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Forbes.com Review of Murano

HIGHS:
Well-made interior; sharp exterior; sports sedan-like handling, engine and braking.

LOWS:
Somewhat pricy versus competition; no seating for seven.

Should You Buy This Car?

If you did your level best to just get the stuff you needed (and a few things you wanted, like leather seats) and a few safety items (for $749 you get stability control, traction control and an onboard tire-pressure monitor), you could probably squeak an all-wheel-drive Murano out of a Nissan showroom for under $34,000 or a front-wheel-drive model for about $33,000. Either way, that's not cheap.

The Honda Pilot is slightly more economical at $30,520 with leather, and it also gives you better cargo room. That may be why the Pilot is outselling the Murano more than two to one in first-quarter 2003, and the less expensive Honda Element (average price is a little under $20,000) also outsells the Murano by a wide margin. Or it could just be that the Pilot's offering of third-row seating is a big appeal for moms and dads who need to carry their own kids and, at times, the neighbor's as well.

However, because the Murano is more luxurious, out-handles and out-brakes the Pilot, it's somewhat smarter to compare the Murano to more upscale competition like the aforementioned BMW X5, the new Lexus RX330 and the Volvo XC90. In that arena the Murano is out of its league only in status (and in the case of the Volvo, isn't available with third-row seating), but it is more fun than both the Lexus and Volvo and as sharp in corners as the BMW.

And of course if you really do want something for crawling up fire roads or towing an 8,000-pound horse trailer, you need a real SUV with true body-on-frame construction. But since most SUVs see very little of that duty, Honda, Nissan and Toyota as well as Lexus, Volvo and BMW are all running hard toward the crossover niche.

As for the Murano, the bottom line is if you need a family car for five but don't have the scratch for the status model--and don't want to buy something that, like station wagons of yore, screams "child seat with four wheels"--the Murano is a big-time winner.
 

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TheCarConnection.com Review of Murano

2003 Nissan Murano SE

Nissan repackages form and function into a people pod of the future.

I think of pollen as these little pods that hibernate for the winter only to explode into a riot of irritation on the first warm day leading to spring. I literally wept through last weekend — not from joy, not from sorrow, but from pollen. Of course, it didn’t help that I had the windows down and the sunroof open in the new Nissan Murano that I was driving.

As one of the classy new “unclassifiables” that automakers are introducing to deflect anti-SUV rants, the Murano offers much to set itself apart from the madding crowd. For all its charms, however, there were moments during my week with the Murano when I would have traded it for a bottle of eye-drying Murine and called it even. On the other hand, there is much about Nissan’s heralded new “urban SUV” that opened my eyes to the direction in which commuter transport is heading.

If you’re curious about the name, Nissan’s got a quick-draw explanation: “Murano,” says the press release, “is named after the elegantly sculpted glass art that comes from the islands near Venice.” The obligatory reference to “cutting-edge design” thereby takes on the not entirely reassuring connotations of shattered glass and sharp splinters.

Better left unsaid

It’s what’s not said about the Murano, however, that I find more titillating yet. Regular readers of this space may recall my summer 2000 review of the Euro-only Renault Megane Scénic RX4 that, I declare, looks eerily premonitory to the Murano. I can’t get anyone at Nissan to confirm or deny the relationship; folks just look away in search of a change of subject. But the fact is, Renault essentially controls Nissan’s fate, as most enthusiasts already know; and Renault undeniably deserves much praise for pulling Nissan’s fat out of the fire. Something tells me that bragging about your sensitive, Francophilic automotive design isn’t what we Yanks are clamoring to hear about at the moment. Better just to allege that Murano was created specifically with the North American market in mind, and to leave it at that, n'est-ce pas?

And anyway, you’d never find a powertrain like the Murano’s in a fuel-stingy Euro-mobile like the diminutive Scénic. It's the powertrain that makes this Murano a masterpiece. For my evaluation, I drove an all-wheel-drive version with the $3,499 “SE” trim package. (A front-driver is the alternative.) Underhood is Nissan’s hallowed twin-cam V-6 — which is the crown jewel that Renault craved, by the way. Thanks to variable valve timing, output from its 3.5 liters is 245 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque; and those happen to be the highest figures ever mated, in North America anyway, to a continuously variable transmission that Nissan calls Xtronic CVT.

I’ll spare you the tech talk about steel belts and conical sections in explaining the CVT’s uncanny operation. What’s more important is to understand that a CVT provides variable gearing over a full range of ratios without having to jump from gear to gear in discrete step-like changes. An engine-transmission feedback system plots the most efficient combination of torque, rpm and gearing; and a CVT and variable valve timing take it from there.

