The first-generation Nissan Murano stood out from the crowd thanks to its bold, aggressive design in 2004. The second-generation, mid-size crossover makes subtle changes to the exterior while adding improved creature comforts inside.
The second-generation, 2009 Murano debuted in the early 2008 calendar year. Don't look for a 2008 model year Murano on the used-car lot since Nissan jumped from the 2007 model year (the last of the first-generation) right into 2009 to get a jump on its second-generation buzz.
The five-door Murano hatchback begins on solid footing (or treads). The platform is shared with the mid-size Altima, a sedan with a head-turning design of its own. Available with a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the five-passenger Murano crossover is designed for on-road travel. Off-roaders need to check out the five-seat Nissan Xterra.
Three Murano trim levels are available: S, SL and up-level LE. While LE is solely all-wheel drive, the other two sport front- or all-wheel drive. All come standard with a 3.5-liter, double overhead cam, V-6 engine delivering 265 horsepower. This is 25 more horses than the outgoing 2007 model. If four-cylinder power is more to your liking in a Nissan crossover, check out the spunky, slightly smaller, five-door Nissan Rouge.
Nissan supplied a mid-level, SL all-wheel-drive with lots of options for a week's test drive. Starting price was $30,830. The bottom line after adding premium, technology and leather option packages ended at $36,355 including a $780 destination charge. Front-drive SLs start at $29,230.
Option packages are generally limited to SL and LE trims. The S trim ($27,680 starting price for front-drive) is the lower cost, fewer frills edition. The LE trim (with all-wheel-drive standard) starts at $37,260. Both SL and LE also offer a navigation package ($1,850), Dual panel moon roof ($1,170) and a rear-seat DVD entertainment package ($1,600).
Joined at the hip with the 3.5-liter V-6 is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Nissan has been perfecting CVT transmissions longer than just about any other automaker, and has one of the best in the business. Don't expect to find a conventional automatic transmission with first, second, third and fourth forward gears, as Nissan's CVT smoothly cycles through an infinite range of ratios. This new version is 30 percent faster, for an even smoother ride with no 'clunking' sensations as the vehicle accelerates. Fuel economy is average for a V-6: 18 miles per gallon city and 23 highways in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive editions. Keep in mind premium unleaded is recommended for the rather large 21.7-gallon tank.
As with the first generation, Nissan smartly decided not to include third-row seating. Competitors like the mid-size RAV-4 and Mitsubishi Outlander include this option, but only pre-teens can enjoy time (or time outs) spent there. Murano's mid-size platform seats five comfortably.
Push-button starting comes standard in all trims. Just depress the brake pedal, push and the engine purrs to life. The key fob must be on the person (pocket or purse) for the vehcle to start.
Murano's new mostly-analog instrument panel design includes a large center speedometer circle flanked by half circle gages. Remote buttons for unlatching the fuel door and hatch are on the dashboard left of the steering column, not on the floor, a nice touch. A redesigned center-stack dashboard is home to dials controlling fan speed and direction while a button monitors fan direction. The large glove box has a wide opening with no inside patricians. Thanks to the roof's arched design, headroom is good in front and back. In back, the six-sided hexagon rear window includes a standard wiper. The parking brake is foot operated. Sunglasses can be stowed in a fold-down ceiling caddy.