The latest version of Nissan’s distinctive Murano has arrived on our shores, and it’s better than its predecessor in most respects. Especially the constantly variable transmission, which has been just about perfected by Nissan’s engineers
When the first Nissan Murano arrived in the country, we took it to the Mpumalanga area for a photo shoot, and what an experience. Keeping to the speed limit and resisting the urge to give the 3,5-litre V6 free rein, we kept an eye on the rearview mirror when a slower car appeared up ahead, waiting for faster cars in the right-hand lane to overtake before changing lanes ourselves.
Trouble was, the vehicles from behind didn’t overtake, as they normally would do. The driver stomped on the brakes, keeping slightly behind us to see what the heck this vehicle with its wide, 350Z-like C-pillar, smallish rear window and curvaceous rear door was, before moving alongside to admire the wedge-shaped profile, and finally going to the front – driver and passengers’ heads craning to gawk at the wide-mouthed, toothy, titanium-tint grille.
And we didn’t need to be able to lip-read to see them mouthing almost incredulously: “It’s a Nissan” – similarly to you not needing lip-reading skills to see rugby players on TV saying “oh shucks” when they knock on the ball with the try line mere metres away…
And now the latest Murano has taken a bow. The nose is now sharper, and the toothy grille has been replaced by what looks like one of those V-shaped vegetable slicers used to make garnish strips. It blends in well with the wider and fl att er headlight clusters, though, now fitted with smaller High- Intensity Discharge (HID) bi-Xenon lamps.
Side-on the metal curves upward more sharply towards the roof, and the rear boasts new, flatter tail lights dissected by the rear door.
Wheels are 18-inch alloys, fitted with 235/65- profile rubber.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
The luxury experience starts when you open the door – if you have the key in your pocket or briefcase, just touch a butt on on the door handle to unlock the doors, and the start butt on to fire up the engine.
The seats are dressed in leather with perforated inserts (black in the case of the test car, but beige also available), while other finishes include aluminium and chrome, for a smart overall effect.
The top of the dash stretches away towards the windscreen like the deck of a cruise ship, but with no deep recesses for storage, it is a waste of space. We did like the new instrument pod, though, with the round speedometer flanked by two half-moons for the rev counter and fuel/temp display.
The Murano boasts an 11-speaker Bose sound system with front-loading CD player and MP3 and iPod compatibility, and Bluetooth to connect your phone to the speaker system. Voice Command is also part of the features.
It’s a disappointment that a DVD disk for the navigation system isn’t available yet (Nissan is waiting for a new hard-disk system coming early next year), so most of the ti me you’re staring at a “please insert disk” message on the centre display.
On the upside, on it you do see the area behind the vehicle when you slip the gear lever into reverse, while another camera – mounted in the left side mirror, shows you the position of the front wheel in relation to the kerb. Handy when parking, or even off -road when there are rocks to the side.
Audio and other control buttons, like cruise control, are found on the steering wheel, but strangely enough the trip computer can only be accessed via buttons on the side of the dash, which need a bit of a stretch to get to.
The front seats can be heated, and the rear door can be electrically opened and closed at the press of a butt on underneath the dash or with the remote control – provided the engine is switched off . Another neat touch is that the rear backrests can be raised by electric motors too, although it’s so easy to do manually that you wonder why they bothered.
Safety items include active head restraints for the front seats, and a plethora of airbags, including curtain-type bags at the rear for side impacts. Of course traction control, ABS, Brake Assist and EBD are part of the package.
★ ★ ★ ★
Despite its almost coupé-like looks, the Murano is quite spacious inside. Even tall people will fi nd 10cm or more space between their heads and the roof lining, both front and rear.
The passenger seat is electrically adjustable, also for height, and the steering wheel also whizzes in and out and up and down electrically at the push of a lever. There aren’t any memory settings, though, which we found odd. A driver’s footrest is fitted.
The wide-opening doors make it easy to get in and out – both front and rear – and the seats aren’t that high that you have to jump up.
Rear seat passengers won’t complain about legroom either – even with the driver’s seat set for a tall driver there was sti ll ample space for the knees, while the feet slip easily underneath the front seat.
The Murano is touted as a five-seater, but in reality it’s a comfortable four-seater. Anyway, with the middle passenger out the way you can flip down the centre rear armrest and place your cups in the holders found there. The rear seatbacks are reclinable.
A large double-storey centre bin provides storage space, but we found the door pockets too small and narrow.
The 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold forward by either pulling on a strap at the seat or a lever mounted in the luggage bay. This increases luggage space, but they don’t go completely flat. The headrests needn’t be removed.
Under the floor of the luggage compartment you’ll find a full-size spare wheel and easily accessible jack and tools, as well as extra storage space. There’s a 12V outlet too.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Where the previous Murano’s CVT system disappointed with its lag and rubber band feeling, the new system delights. Floor it to overtake, and there’s an immediate “kick-down”. The rev counter flicks up to 6000 r/min and there’s a surge of power, with none of the lag of conventional auto boxes that first have to drop down a few notches to the required gear.
From standstill acceleration is a little hesitant initially, with the torque peak being at a highish 4400 r/min, but once you get going you’re rewarded with smooth, strong acceleration. Nissan claims eight seconds from 0-100 km/h, and we managed a still impressive 8,72 seconds (for an 1,8-ton vehicle) at sea level. Top speed is governed to 210 km/h.
Thanks to a clever computer programmer you can flick the gear lever across and shift “gears” manually – handy when you want to test this SUV’s sports car soul in a twisty mountain pass.
The CVT system also improves economy, as power is supplied as and when needed. On a flat road at a true 120 km/h the engine idles around 2000 r/min.
Power comes from Nissan’s smooth 3,5-litre V6 engine, now with 19 kW and 18 Nm more for a total of 191 kW at 6000 r/min and 336 Nm at 4400 r/min.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Murano rides on what Nissan calls its Dplatform from the Altima, now slightly bigger and, importantly, more rigid. Added are revised suspension geometry front and rear, and lighter components, and a speed-sensitive steering system with hydraulic assistance.
We found the steering nicely weighted, with good feedback from the wheels and even a degree of bump steer. Sharp corners saw controllable understeer, and through faster corners the Murano went where you aimed it – it’s surprisingly nimble for such a large vehicle.
In normal conditions most of the power goes to the front wheels, but when accelerating or driving briskly the rear axle gets fed too, for predictable and safe handling. Drive too briskly and the Vehicle Dynamic Control intervenes by throttling back and braking different wheels.
Rough surfaces and smaller irregularities made themselves felt through the seat, but the Murano treated speed humps with disdain, and generally offered a very comfortable ride.
Gravel road comfort and handling was particularly impressive, with the vehicle feeling predictable, safe and comfortable even at high speeds.
Although four-wheel driven with a 50/50 lock function, the Murano is far happier going fast on gravel than trying to mount an obstacle. It’s too low for serious off-road work, and not meant for roughing it.
★ ★ ★ ★
What impresses most is how effortless the Murano is to drive. You get in, press the start button and take off, using only the throttle and steering for control, be it in heavy town traffic or out on the open road.
Comfort is top notch, as is quality of finish, refinement, handling and spaciousness. The CVT system is one of the very best, and provides spirited performance without neck-whipping changes.
Niggles? Very few. Just hope Nissan SA sorts out the satnav system soon.