Driving the all-new 2009 Nissan Murano, I had a flashback to winter, 2002, when a blizzard struck the Washington, D.C. area. My niece, who suffers from Sickle Cell Anemia, was having a crisis, and had to be quickly transported to Children’s Hospital in Washington. The only problem was the snow was so deep, even emergency vehicles were having a rough time getting through.
But I had a trump card in the driveway, as the advanced all-wheel drive system on my tester 2003 Murano, coupled with sensible driving, would take us all the way from Crofton, Maryland where my niece lived to the care she desperately needed at Children’s.
Fast forward January, 2008, and I’m in the new ’09 Murano in the foothills of Atlanta, Georgia. No blizzard here, but there were enough snaking turns to fully evaluate the road prowess of the second generation of the strong selling Crossover Utility from Nissan. With a totally revamped, more rigid platform, advanced version of the “Xtronic” Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and intuitive all-wheel drive, the 2009 Murano has the road savvy of the first generation model taken to the next level.
Styling for the new Murano is pleasantly evolutionary. Nissan wisely left well enough alone by keeping the basic dimensions within inches of the original. A dramatic new grille, fascia and headlights define the front. The side view is dominated by large fender openings and a defined “character” line. Available 20-inch wheels are a must have feature (they’re standard on the Murano LE trim), as they give Murano a muscular look. The rear features a redesigned hatch with LED tail lights. Dual exhausts with chrome finishers complete the fresh re-do of an already good design.
The first gen Murano enjoyed sales growth over its five year life span. The only real complaint about that model was the so-called “rubberband” effect of Murano’s CVT. CVTs enjoy variable gear ratios suited to whatever the current driving situation is. There’s no gear shift feeling like you have in a conventional automatic transmission. But the first model’s tranny seemed to wind up forever, kind of like rolling up a rubber band on a pencil and waiting for it to unwind, except it never did. Nissan has fixed the “flaw” by introducing the Xtronic CVT, which exhibits none of the quirky characteristics of the first gen unit. Shifts are seamless and well defined. Xtronic features advanced shift control logic with a high speed computer processor, offering shift patterns that adapt to the driver’s style and driving environment. Like to accelerate quickly? Xtronic remembers this and sets shift parameters accordingly. Slippery outside? Murano’s powerful CPU can sense this as well, tailoring shift points so you don’t get into sideways trouble. The new unit features more slick engineering that reduces overall internal component friction by 20%, a plus for better fuel economy. Overall shift speed is improved by 30% over the previous generation CVT.
On all-wheel drive models, Xtronic is linked to the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system that connects yaw, wheel slip and steering angle sensors for maximum traction and control. Torque is initially set in a 50/50 split front to rear. If conditions are ideal, torque is split 100% to the front wheels, essentially making this AWD model front-wheel drive. The system is variable, with no less than 30% of torque going to the rear wheels under tricky road conditions. The result, Nissan claims, is that Murano is more secure and stable in various road conditions than vehicles without AWD or even with traditional AWD systems found on other vehicles.
Under the hood lies Nissan’s tried and true 3.5-liter V6 with a healthy 25% bump in horsepower over last year’s model (now at 265 hp). This engine is quiet, powerful and very smooth, and returns respectable 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway fuel economy.
Perhaps the nicest feature of all on the new Murano is the inviting interior. Gone are the days when buying a Nissan meant compromising on interior style and comfort. Cheesy plastics have been replaced with real wood and aluminum trim. Hard surfaces are now soft to the touch. Poor quality audio has been replaced by concert quality systems. An available dual panel glass moonroof brightens your road travels. A nifty, multi-function cargo divider pops up in the cargo area to help you sort out groceries and gear. Once folks find out about Nissan’s interiors, Honda and Toyota better watch out. With Mazda coming on like gangbusters, and Nissan raising its own quality bar, the war for number one in the Japanese car arena is sure to heat up.
The 2009 Murano is available in front wheel drive or all-wheel drive with various trim levels. Prices range from $26,399 for the FWD “S”, to $35,910 for the premium “LE” AWD.
Nissan refers to the upgrades in this terrific offering as”Murano-ness”. It’s a word that could become a standard bearer when defining the near luxury SUV class.