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http://carpoint.ninemsn.com.au/port...bID__6485/ArticleID__7860/DesktopDefault.aspx

Nissan Murano Ti, Lexus RX330 Sports, BMW X3

Soft Comfort

Article by 4X4 Australia magazine's Marcus Craft


Bottom line: The Nissan Murano is a luxury crossover with a budget price tag. 4X4 Australia magazine's Marcus Craft compares it with more expensive rivals Lexus RX330 and BMW X3 and finds the Nissan is true value for money.

The world of luxury all-wheel drive crossovers is a very comfortable one. It's a world of heated, plush leather seats, power everything (sometimes even the tailgate), sat-nav systems, armrests, sun-roofs, headlight washers and bottles of hand-wash with your tyre-changing kit.

It's a world of silky-smooth transmissions, powerful but quiet engines and impressive on-road dynamics, all wrapped up in a highquality, eye-catching package. You pay to play in luxo-land - and, obviously, if you're forking out the dosh you expect a vehicle with all the trimmings.

Murano is the spearhead of a Nissan assault on the luxury all-wheel drive market; a funky five-seater aimed at luring buyers away from competitors with its contemporary styling, full-to-the-brim spec levels and wallet-friendly pricing.

And price is where the big difference lurks. Our two-day test pitted Nissan's top-spec Murano Ti against two well-established luxury soft-roaders, Lexus RX330 Sports Luxury and BMW X3 3.0i. Murano Ti is $56,990 - significantly less than the $84,100 RX330 Sports Luxury and our optioned-up $80,050 X3 3.0i. The 3.0-litre X3 starts at $71,400.

Despite its price advantage, Murano more than holds its ground. All three vehicles have high spec levels such as ABS brakes, traction and stability control, climate-control air-con, leather trim, power windows and mirrors, cruise control and alloy wheels. All three had electric sunroofs; standard on Murano and RX330, but a $3300 option on X3. Murano and RX330 also have power-adjustable front seats as standard equipment, whereas our X3 had clunky, manually adjustable front seats. The power-seat option on X3 is $2750.

The RX330 has the most impressive standard equipment list with power tailgate (open and shut), power tilt/telescopic steering column and auto retracting cargo blind. The Luxury Pack adds satnav, a Mark Levinson audio system and a reversing camera. Murano has Xenon headlights with washers, as does the Lexus, but the Beemer's Bi-Xenon head-lights are a $2110 option and their Adaptive function adds another $860.

Nice touches, such as illuminated vanity mirrors (driver and front seat passenger), courtesy door-lights and the RX330's tyre change kit (complete with ground sheet, hand-wash, towel and more), round out swollen specs packages. The full extras list is just too long to include here. Safety gear on Murano includes Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), driver and passenger SRS airbags, side-impact SRS airbags and SRS curtain airbags front and rear. RX330 has EBD, Vehicle Swerve Control (VSC), driver and passenger SRS airbags, front seat side and curtain airbags and second row side curtain airbags. X3 has Automatic Stability Control and Traction (ASC-X), Dynamic Stability Control (DSCX), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), Automatic Diff Brake (ADB-X), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and eight airbags (including BMW's Inflatable Tubular Structure head-protecting airbags).

Murano's styling, inside and outside, sets it apart from its test rivals. Designed in California, this Nissan has the look and feel of a fresh concept car brought to life: it's smart and sleek with curves in all the right places.

Murano is dececeptively sized: from the outside it almost looks like a RAV4 competitor, but there's plenty of space. From the driver's seat you enjoy a full, open view of the road ahead. All controls are easy to find, easy to use and instinctive. The Murano's centre-mounted dash screen - with display options such as trip/economy/maintenance - is clear and easy to read but it's old-style graphics let it down a touch. In fact, Murano's fit and finish isn't as high-class as RX330 or X3 but, once again, it all comes back to the price.

The driver's seat in the Murano is power with adjustment; the front passenger seat is not power. Both are heated. Murano's centre console is deep and its top slides forward to provide an armrest.

The RX330 has, by far, the most stylish, well-fitted interior. The fit and finish is awesome, right down to neat stitching on the armrests. The touch-screen satnav - which becomes a rear-view-camera screen when reversing - is a handy addition on the Luxury version. The seats are comfortable and offer good support in all the right places.

The fit and finish in the X3 is top-notch, too, although bare compared with the other two vehicles. It's a shame that its front seats are such a let-down and that power adjustment is an expensive option. The tilt-only adjustable steering is manual too.

Murano's 60/40 split rear-fold seats offer plenty of space and are easy to fold down to open up the "ginormous" cargo area (Whiting's words, not mine). Three big adults will be comfortable in the back even during long stints; there is stacks of head, shoulder and leg room.

The small rear seat in X3 is only suitable for two adults. Although capable of carrying five occupants, the X3 is in reality a four-seater. It offers good leg-room in the back but no recline and not a lot of leg support.

RX330's rear seat has more width than the X3's and you could fit three adults, short-term, but on longer trips it's effectively a four-seater.

However, X3's cargo area is the best set-up of the trio and features handy, adjustable tie-down points that slide in tracks for securing loads. There are even a couple of spares.

