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2004 Nissan Murano
Holly Reich

Introduction
The Nissan Murano drives almost as well as a luxury sports sedan, but carries cargo like a Honda Pilot sport-utility. The Murano is a crossover vehicle, designed to haul cargo like a sport-utility, but ride and drive like a car. The Murano is different from most crossovers, however, in that it's biased toward the car part of the equation. It offers more of a car-like ambience and handles better on pavement than competitors like the Pilot and Toyota Highlander. One look is all it takes to know how different the Murano is.

The Murano is designed to seat four or five people in comfort. Nissan resisted the temptation to cram three rows of seats inside like the Highlander and Pilot do. Like a car, the Murano has just two rows. It's not a substitute for a minivan, nor does it look like one. Murano's wild styling promotes better aerodynamics in addition to high fashion, starting with a sleek front end and a roof that curves inward.

The futuristic look is backed by sporty performance. The Murano is powered by Nissan's beefy 245-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, the same engine found in the 350Z sports car. It comes with a continuously variable transmission, a high-tech automatic that's smooth and responsive. Murano's road-tuned suspension offers a smooth and sporty, carlike handling. All-wheel drive is available for better grip and stability in foul weather. The Murano shares much of its underpinnings with the Nissan Altima and Maxima sedans (but it is not related to the Infiniti FX).

The Nissan Murano is an excellent choice for someone who wants the smooth ride and responsive handling of a car with the cargo space of an SUV or wagon. And it works well for dogs.

The Murano was launched as a brand-new nameplate for 2003, and now comes pre-wired for a satellite radio receiver. Model Lineup
The Nissan Murano comes in SL ($28,200) and SE ($29,150) models. Both offer a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($1,600). All models are powered by the 3.5-liter V6 mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission that Nissan calls the Xtronic.

All Murano models come well equipped with features above the class standard; there is no bare-bones model. Both the SE and SL come with four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake distribution, and a big 21.7-gallon gas tank. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, 10-way adjustable power driver's seat, reclining rear seat backs, dual-zone automatic temperature control, a high-power AM/FM/CD audio system, power windows with auto up/down feature in front, and keyless remote entry.

The SE comes with a firmer suspension. High-intensity Xenon headlights, which have a manual leveling feature, are standard on the SE and optional on the SL.

Options come packaged in ascending groups. Both the SL and SE offer a Premium package ($1,500), which adds roof rails, adjustable pedals, a cargo cover and net, and a more powerful stereo with subwoofer and auto volume control. The Sunroof package ($2,500) adds an electric sunroof to the Premium equipment. The SL Leather package ($3,499) adds leather upholstery. The SL Touring package ($4,300) includes heated front seats with memory, heated mirrors, and the HID Xenon headlights. The SE Touring package ($4,000) includes leather and heated front seats with memory.

Vehicle Dynamic Control ($750) is an important option because it can help the driver maintain control and avoid skids. VDC includes a tire-pressure monitoring system. At the top of the list is a GPS navigation system ($2,000). A chrome wheel package is available for SL models ($1,200). The rear-seat DVD entertainment package comes with a 6.4-inch drop-down screen, remote control and two wireless headsets. Satellite radio, Sirius or XM, is a dealer installed option ($400).

Safety features surpass the class standard. Murano comes with a sophisticated ABS, dual-stage frontal air bags with seat belt sensors, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-cabin curtain style head-protection airbags and active front head restraints. Walkaround
The Murano is named after the glass sculpted in the islands near Venice, known for both its high-tech production methods and its beauty. In the Nissan Murano, this duality is most obvious in the styling.

The Murano is designed to blend the look of a car and a truck. The top half of the body is sleek like a car, while the bottom half is bulky like a truck. Overall, the look is much sleeker than tall wagon-shaped SUVs, yet still rugged.

Contributing to Murano's muscular styling are the huge 18-inch wheels, which come standard. Sculpted, vertical-stack headlights define the front corners. The exotic rear hatchback is made of reinforced plastic because steel won't bend easily in such a complex shape. The windshield and front side windows are tinted green to deflect UV radiation; the rear side and rear windows are near black for privacy.

As its looks suggest, the Murano is an aerodynamic machine. Details in the design help it slip quietly through the air. Airflow-improving devices include an underbody engine cover, front and rear tire deflectors, a rear spoiler, and aerodynamic mirrors. Combined with the low frontal area and roof, these enhancements increase fuel efficiency and limit wind noise at high speeds.

