The original set the bar for the category. Can the follow-up do it again?
When it’s time to change a popular model, should it be all or nothing? Nissan must have agonized over that question before locking in the design of its 2009 Murano.
Reshaping a vehicle as wellliked and as modern looking as the Murano might have even seemed like a no-win venture for this Japanbased automaker. First displayed back in 2003, and an offshoot of the previous-generation Altima sedan, this urban-oriented sport-ute came straight from the show-car circuit to set new standards for style and comfort. In a word, it was a knockout.
It was also an early adopter of continuously variable transmission (CVT) technology, which eliminates traditional gear sets in favor of an infinitely adjustable belt and pulley system. Quicker acceleration and better fuel economy are the claimed benefits.
The combination of hot looks, roomy innards and decent power has provided Nissan dealers with a steady stream of Murano customers. It’s the predecessor to numerous followers, including the Acura RDX, BMW X3, Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7 and other five-passenger wonder wagons with all-wheel-drive on the menu.
So, just how much tinkering, tweaking and fiddling did Nissan dare undertake when it came to updating the 2007 Murano to current 2009 specs? (Nissan chose to skip the 2008 model year, instead creating an early 2009 entry.)
The answer seems to be just enough to get attention, but not enough to upset the fan base and send them across the street.
In the Murano’s case, this has involved grafting on a new hood, attaching a more prominent grille and headlights, restyling the liftgate and attaching bulging fenders all around.
The Murano has lost some of its former smooth shape and now strikes a tougher pose. The resculpting also makes it appear more closely aligned to the recently introduced Rogue, Nissan’s junior-edition wagon-ute.
The cabin has also come in for major work, including new ergonomic seats, lockable floor console, dashboard and instrument panel. Push-button start is now standard fare as is a theater-style ambient lighting system and a telescoping steering wheel.
The Murano’s 3.5-liter V6 returns with 25 more horsepower for a total of 265. It’s connected to a secondgeneration CVT that’s designed to be smoother and quicker to respond to driver commands.
Even the Murano’s available all-wheel-drive system has been reprogrammed with shorter a reaction time to more quickly move the power around when traction is dicey.
The body and mechanical content now reside atop a platform developed for the current (secondgeneration) Altima sedan, which is claimed to be more resistant to bending and twisting while reducing noise, vibration and harshness. As well, the popular Nissan rests on new-style 18-inch wheels, with 20-inchers now optional.
The base S and mid-level SL are both available in front- or all-wheeldrive, while the top-end LE is AWD only. The S comes with climate and cruise control, six-speaker audio system, assorted power accessories, six airbags plus traction and stability control to help keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction.
The SL adds fog lights, power telescopic steering wheel, leather seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, four-way power passenger seat and a split-folding 60/40 rear seat. The loaded-up LE adds a power liftgate, heated front seats and outside mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, 20-inch wheels, premium 11-speaker sound system and a seven-inch information display/rear-view monitor.
Heading the list of options is a power moonroof with a second-row fixed skylight, navigation system and an uprgraded entertainment package featuring a nine-inch screen.
The 2009 Murano contains plenty of its previous (and much-appreciated) design cues, although the new vehicle charts its own course as Nissan attempts to reset the bar, just as the original did. From a technology standpoint, that’s a given, but when it comes to design it’s anyone’s guess just how buyers will receive something that’s this leading edge. It’s a fine line the original walked with ease. We’ll soon know if Nissan can build on that success.