Nissan Murano is First Produced

The Nissan Murano is a mid-size crossover SUV first manufactured by Nissan in December 2002 and sold as a 2003 model.

Nissan introduced the Murano as its first crossover SUV for the United States and Canada. Designed at Nissan Design America in La Jolla, California, the first generation Murano was based on the Nissan FF-L platform first used by the third generation Altima. The European version of the Murano began sales in 2004 and is available only in one version.

The Murano was Nissan's only crossover SUV in the U.S. until September 2007 when the new 2008 Nissan Rogue went on sale. In Canada the X-Trail had been on sale as Nissan's second car-based SUV since 2004 as a 2005 model; it was replaced by the new 2008 Nissan Rogue in late 2007. The Murano is sized between the Xterra and the Pathfinder, but is priced slightly higher than the Nissan Pathfinder.

The Murano was nominated for the North American Truck of the Year award for 2003. It was also named the best premium mid-size SUV by AutoPacific.

The name Murano comes from a region of Venice, Italy which is known for the hand blown glass produced there.

The first generation Nissan Murano was powered by a 3.5 litre 245 bhp V6 engine, also used in several other Nissan models like the Altima, Maxima, and Nissan 350Z, but specifically tuned for use in the Murano. Available with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) and optional all-wheel-drive (AWD), the Nissan Murano is one of the largest vehicles utilising a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Fuel economy was rated at 18 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway (same mpg FWD and AWD on the new EPA specifications).

An independent suspension on all four wheels was used for class-leading ride and handling.

A full set of airbags, steel reinforced cabin, and head restraints were safety features designed to protect the interior while VDC, ABS, EBD and brake assist were mechanical safety features. VDC includes a form of traction control embedded into the car's onboard computer and is designed to provide 'joy' to drive.

The Murano received a crash test rating of 5-stars in all categories but vehicle rollover (4-stars) from the NHTSA.

For the 2006 model year, the Murano received some updates in the form of LED tailamps and turn signals, standard color information screen, available back-up camera (standard in Canada for all models), GPS and a restyled front end with some minor trim updates.

The Nissan Murano was one of the first midsize crossovers to be introduced in the United States. As with other vehicles in this segment, the Murano combines the driving attributes of a car with the elevated seating position and versatility of a sport-utility vehicle. Also in its favor is a spacious interior, a powerful V6 engine and distinctive styling.

Since its introduction in 2003, the Murano has been one of Nissan's best-selling SUVs. Particularly when compared with the rugged truck-based SUVs in Nissan's lineup, the Murano's classy, sculptural lines stand out. Rounded edges mask the crossover's substantial size, translating into a surprising amount of cargo and passenger space inside.

An all-new Nissan Murano debuted for 2009. The redesigned Murano features subtle styling changes and more significant mechanical and interior upgrades, but it generally adheres to the formula established by its predecessor. As ever, with its car-based platform and available on-road-biased all-wheel-drive system, the Murano is definitely not made for rock-crawling. But on the road, where most SUVs will stay anyway, the Murano is a smooth operator and certainly one of the smoothest of its breed.

Current Nissan Murano

The Nissan Murano brings liberal helpings of style and performance to the crossover SUV segment. Available in either front- or all-wheel drive, the Murano packs a 3.5-liter V6 underneath its curvaceous hood that's good for 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is your only choice for putting this power to the ground.

The character of the strong V6 engine is nicely complemented by the CVT, which is among the best such units on the market. This pairing makes the Murano quite quick. Capable brakes and sharp handling round out the Murano's performance abilities, and they compare favorably with just about any vehicle in this segment. The current Murano gives up nothing to the competition inside, either, as its formerly marginal materials have been upgraded to near class-leading quality.

Three trim levels are offered. The base S model is reasonably well-equipped, including dual-zone automatic climate control and a six-CD changer, but many desirable luxury and convenience items are grouped into packages, most of which aren't available on the S. The more expensive SL model adds a few niceties here and there, but what really gets you is expandability, as numerous options packages are made available for this trim. The top-of-the-line LE pours on the decadence, coming standard with just about every option on the Murano's list.

Our editors have generally praised the Nissan Murano's sophisticated appearance, stylish and comfortable interior and sharp handling characteristics. Once a sluggish annoyance, the CVT's performance has been greatly improved for the current Murano. Our only concerns are the Murano's middling fuel economy and underwhelming cargo room. Competing models may be better on one or both of these counts, but they probably won't offer the Murano's combination of performance and style.

Past Nissan Murano Models

The first-generation Nissan Murano was produced from 2003-'07. (The Murano was on hiatus for the 2008 model year.) At the time, its combination of an SUV-like high driving position and ample cargo room along with sedan-like handling and acceleration was virtually unprecedented. Today, the market is saturated with such vehicles, which have become known as "crossovers." In other words, the first Murano was a trendsetter in its day.