To finish the high-fashion look, Nissan offers eight color combinations for the exterior two-tone scheme, with three interior hues to mix and match. The colors were chosen carefully to promote a luxury look. Interior
Climbing into the Nissan Murano is easier than climbing into a Honda Pilot. Slide into the driver's seat and you'll notice that outward visibility is excellent in all directions. It's a mild surprise that the view rearward isn't compromised by the stylishly thick D-pillars, but the Murano is full of surprises. The seating position and steering wheel orientation make it feel more like a car than the typical SUV.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, even for people six-feet, four inches tall. Petite drivers are also able to get comfortable, and power-adjustable pedals help ensure a good seating position, particularly for shorter women. The overall interior fit and finish are good, though Nissan interiors are generally not quite as good as Toyota and Honda interiors. Murano's instrument cluster is garnished with genuine brushed aluminum trim that gives it a younger, sportier look.

A prominent pod juts from the center of the Murano's dash, presenting both audio and climate controls. We aren't crazy about the pod's appearance, but it puts the switches close at hand. Murano's standard dual-zone, fully automatic climate control is a step above in this class, and features rear air-conditioning vents located on the B-pillars, good for passengers and dogs.

Buttons on the stereo are on the small side, but easy to use once you get the hang of them. The preset buttons, for example, can be programmed to select both AM and FM stations at the same time, without have to press the separate mode button first. Controls on the steering wheel allow easy volume adjustments. The navigation display has the latest three-dimensional birds-eye view. We sometimes find this easier to follow, and certainly more fun, than the typical flat map.

Useful features make the Murano a satisfying car for day-to-day use. A large center console separates the front seats, so no one is likely to feel like their sitting in a minivan. The center console features a two-tiered lockable storage box with enough room for a laptop computer or a purse, cell phone, sunglasses, coins, cups and bottles. The door pockets flip out for easy access, and there's a hidden storage tray and two bins under the cargo floor. There are also three power outlets: front-passenger footwell, center console and rear.

Because the Murano's body curves inward toward its occupants, the expectation might be that it feels cramped inside. It does not. Instead, the cabin feels airy. The Murano is a five-seater that's roughly the same size as seven-seat SUVs, such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. As a result, the Murano's back seat is like a limousine's. A six-foot, four-inch driver found he could cross his legs in the rear seat. The rear seatback rake adjusts easily by pulling a strap, which makes Murano's rear accommodations more comfortable than the second-row seat in many SUVs where passengers must sit uncomfortably upright.

The rear seats flop forward in one easy step, either by pulling on a strap from either of the side doors or by moving clever manual levers accessed from the rear hatch. Flopping both seatbacks down presents a big cargo area with a nice flat floor. And we mean big. The load floor measures about the same length as the seven-seat Honda Pilot's. Indeed, with maximum cargo capacity of 81.6 cubic feat, Murano dwarves nearly all of its five-seat competitors and some of the seven-seaters as well. Even with five passengers aboard, there's still a substantial 32.6 cubic feet of storage space. Moreover, the rear seats split 70/30 when they fold, so the Murano can carry one or two passengers in back with long items like skis laid flat across the other side.

On the down side, at 30.4 inches, the rear load height is a bit higher than the class average. And the Murano's bulky cargo cover seems to flap around and take up room. We'd be inclined to store it in the garage. Driving Impressions
We liked the Nissan Murano the first time we drove one, and the more we drive the different models the more we like them. Its smooth ride and powerful engine make for a truly enjoyable vehicle.

Nissan's robust 245-horsepower V6 feels mighty healthy in spite of the Murano's considerable heft at 4,000 pounds. The Murano feels as quick as a sports sedan. Indeed, it's quicker than BMW's X5 3.0, a benchmark for performance among SUVs.

The CVT automatic is responsive, and the Murano handles impressively. Hitting a big bump at the apex of a corner doesn't upset its handling. While its ground clearance exceeds the Volvo Cross Country's, the Murano rides and handles better than the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and other SUVs.

We have to judge the Murano's zoom by how quickly it passes road markers and pavement stripes, because inside the sensations suggest that the engine isn't revving very quickly. When you stomp the accelerator in the Murano, it feels like it stays in one gear all the way to terminal velocity. That feeling comes directly from the CVT, which is an automatic transmission without gears. Engineers call these transmissions "stepless." When you accelerate, instead of the conventional upshifting from lower to higher gears, the CVT has variable-diameter pulleys that act like variable gears without teeth, and changes ratios continuously. A complex steel belt is squeezed between the pulleys and transfers engine torque to the driveshafts. The CVT changes ratios more smoothly than a normal automatic transmission, and allows the engine to rev at a speed that's most efficient for acceleration. Moreover, this efficiency also improves fuel economy. Murano delivers an impressive 20/24 mpg city highway, according to EPA estimates.