It’s the Holy Grail of the pocket-protector crowd — you get the best engine efficiency and best gearing for an infinite set of constantly changing road conditions. For the rest of us, you get a vehicle that’s a blast to drive. Put your foot in it, and the throttle response is incredible. There’s no abrupt kick-down into a lower gear, no lurch into the next higher one as you gain speed. When you crest a hill and begin your descent, you feel the transmission take over and begin to downshift progressively, infinitesimally. There’s never any sense of freewheeling in a gear too high; and gear lash — the “slop” between different gear ratios in some traditional transmissions — is nonexistent. What’s more, the shift lever toggles easily between “normal” and “reduced” gear profiles to make possible subtle slowing maneuvers in traffic, or to prepare for sporty cornering, without using the brakes. There are other CVTs on the market in the U.S., but to date, they’re in puny cars with none of Murano’s personality (sorry, Audi, but it’s true).

Organic aesthetic

As for Nissan’s interpretation of the trendy new “crossover vehicle” aesthetic, it’s less novel but still attractive in most respects. Yes, the sculptural silhouette of the Murano is unusual — almost to the extreme. Inside, however, it’s virtually the same two-plus-three occupant layout you’ll find in Lexus, Mercedes, Honda, Ford, and Chevy rivals. Sayonara to any hope of a third-row, however; seating is limited to five.

I found Murano’s seating — leather-trimmed in the case of this SE — to be stylish, trendy and mildly uncomfortable. Upholstery is snare-drum tight, like a BMW’s, but without the body-shaping ergonomics that snug you into the seat. On the other hand, the way the rear seats fold flat with the flick of two levers under the hatch makes Murano a determined cargo carrier. Stowage ranges from 32.6 to 82 cubic feet, which suggests manifold possibilities for totin’ and haulin’.

In the present climate of automotive schizophrenia in which buyers are bored with sedans and station wagons; ashamed of minivans; and alternately seduced and repelled by SUVs, I heartily endorse the clever novelty embodied by Nissan’s Murano. Certainly its chief accomplishment is that gnarly CVT-and-V6 powertrain, ably assisted by four-wheel disc brakes and fully independent suspension. Sure, it’s all Altima- and Maxima-derived underneath (the Frenchy cues are our little secret, OK?); but Murano looks and feels like something new in ways that few other vehicles can duplicate. So what if it’s an exercise in repackaging the traditional wagon into some new sort of a people pod? That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
 

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TruckWorld.com Review of Murano


Torrey Pines, California: Located on a rise just outside of the hub of bustling San Diego, this upscale community is home to the world's rarest pine tree-the Torrey Pine. Taking a morning walk among the pines and looking out over the Pacific coast, I reflected that the all-new Nissan Murano is far from rare. In fact, it now joins the ever-growing list of small-sized multi-utility vehicles in a forest of many offerings. And yet, just like the highly-regarded glass it is designated for -as well as the Torrey Pine- the Murano is a rare breed.

Named for the colorful glass traditionally made in Venice, Murano is Nissan's artistic interpretation of a crossover utility vehicle, a prism-like market that reflects an entire spectrum of vehicle designs, from small wagons to boxy off-roaders. This segment includes models of all shades, from the luxurious Audi allroad to the mid-range Toyota Matrix and economy-priced Pontiac Vibe and Mazda Protégé5.

This Japanese manufacturer has chosen to unveil its latest creation in the same year as the long-anticipated debut of the Z car and a long-overdue overhaul of the XTerra SUV; an ambitious undertaking backed by the might of significant growth in recent years for Nissan, and a double-digit increase in sales from April-September of 2002.

Murano, a stylish sport ute with a peppy V6, sedan-like ride and a smooth, continuously variable transmission, is intended to help Nissan penetrate further into the SUV market. With the high-end Infiniti QX4 occupying a slot at the top of the ladder and Pathfinder and XTerra at the middle rungs, Murano gives the chance to slide another peg into the highly stratified sport utility vehicle market.

From the outside, Nissan's latest offering reflects a thoughtful design that is neither too radical nor too much like its segment competitors. A crouching stance is balanced by a prominent front grille with cross-hatched chrome bars and a large air dam with integrated fog lamps. A sloping hoodline is capped by a steeply raked windshield.

Wraparound surface construction is smooth and modern, bookended front and rear by tires pushed to the corners of the vehicle. As with many crossover designs, the beltline slopes and curves upwards, creating a snipped rear window with tiny glass triangles for the rearmost portals in the cargo space.

At the backend, sharply angled D-pillars combine with a rounded cargo door to give a bubble-like shape. The door, made of plastic and steel, is lightweight and easy to open and close. Stacked rear headlamps are, like the headlights, available with Xenon bulbs. Standard wheels are 18-inchers.