The Murano's rear cargo area has plenty of room, too and the tailgate is moulded to further increase luggage capacity.

There was a space-saver tyre in Murano's spare-wheel well, but we measured it and we reckon you could squeeze in a full-size spare. The X3 has a space-saver spare, mounted underneath, with a spare-wheel release inside the cargo bay.

Despite differences in capacities and configurations, all three have similar outputs: Murano punches out 172kW of power at 6000rpm and 318Nm of torque at 3600rpm; RX330 produces 172kW at 5600rpm and 328Nm at 3600rpm; and X3 3.0i makes 170kW at 5900rpm and 300Nm at 3500rpm.

All three vehicles offer strong on-road performance but it's the X3 that feels the quickest. The BMW exhibits much better driving nous than the others: it is dynamic, surefooted and it hugs the road. X3's X-Drive all-wheel drive transmission continuously splits drive torque between the axles for optimum control and safety. The Steptronic auto has a full-manual mode, but auto provides near-seamless slow-driving or cruising, and Sport holds revs cleanly on down- and up-shifts. The system is all-round super-smooth.

As well as its fresh look the Murano is notable for its continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT infinitely varies the gear ratio with two V-shaped pulleys linked by a steel belt. Murano has a torque converter - as in a traditional auto transmission - for standing starts and low-speed driving. It also has a Tiptronic-style six-ratio stepped-gear manual mode.

The all-wheel drive system is similar to the X-Trail's All-mode system: 100 per cent of drive is apportioned to the front wheels, but if there is slippage the system directs up to 50 per cent drive to the rear axle. 4WD Lock mode splits drive 50:50 front/rear.

The RX330 Sports Luxury has a constant 4WD system. But the biggest gripe about the Lexus has its origins in suspension; our test vehicle wallowed around corners. No degree of conservative driving in the Lexus would have produced the same levels of confidence we had in Murano or X3.

It's no use taking these luxury crossovers into extreme off-road areas, but we made sure our off-road program was tough enough to push the trio a bit. Tracks were reasonably gnarly with some steep climbs littered with loose gravel and decent-sized rocks.
 

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continued...

Murano is the only vehicle of these three with a manually lockable centre diff by way of a simple button just in front of the gear shift. The Nissan has a nice wide stance and a confidence-inspiring feel on dirt but it does tend to thump through deep potholes. The Murano has 180mm of ground clearance; the exhaust appears to hang lower than that and we thought it could be a problem, but we managed not to hit anything.

Although the RX330 also has a claimed 180mm of clearance, underbody components are better tucked-up and out of the way.

The BMW has the shortest overhangs and with a claimed 201mm of ground clearance belly-scraping isn't an issue on the sort of terrain you're likely to drive in the X3. The Automatic Differential Brake (ADB-X) works well and, in conjunction with traction control ensures that wheelspin is quickly arrested.

The shared limiting off-road factor in this test mob is their makers' choice of rubber. All three have highway-terrain tyres - the RX330 and Murano on 18-inch rims and the X3 on 17-inch rims.

In the bang-for-your-bucks stakes it's got to be the Murano all round. It has pretty much everything the other two have - albeit in cheaper-looking and -feeling form - but the Nissan is true value for money, compared with the other two. It's a sleek, modern-looking machine with generous interior space and a prototype's punchy appeal.

The RX330 Sports Luxury tends to wallow around dirt-track corners and no degree of conservative driving in this Lexus will produce the same levels of confidence you feel in Murano or X3. While it makes for very comfortable cruising, its dynamics feel dated. Nevertheless, you can't beat it for sheer luxury.

The X3 is the most capable of all three here, on- and off-road. It almost handles as well as a performance sports car on tar and it hugs dirt tracks tightly like a back-country veteran. By the time you option it up to match the Murano and RX330, however, the German is an expensive proposition - in fact almost as much as big brother X5 3.0i.
 

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It is always great to hear how Mo is loved around the world.

I am surprised that BMW is nickel and dime-ing.... more like 5K and 10K-ing customers for every option. I thought those days were gone. Maybe it's an Aussie BMW thing or just a BMW thing.
 

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thanks for the link. It was a great read. I am on the car sites every day and missed this one!

BMW and Mercedes play the bait & catch game very well here. They bait you with a fairly low vehicle price and catch you with the cost of all the options.
 

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Great Link! And a great review! But we new it already, didn’t we. We all own Muranos. :D

Seriously, Murano is not in the same class, at least here in the States. The FX is. Both in terms of price as well as quality, performance. Though Murano does hold its own when it comes to performance. It really is difficult to find a car that does everything so well and still is reasonably priced. Kudos to Nissan for the Murano.
 

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Thank you. I enjoyed reading the article.

I like BMWs (the 3 and 5 series sedans most notably.) I just won't buy one because I don't understand why BMW needs to nickle-and-dime also. When I went looking at a BMW to replace my Audi, I noticed that a split, fold-down rear seat and leather seating were options on a 330i Sport Package. Why? It's just as well... I kept the Audi (now has 177,000 miles and runs like a top) and that let me save enough money to buy my 2004 Murano. :)
 
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