The CVT in the Murano comes with just three ranges: D for normal driving, S for sportier acceleration and L for the highest ratio, or lowest "gear" range. Shifting from D to S raises engine revs 2500 rpm at a given road speed. Dropping from S to L increases engine speed by another 1000 rpm. Rev the engine near its 6600 redline and the ratio automatically reduces, thereby lowering the engine revs as the Murano's speed increases. Engine braking is programmed into the electronics that control the CVT, so when you're coasting down a steep hill, accelerometers sense this condition and increase the effective gear ratio, which is akin to downshifting a conventional transmission. Fortunately, you don't need to understand any of this, or even be aware of it, to drive the Murano. The Murano's transmission works smoothly and silently. We are particularly impressed with the silence. From a start or for passing, acceleration is quicker than with a conventional automatic. And the CVT's operation is impressively smooth. Indeed, it may feel too smooth, at first. It's surprising how deeply we're conditioned by the operation of an engine and conventional automatic transmission. The Murano's sensation of acceleration without an increase in the engine's pitch or speed takes some getting used to. The CVT works great, but we strongly recommend a test drive to experience it for yourself.

Murano's road manners are as impressive as its smooth drivetrain. The steering feels quick during turn-in, and the big 18-inch tires refrain from squealing until they are truly at the edge of cornering adhesion, increasing the driver's confidence that Murano will respond like a well-sorted sedan. It does just that up to about 8/10ths of its performance envelope, at which point it begins to understeer more than Nissan's Altima sedan.

The Murano is not a small car and its front fenders and hood slope dramatically downward and out of view so the driver needs to take care when parking or maneuvering in tight quarters.

The available all-wheel-drive system drives the front wheels until wheelspin is detected. At that point, the center differential automatically sends up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. This makes the all-wheel-drive system extremely valuable in bad weather or in emergency maneuvers. In the hands of a careful driver, the AWD Murano takes a lot of the stress out of driving through a snow storm. It improves overall traction and reduces the likelihood of skids. Moreover, all-wheel drive helps Murano achieve a truck-like towing capacity of 3500 pounds.

Vehicle Dynamic Control or VDC further improves vehicle stability in slippery situations by automatically applying brake pressure to individual wheels and reducing the power whenever it detects the tires are beginning to lose grip in a corner. This can help the driver maintain control of the car.

The brakes are highly effective and easy to modulate for smooth stops. The braking system includes four-wheel vented disc brakes with Brake Assist, which helps ensure maximum braking force in a panic stop, and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), which reduces stopping distances and improves stability by dynamically distributing the braking force between the front and rear wheels. Summary
The Nissan Murano is a tall, roomy wagon that drives like a sport sedan. Its on-road performance is first rate, delivering as much fun to the driver as a BMW X5 and other considerably more expensive SUVs. It certainly rides better than the BMW. The Murano handles with precision, speed, and more grace than most other SUVs. It is not well suited for off-road use, but does just fine on gravel roads and two-tracks.

Murano's styling is one of kind. Some love it, some don't. Your neighbors certainly won't mistake it for an Explorer. The Murano comes well equipped and its luxurious ambience gives it the feel a luxury SUV. While a fully loaded Murano approaches the base price of a Lexus RX 330, feature for feature it compares favorably with the Toyota Highlander and other vehicles in its price range.

Model as tested
Nissan Murano SL AWD ($29,800)
Basic Warranty
5 years/60,000 miles
Assembled in
Kyushyu, Japan
Destination charge
540
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
28200
Price as tested
36640
Options as tested
SL Touring Package ($4,300) includes roof rails, adjustable pedals, upgraded audio with subwoofer, cargo cover and net, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, leather seating surfaces, power passenger seat, heated front seats with memory, heated mirrors, HID Xenon headlights

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Nissan Murano SL 2WD ($28,200); SL AWD ($29,800); SE 2WD ($29,150); SE AWD ($30,750)
Safety equipment (standard)
ABS, frontal dual-stage airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain head-protection airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front active head restraints
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve variable valve timing V6
Transmissions
CVT automatic

Specifications as Tested
power mirrors, windows, driver's seat, remote keyless entry, automatic dual-zone climate control, 100-watt AM/FM/CD with steering wheel controls, auto-dimming rear mirror, HomeLink transmitter, alarm

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve variable valve timing V6
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
245 @ 5800
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/24
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/vented disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent w coil springs
Tires
P235/65R18
Suspension, rear
independent multilink

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.2/56.2/43.4
Head/hip/leg room, rear
39.2/56.6/36.1

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
81.6
Wheelbase
111.2
Length/width/height
187.6/74.0/66.5
Turning circle
37.4
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
3500
Track, front/rear
64.2/64.0
Ground clearance
7
Curb weight
3960


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