When it debuted in 2003, Murano looked like nothing on the street. In fact, I remember thinking it didn't look like anything in the Nissan lineup and how was that going to play out for the Japanese automaker? Well, as most things at Nissan seem to turn out, up until this last fiscal year when they had their first real setbacks (welcome to the club), there was success in trying to be different and taking some chances. Nissan Murano gets a total face lift this year, and the second-generation crossover has style, drivability and utility all in one great-looking vehicle.
Nissan has always done a stellar job of studying the market and seizing an opportunity. They took advantage of a fledgling crossover market in 2003 that was made more vulnerable by a somewhat staid SUV crop. Consumers were ready for something new that looked like it could be an SUV, but didn't necessarily ride like one. Murano filled both voids and was one of the most distinctive vehicles on the road that year.
This new 2009 version easily trumps the first Murano in every category. Even styling is distinctively different enough to make current Murano owners notice and yearn for the new Gen-2 addition. Props should go out the Nissan for taking a less-is-more approach to the cabin.
While several mid-size crossover SUVs were adding the third option to their smallish cabins, Murano decided to stay with what got it there: five passenger seating and good, flexible utility spaces. Squeezing another bench in back was doable, but it would have compromised interior function and no doubt exterior style.
Like the first generation Murano, this 2009 version is unique in many ways. It has a wonderfully "athletic" appearance. There is still so much distinction in the Murano's exterior lines that it is easily identified anywhere it appears with other vehicles. I like the way the sloping nose flows up the A-pillar over the roof to the sporty rear glass configuration.
From a profile, this rear glass behind the second row is probably what sets Murano off from other vehicles. Best way I can describe it is: the opposite of what every other third piece of glass does. Instead of sloping from the top down-and-out to the rear bumper, it slopes up from the bottom to the furthest point at the top.
Outside this new Murano you will find a more aggressive grille and a more staunch athletic stance. The wheel arches and 18-inch or 20-inch wheels accentuate the stance and make it look lower to the ground than it actually is. My Murano tester featured stylish chrome-tipped, dual-exhaust outlets and sleek roof racks on top.
Inside Murano's cabin, you will enjoy comfortable seating with excellent head and leg room in the front and relatively good space for passengers in the second row. Three adults will be tight in the second row, but three kids are a piece of cake. While I found the cabin to be a bit noisy at highway speeds with both engine and road feedback prevalent, this is a wonderfully stylish setup that compliments any size driver. Look for supple leather appointments and heated seat options.
Driving the Murano was pretty easy, though blind spots are noticeable in the rear quarters and those great little upright windows I mentioned earlier actually take away some visibility. Hey, you want style points,? You gotta give it back somewhere else, right?
A 60/40 fold-flat rear seat comes equipped with a new power return feature that glides the seat to the upright position with the touch of a button.
Just as impressive for its thoughtful engineering and convenience was the new fold-away cargo system. As with most Nissan's, the list of standard features usually outdoes the competition. Look for standard push button ignition, dual-zone climate controls, and an AM/FM/CD6/six-speaker audio system with AUX-in jack, VTR jack and MP3/WMA capability. I really appreciated the optional XM satellite radio with Bose speakers. It is hard to believe that Nissan overlooked the essential iPod input for every trim level other than the top-of-the-line LE model.