A 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 powers Murano, which is the same powerplant found under the hoods of the Altima and Maxima sedans, making 245 horses and 246 lb.-ft. of torque. Matched to the V6 is Nissan's continuously variable automatic transmission Xtronic - the first application of this technology for Nissan in North America. Using a belt and two pulleys to operate as though it were one long gear, the transmission is smooth and seamless. Murano comes equipped with standard all-wheel drive, and is also available with front wheel drive.

Inside, Nissan's latest SUV offers what the company calls "first class seating:" for two couples - in other words, this new model is intended for young adults, however young families are not necessarily the target buyers. Emphasizing elegance, luggage room and high-tech features, Nissan is aiming this vehicle squarely at drivers for whom family transportation is not the primary consideration.

Murano's cabin is spacious and inviting, with cool matte metal surfaces. The center console resembles a high-end stereo system, with flat rectangular buttons and symmetric knobs. A 6.4" screen for an optional DVD navigation and entertainment system sits high in the center of the dash. Speedometer, tach and other important information is displayed in round, white-backed gauges that are easily visible behind the metal-trimmed steering wheel.

A center console comes standard with a 12-volt power socket, cell phone holder and cupholders, along with steering-wheel mounted controls for cruise and audio. A 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system and remote keyless entry system are also standard with all models. Power-adjustable pedals are optional, as are audio systems including a Bose 6-CD changer and satellite radio (XM or Sirus).

Seating throughout the cabin is roomy, and the driver's seat is available with optional 8-way adjustable controls. The split fold-down rear seat includes a reclining feature and a remote flip-down function, allowing seats to be released from the rear cargo area. LATCH child seat anchors and tether system, and front seat active head restraints are standard; other interior amenities include standard dual zone climate controls and rear air conditioning vents located on the pillars. Front seat and front side airbags, along with side curtain bags, are standard on all models.

On the road, Murano is supported by available stability and traction control systems, as well as an optional tire pressure monitor system. A standard 4-wheel independent suspension is multi-link in the rear and has a cradle-type front subframe along with high-stiffness stabilizer bars. Four-wheel vented disc brakes come with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD).

Driving the two Murano versions on the highways and two-lanes of southern California, the first thing that caught our eye was this crossover's greenhouse. The cockpit is bright and airy and has good visibility in all directions. Its handling is consistent with many of the competitors in its class-- responsive and smooth acceleration and steady, even cornering, far removed from the truck-like ride of many SUVs. We found both versions to have linear steering, a compliant-yet stiff-suspension and strong, confidence-inspiring brakes. Our preference, however, was the AWD, allowing that compromised road surfaces are found not only in the northern climes, but also on the rain-slickened freeways of southern California.

On sale this December, Murano is offered in four models, the SE and the SL, each with a choice of all-wheel drive or 2-wheel drive. The SL AWD starts at an MSRP of$29,799. Optional packages include a Premium Package and SL Leather Package (available on SL models), SE Popular Package (available on SE models), Cold Package and Dynamic Control Package (available on both SL and SE models). Three options are available: a sunroof, navigation system and chrome wheels. The SL with 2WD starts at $28,199.

With its attractive design, strong motor and posh available features, Murano is positioned well to attract the growing number of buyers looking for crossover models. Joining an already crowded market segment, Nissan's smallest ute is not a rare diamond compared to its equally well-equipped competitors. But it may just be the gem whose facets reflect a bright spot for Nissan in the model year to come.
 

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MSN.com Auto Review of Murano

2003 Nissan Murano
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PROS
Rakish styling
Roomy
Solid performance
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CONS
No third-row seat
Pricey with desirable options
Rear blind spots
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Bottom Line:
Plenty of style, room, comfort and performance make this a top sport-utility.
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Nissan continues to enhance its lineup with its new midsize Murano sport-utility vehicle, which looks more rakish than rivals and has plenty of power, comfort and roominess.

With the sport-utility craze, it seems that nearly every week brings a new sport-ute. But few offer as good a blend of style, performance and innovation as the $28,199-$30,599 Murano.

The Murano's styling features rounded contours, steeply raked windshield, sloping hoodline and upswept rear roof pillars. It comes in base SL and higher-line SE versions, and both are offered with front- or all-wheel drive.

The SE has a firmer suspension, sportier looking 6-spoke alloy wheels and High Intensity Discharge headlights with manual headlight levelizer.

Vehicle Strategy
The strategy of once-faltering Nissan is to offer distinctive vehicles instead of copying ones from more conservative rivals such as Toyota and Honda. That's why Nissan has introduced a new version of its legendary "Z" sports car—the 350Z.