The original Murano's styling -- an unmistakable offspring of Nissan's alliance with French automaker Renault -- was nothing if not distinctive, inside and out. Fortunately, it had an impressive array of hardware as well. All first-generation Muranos came with a 3.5-liter 245-hp V6, and a CVT was the only available transmission. Two trim levels were initially offered -- the luxury-oriented SL and sporty SE. A price-leading S model was added in 2005, offering fewer features for less coin. Even the S came well-equipped with dual-zone climate control, a CD player and (as of 2006) a 7-inch LCD display. The SL added such niceties as a power driver seat with adjustable lumbar support, while the SE rode on an exclusive sport-tuned suspension. Options included a roof rack, adjustable pedals, a Bose stereo, a sunroof and a DVD-based navigation system.

In our reviews of the first-generation Nissan Murano, low-grade interior materials were among the few nits we could find to pick. Our one serious complaint concerned the reluctance of the CVT to play along with spirited drivers -- a flaw that was rectified in the second-generation car. Beyond those two shortcomings, the first-generation Murano was generally a class act. It was stylish, powerful, handled well and had an impressive array of optional pleasantries.

Consumers interested in a used Murano should note that little changed mechanically on the first-generation Murano throughout its years of production. An update for 2006 brought subtle changes to the exterior trim and, for the interior, introduced new instrumentation and more elegant materials and color schemes. Previous to this, only minor equipment and trim level adjustments occurred.

Nissan's curvilinear new sport-utility vehicle, the Murano, will arrive on North American shores sometime late this fall. It will be Nissan's first "soft-roader" — it's not truck-based — and Nissan is targeting buyers looking for a medium-size luxury SUV at a price starting around $30,000.

Powered by Nissan's popular 3.5-liter V-6, the Murano will provide a lower-cost alternative to such vehicles as the Lexus RX300. Designed under the leadership of Taiji Toyota, the Murano's design theme was "sculpture in motion." The vehicle's name was borrowed from the island city off Venice that is famous for its handcrafted glasswork, and the rounded contours of the Murano might well prompt associations with the blown-glass creations found there.

When asked about this new direction in design, the project's design chief insisted that the Murano adheres closely to the company's brand-image strategies.

"We have never decided design only by cool styling," Mr. Toyota said.

"Each product has to have a strong and unique message but at the same time have a Nissan family identity. It won't be long before you realize that the Murano predicts exactly what Nissan's brand image is to be in the future product lineup.

"Although we can't transfer the flowing look directly to all future products, this design will certainly influence the look of other models."

Indeed, the rear lights of this SUV and those of the recently released Nissan 350Z sports car have an unmistakable likeness, and there are some similar interior details, too. Styling aside, the Murano shares platform technology with Nissan's FF-L system (the basis of the Altima) and uses the same strut-front and multilink-rear suspensions. The Murano also adopts Nissan's versatile VQ-series 3.5-liter V-6, which produces 240-plus horsepower in this application, according to the company. That drives the front wheels or, in some models, all four wheels via an as-yet-undisclosed all-wheel-drive mechanism through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The CVT will be of the pulley-and-belt variety and not Nissan's toroidal CVT (called Extroid) found in some Japanese-market cars. Apparently, the traction oil employed in the Extroid transmission does not function reliably at temperatures of about minus-40 degrees, which some North American vehicles are likely to encounter.

The Murano's CVT will feature a seven-stage manual shift feature (much like Audi's Multitronic) on top-of-the-line SE models. Equipped as it is with the underpinnings of an Altima, the Murano promises good handling, even at a ride height that is greater than that of Nissan's sedans. Nonetheless, a traction-control system will be available, as well as stability control.

Inside the Murano, Nissan's intentions were to create a luxurious environment. There are adjustable pedals and a tilting wheel with a movable gauge pod like that in the 350Z. Rear-seat air-conditioning outlets in the pillars and dual-zone front-seat climate controls provide maximum local comfort. The instrument panel is trimmed in aluminum, and a navigation system, a Bose seven-speaker stereo, and an eight-way-adjustable driver's seat will be optional.

On the safety front, the Murano will offer front and rear side-curtain airbag protection as well as dual-stage front airbags and active front head restraints. Storage space is claimed to be generous, with opening door pockets, a two-tier center-console box, and an underfloor compartment in the rear cargo area much like that in the Mitsubishi Outlander.

As in many of these "crossover" wagons, the rear seatbacks fold forward to create more space, but these also have remote releases in the rear compartment, and they recline for greater comfort.

High equipment levels and thoughtfully versatile features are becoming the norm in a maturing SUV marketplace, and the Murano will face serious opposition on several fronts. But as we've seen in other Nissan models, the provision of a powerful engine and a comprehensive equipment package at a fair price offers a real advantage. If you admire Taiji Toyota's idea of sculpture in motion, the combination should provide a compelling inducement.