannot agree with many other onlooker’s assertions that the garish grille treatment looks better in the flesh, but somehow the nose does not look out of place, underscoring how much more complete a job Nissan has hatched on the Murano II.

Of course, Australian-bound models may look and drive differently – especially if the long-rumoured 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 makes it to our shores – but the first signs are promising that Nissan should be on a winner with its latest mid-sized SUV. Yet, come 2009, even the most fickle buyers should have no reason to keep on ignoring the Murano.

Read more:

First look: 'Super evolution' for Murano


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