2008 Nissan Murano first drive review: Moving target

2009 Nissan Murano

2009 Nissan Murano

Think it’s hard hitting a moving target? Try being the target and having to keep moving, sort of like having the whole world on your six, trying to take you out.

That’s where the Nissan Murano is. Arguably the first crossover—if by “crossover” one means something more stylish than an SUV pretender on an automotive platform. Debuting as a 2003 model, the Murano had a totally sleek profile that made the Lexus RX350 look like nothing more than a beveled sport-ute. The Murano said, “I’m not an SUV and I don’t pretend to be one.”

It was a risky move for Nissan. A previous effort by Isuzu had landed with the thud of an overly inebriated defensive lineman after a frat house bacchanal. The Murano, however, was more appealing and instead of the usual sales pattern of a first year high followed by a year-by-year decline, the Murano gained every year, climbing from 47,987 for the 2003 model year to 81,064 for the 2006 model.

Why, then, mess with success? Because nothing lasts forever, and besides, the dies for the body panels wear out and you might as well cut the jib at least a little bit different.

2009 Nissan Murano interior

The 2009 Nissan Murano SL interior approaches Infiniti quality.

And that’s what Nissan did for the Nissan Murano. Not a body panel is the same on the new edition, which isn’t a facelift—despite the obvious similarities—but a completely new vehicle. This second generation Murano shares the new “D” platform introduced under the 2007 Altima sedan, which Nissan says is 1.5 times stiffer than its predecessor. Lighter and stiffer fully-independent suspension with—for tech geeks—dual flow path shock absorbers are designed for better compliance without float.

The ’08 Murano uses Nissan’s ubiquitous—not a bad thing—VQ-series 3.5-liter V-6 engine with variable valve timing. It’s now rated at 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque, a significant bump up in horsepower, up from 240 hp, and a skosh more torque, at 244 lb-ft.

2009 Nissan Murano SL instrument panel

The 2009 Nissan Murano SL has a very “futuristic” instrument panel. (click to enlarge)

The Murano is offered in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, but either way the only transmission choice is Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT). We know about the efficiency of the CVT but we don’t like the feel. The good news is that the manual shifting works well, and that the V-6 is torquey enough that in full automatic mode it doesn’t go soaring for redline at the slightest touch of the pedal.

The all-wheel drive system is integrated into the stability program, using the yaw (rotational) sensor, steering angle sensors and reads wheel slip to transfer torque anywhere from 100 percent front to fifty-fifty front to rear. Nissan claims the shifting torque to the rear wheels decreases understeer, helping the vehicle get around a slippery corner along the intended path. We weren’t able to fully test this feature—perhaps best so—during our sojourn with the Murano.

The Murano’s interior design and materials quality bump up against the Infiniti EX35’s insides. It looks good, really good, as space-agey as the Murano’s exterior. The center stack is arty and efficient and with controls out of an organic star cruiser. There are more buttons on the steering wheel than stops on the Mightly Wurlitzer down at the Bijou. The gauges light up with an orange rim and needles that sweep through their full range.

Talk about soft touch, the Murano’s armrests aren’t just soft, they’re squishy. The optional/standard on top level leather interior has a gathered effect, including an elegant fanfold treatment on the door panels.

And while we’re talking about the interior, the Murano shares something with the Infiniti EX35. Its rear seat seatback flips down for extra cargo capacity—one of the advantages of this body style is to be able to carry a bunch of stuff—but so that one doesn’t have to crawl into the cargo area to pull the seat back up, there’s a power-up feature: the advantage of a full-power seat with a lot less cost.

A dual panel sunroof is optional. Nissan like most other carmakers has decided that what we have always wanted is more ways to see the sky.

2009 Nissan Murano SL engine

The 2009 Nissan Murano comes with one engine choice, the ubiquitous VQ-series V-6. (click to enlarge)

Spotting a 2009 Murano is easy once one knows what to look for. Overall the size hasn’t changed much since the 2007 model (Nissan skipped the 2008), with the same wheelbase and not quite an inch more overall length, and we suspect they’d cast about the same shadow. But from the front, the grille has changed from a primarily horizontal motif with a matte finish to bright diagonal slats tilting outwards. The headlamp cluster is smaller, too, thanks to advances in lighting tech.

Out back, the rear window is more angular and the taillights are more horizontal instead of wrapping up over the fenders. The backup lights are now in the taillamp cluster instead of flanking the license plate frame, largely because the license plate area is now sized for international-sized number plates.

The driving experience, however, is where it all comes together or it all falls apart, and after driving a Murano it’s a question why anyone who drives only on the highway would ever want to drive an SUV again. While its higher center of gravity means it won’t corner like a sports car or even a sports sedan, it’s well controlled with a slight bias towards the front for stable handling. There’s none of the usual tippiness of an SUV, however.