This new sport-ute's name is inspired by sculpted Italian glass and was designed for the North American market, where Nissan hopes to annually sell 50,000 Muranos.

As many new car-based sport-utes, the Murano is built on the platform of the fairly new, hot Nissan Altima sedan. That's why Nissan calls the carlike Murano a "crossover" vehicle—a designation shared by many of the latest sport-utilities.

No Third-Row Seat
Drawbacks include the lack of a third-row seat. That's an increasingly popular item for larger sport-utes, although the aging but popular midsize Lexus RX 300 doesn't have such a seat.

The Murano mainly is designed for driving on roads, with no low range gearing for its all-wheel-drive system. Nissan is leaving rough off-road driving to its truck-based Pathfinder and Xterra sport-utes.

Superb Engine
Powering the Murano is a version of Nissan's potent 3.5-liter passenger car V6. The smooth, sophisticated engine is one of the best in the industry. It generates a rousing 245 horsepower and allows quick merging and passing—along with comfortable cruising. The engine loafs at 1800 rpm at 65 mph.

Hooked to the V6 is an extremely smooth continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It provides a nearly infinite number of gear ratios—and thus eliminates gearshift jolts and downshift delays found with conventional automatics.

Noteworthy Transmission
A CVT usually works with engines that have less horsepower and torque than provided by the Murano's V6. But Nissan's CVT does such a good job that most new Murano owners should soon feel at home with it. However, some buyers might wish that a conventional automatic transmission or manual gearbox also were offered.

A CVT generally delivers better fuel economy than a regular automatic. It's an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 24-25 mpg on highways. Not great, but not bad for a big, heavy, powerful vehicle. A 21.7-gallon fuel tank allows a long highway driving range.

Fun to Drive
The Murano is fun to drive. Although a bit stiff, its steering is quick. Handling is unusually good for a 3,801-3,960-pound sport-utility. That's partly because the Murano has an all-independent suspension with stabilizer bars and wide tires on large 18-inch wheels, rather than the 16-inchers found on the popular midsize Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

Nissan would have been applauded by providing 17-inch wheels, but went a step farther with the 18-inch ones. The more rubber on the road, the better the roadability.

However, the 187.6-inch-long Murano is longer, wider and taller than the often-copied RX 300. So a worthy option is the $749 Dynamic Control Package. It features traction control and anti-skid systems, along with a tire-pressure monitor.

Major Safety Items
Major standard safety features include front torso side airbags and front and rear curtain side airbags. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution provide surer stops. The brake pedal is soft, but has a linear action.

The Murano also has a good amount of comfort and convenience equipment, with the usual power accessories found in higher-priced sport-utes and such items as a tilt wheel, dual-zone automatic climate controls, cruise control, AM/FM/CD sound system and a rear defogger.

Price-Boosting Extras
However, desirable options such as a sunroof, leather seats and power adjustable pedals cause the price to jump a lot because they mostly are in fairly costly option packages. It's easy to boost the sticker price to $37,000.

For example, the SE Popular Package has alluring options but costs a hefty $3,499. You can get a power sunroof for the SL for $999—but not unless you order the $1,499 Premium Package. And the $1,999 navigation system calls for three option packages and the sunroof. Moreover, that system has a steep learning curve and its map has a rather cheap look.

Warning: The Murano is new and attractive; so many Nissan dealers likely will order the top-line version with many accessories for more profit. That's just the nature of the car (and sport-ute) business.

Roomy Interior
Big outside door handles in wide doors allow quick entry, and low floor makes it easy to get in and out. Three's plenty of room for four tall adults in the quiet interior, and sculpted front and rear seats are supportive. Rear-seat air conditioning outlets are standard.

Gauges can be easily read. But the fairly large, easily used sound system and climate controls are in a protruding dashboard pod, which seems to be put there more for style than practicality.

Some drivers may be annoyed that audio and sound system readouts are displayed on a dashboard screen several inches from the actual controls. At least the steering wheel contains auxiliary sound system controls.

Many Storage Areas
Cupholders won't adjust to the size of some beverage containers, and interior materials are just average—although attractive aluminum trim is used. The interior has plenty of storage areas, and the snap-out storage pockets in front doors usually are found in luxury sport-utilities.

A price paid for the rakish styling are rear blind spots that obstruct visibility, especially when parallel parking. However, large outside rearview mirrors help when changing lanes.

The tailgate has no glass upper opening but its light weight facilitates loading. The cargo area is large, and the entire rear seat—not just seatbacks—folds forward to provide an impressive cargo area.

Nissan has hit another home run with its Murano, which promises to accelerate the automaker's recovery.
 
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