IF YOU GET the funny feeling that you’ve seen all this before, you’re not too far from wrong. Nissan’s refreshed 2009 Murano is a case of style evolution, rather than revolution.
Beneath the skin the déjà vu continues thanks to an engine and driveline that look, feel and perform eerily similar to they way they did before (which is not a bad thing by the way).
However, whatever the similarities to the model it replaces, Nissan’s 2009 Murano comes with a healthy dollop of high-tech, high-end luxury appointments and better than average on-road behaviour.
The result is that it stands more than happily on its own four wheels in an overcrowded SUV marketplace.
Put through the cut-and-thrust of the urban cycle - with a little weekend escapism thrown in for good measure - we set about finding out if Nissan’s suburban-dwelling SUV still has what it takes to take the fight up to the segment leaders, Kluger and Territory, and claim a slice of that lucrative sales pie.
When the first model Murano was released, its ‘stylistic’ approach shunned the usual ruggedness associated with the SUV crowd. Now in its second generation, it follows the same principal, building on the themes established in the first iteration.
With a series of gentle curves and arcs building from the front bumper and sweeping gracefully over the roof and down the tailgate, the Murano lines flow like water.
Most striking when viewed front-on, the chrome grille amplifies a wide V-shaped plane rising back across the bonnet. At the outer edges, multi-element heavily-jewelled headlamps blend into clever décor panels that run back under the grille.
Along the body-sides, blunt-edged wheel-arches blister gently outwards at each corner and a solid faux-sill panel, at the lower edges of the doors, is underscored with a subtle chrome slash.
Higher up, the window line at the rear side glass kicks upward to meet the roof, creating a strong, triangular D-pillar. From behind, the vertical tail-lights that followed the contours of the rear haunches in the earlier model, have been dispensed with, replaced by horizontal forms – a familiar sucked-lozenge shape.
Unfortunately, to these eyes, it’s a bit of a mismatch of shapes here, with vertical indicators and ovoid reverse lamps.
No problems with the tailgate: its sculptured lines integrate nicely with the Murano’s flowing curves – the one-piece polymer skin also including a subtle rear spoiler.
The Murano’s most compelling case is made once perched inside. Here, the feeling is akin to relaxing in a modern lounge room.
Broad seats, trimmed in soft supple leather, in a choice of black (as tested) or ivory, are serenely comfortable and a world away from the shapeless pews of the working 4WDs of years past that spawned the SUV segment.
Front seats are power adjustable while the rear bench can be reclined in a 60:40 split.
The basic dashboard architecture follows that set by Nissan’s other full-size offerings; anyone familiar with the new Maxima or 370Z will feel right at home.
A broad centre-stack houses basic climate and audio controls, above which sits a multi-function dial and large colour touch-screen for controlling the satellite navigation system.
Brushed aluminium runs through the centre of the dash and the door trims, lending cutting-edge ‘modernism’ to the feel inside.
Cargo accommodation is somewhat hampered by the rounded lines, however wheel-arch intrusion is minimal.
Levers in the cargo-bay walls allow the rear seats to be dropped to create an almost-flat floor and switches in the rear, or on the dash, allow the seats to be hoisted back into position.
Equipment and Features
With a heavy focus on ‘premium’ positioning, the included equipment in the top-shelf Murano Ti does a great job of shaming some established luxury contenders.
Front heated seats are electrically adjustable, as is the steering column – for tilt and reach. A two-setting memory function also helps return everything to where it should be, bringing the power folding mirrors along for the ride.
For entertainment there’s an 11-speaker (including two subwoofers) Bose sound system, incorporating a six-disc CD changer. Auxiliary inputs are also on standby for MP3 and RCA video sources, displayed on the seven-inch dash display.
That same screen also displays satellite navigation data, audio and climate control data, received from the dual-zone climate control system, and fills in rear-view duties from the reversing camera.
To make the driver’s task easier, there are automatic headlamps and windscreen wipers as well as an auto dimming rear-view mirror. At night front fog lights and Xenon headlamps do their best to turn night into day.
The safety score-card includes Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability control) and Traction Control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist, six airbags, active head restraints and pre-tensioning seatbelts.
Motivation is provided by Nissan’s seriously competent 3.5 litre V6 which churns out 191kW of power at 6000 rpm and 336Nm of torque at 4400 rpm.
Drive is channelled to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system via a CVT transmission.
Once aboard and comfortable, a quick stab of the starter button sends the speedo and tacho needles sweeping across their dials, then… nothing.
Well, not quite nothing, but the smooth idle and noise isolation are enough to cause a second glance at the tacho to make sure the engine has actually fired into life.
In day-to-day commuting, the story stays much the same. The CVT works to keep revs low, whilst noise and vibration barely intrude the passenger compartment.
When given a shove the engine reveals a hint of growl, but such is the serene nature of the Murano that to enjoy it at its best (well, quietest), there’s little point pushing it past 3500rpm.
Around town the suspension can be a little terse when crossing expansion joints, scarred tarmac and train lines. Larger imperfections and potholes however, are soaked up with aplomb.
Braking performance is well up to the task although the initial few degrees of pedal travel can be a little notchy, ending up in a stronger brake application than necessary at times.
The speed sensitive steering is well-weighted, both around town and on the highway, ‘weighting up’ nicely as speed increases without feeling over-assisted at any point. Feedback through the wheel is a little numb though, but perhaps to be expected in a high-riding car with deep-walled tyres.
Thanks to the thick rear pillars, odd-shaped tailgate and intrusions from the roof-mounted centre seatbelt and door-closer, rear vision is nothing short of appalling.
Large rear-view mirrors help, but lane changes are always a risky business with such an impeded over-shoulder view.
Away from the urban environment, onto secondary roads and beyond, the Murano still maintains its polish - even on gravel and sand.
Venturing any further off-road would be ill-advised however.
Despite its composure on loose surfaces, the all-wheel-drive system hesitates momentarily while trying to serve torque to the axles that need it most and the unprotected undercarriage is fairly low to the ground, impeding clearance and inviting damage.
Fuel economy was a very pleasant surprise. On test the Murano returned 12.8l/100km in town, beating out the official factory figure of 14.9l/100km by a very healthy margin.
Results for the highway weren’t quite so good as claimed by Nissan. However strong wind buffeting probably didn’t help with the 9.3l/100km figure we achieved – commendable, but not quite matching Nissan’s claimed 8.6l/100km.
The features, equipment and refinement of the Murano are good enough to rattle some luxury marques. For sheer passenger comfort, driveline refinement and general on-road performance, it demands a very close look.
Living with it may be a different issue, depending on your situation. Visibility issues are hard to ignore, but decent fuel economy for its class and almost zen-like interior presentation help claw back some points.
If your preference is for serene motoring with a minimum of histrionics, and you value your creature-comforts, then Nissan’s Murano, with its high-tech features and outstanding levels of refinement, is one to consider.
- Ridiculously quiet and smooth engine
- Surprisingly good fuel economy around town
- Interior comfort and quality
- Well-featured equipment list
- Poor rear visibility
- Harsh ride over small imperfections
- Slightly undersized cargo space