CAR REVIEWS

2005 Nissan Murano

2005 Nissan Murano image

Text: Jude P. Morte / Photos: Jude P. Morte | posted July 11, 2005 00:00

Nissan's latest work of art

Now here's an avenue auto manufacturers rarely take: build a sport utility vehicle (SUV) that's not really capable of trekking into the wilderness-which hardly any SUV owners do anyway-then admit it in your advertising and marketing campaigns and try to use it to your advantage. Nissan Motor Philippines, Inc. (NMPI) tries to grab the said idea by the horns and turn it into a potential bestseller. The result is the Nissan Murano, one of the rare "crossover" vehicles that have graced Philippine shores since 2002.

Made primarily for the North American market and launched in 2003, the Nissan Murano hopes to put a sporty spin on the SUV market by offering a car-based SUV that handles and drives like performance cars. Frankly, this is nothing new in the local market. For example, the compact SUV Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander platforms are based, respectively, on the Impreza WRX and Evolution series rally cars. But with the Murano, NMPI hopes to break new ground in the relatively terra incognito crossover vehicle segment. For those who don't follow the new car circuit closely, the term "crossover" vehicle may seem new. While it may be a recently coined phrase, the actual idea has been around for several years. A crossover is essentially a vehicle that blends two or more types of cars into one. A good example of this in the local market would be the Volvo XC70 Cross Country (introduced in May 2002), a mix of the V50 station wagon, the S40/S60 sedans and its XC90 SUV.

With thoughts of crossover vehicles and performance sedans dancing in his head, the author managed to procure a sunlit copper Nissan Murano as his faithful steed for 53 hours. The result still leaves an indelible impression on his mind.

The aesthetic experience

Works of art result when formal interest (interest in order) and cognitive interest (interest in meaning or learning) come together. In short, a work of art gives a special kind of experience that unites pleasure in the perception of order and learning. This "work of art" viewpoint is primarily the first perception of the Murano's exterior; hardly surprising considering that the vehicle was named after a type of glass sculpture found (and still being made) by artisans who live in islands near Venice (Italy). The artwork is known for its cutting edge design, and like its artwork namesake the vehicle's exterior exudes an all-new (some might say it's a bit unusual) outside look.

The Murano is rolling sculpture, designed to look like an SUV on the bottom and a sports sedan on the top. So while it appears sleek and aggressive, it also challenges your sense of proportion. The huge 18-inch wheels (wrapped around Dunlop 225/65R18 tires) and the flared fenders are quite muscular, but they're topped by a roofline that is rather small as compared to other SUVs in its price range (the Murano is Php 2.8M). To some it's a blend that borders on a personality disorder, but for most who encountered the Murano during those insightful 53 hours, it's a pleasing eye-popping experience. Case in point: as the author and REV! photographer Ed Simon were shooting the SUV in various places in Araneta Center, University of the Philippines (Diliman) and Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU), lots of people (especially females of the 19-30 age range) often took long looks at the Murano (and even getting close at pointblank range to it). "Driving a work of art must score well with the ladies," mused Mr. Simon.

Helping the Murano achieve its distinctly unique look are its chrome sculpted grille, upswept side window line, chrome door handles, rounded rear end, and contoured clear lamps. Inside and out, the vehicle is rolling sculpture. As stylized as all of the panels are, they become familiar quickly, and in the case of the interior, are user-friendly. Because of the Murano's car origins, it is able to incorporate a more sculpted outer appearance resulting in a sleeker body than would be possible when starting with a truck platform. Nissan calls it a "sculpture in motion" design theme. Whatever you call it, the result is a very sleek looking car that nicely incorporates hard edges with soft corners.

Purpose-driven interior

As one views the Murano's interior, one immediately notices a deceptively luxurious setting. Swathed in black leather mixed with genuine aluminum trim, the interior may look Spartan but plop down on the seats and one notices gobs of occupant-friendly amenities. Slide into the driver's seat and you'll find that visibility is good from the view rearward; also, the rearward view is surprisingly not compromised by the stylishly thick D-pillar. The steering wheel feels like its right in your lap, arranged more like a car rather than an SUV, while the dashboard gauges are reminiscent of the Lexus IS300 (albeit in Nissan's trademark amber hue), fairly easy to read and large enough to be seen from the rear seats.

Front seats are comfortable and supportive, and a big pod juts out from the center dash, screaming "These are for audio and climate controls." Perfect for the perpetually hurried driver, the aircon controls are close at hand and are very easy to familiarize/memorize, and the aircon delivers the trademark Arctic cold Nissan airconditioning without fail. Even with the presence of leather seats, the airconditioning manages to dissipate heat trapped inside the interior quickly. On the other hand, the 225-watt Bose sound system faithfully replicates nearly all tones audible to the human ear, but needs a little help in the treble department. But buttons and levers on the left hand side of the steering wheel make it easy to toggle between volume levels, modes (cassette/six-CD changer/radio, but sadly no MP3) and the 12 preset FM stations/six preset AM stations.

There is a driver information screen is right smack in the middle of the dashboard console, very useful for determining average speed, time, distance traveled, fuel consumption (liters per 100 kilometers) and even distance to your next tire rotation/scheduled maintenance. The amber background of the driver info center calls front occupants into attention quickly, though the amber readout font should be a bit bigger. One gets to activate the said screen via buttons and a toggle joystick located below the screen.

Front seats are comfortable and supportive, and a big pod juts out from the center dash, screaming "These are for audio and climate controls." Perfect for the perpetually hurried driver, the aircon controls are close at hand and are very easy to familiarize/memorize, and the aircon delivers the trademark Arctic cold Nissan airconditioning without fail. Even with the presence of leather seats, the airconditioning manages to dissipate heat trapped inside the interior quickly. On the other hand, the 225-watt Bose sound system faithfully replicates nearly all tones audible to the human ear, but needs a little help in the treble department. But buttons and levers on the left hand side of the steering wheel make it easy to toggle between volume levels, modes (cassette/six-CD changer/radio, but sadly no MP3) and the 12 preset FM stations/six preset AM stations.

There is a driver information screen is right smack in the middle of the dashboard console, very useful for determining average speed, time, distance traveled, fuel consumption (liters per 100 kilometers) and even distance to your next tire rotation/scheduled maintenance. The amber background of the driver info center calls front occupants into attention quickly, though the amber readout font should be a bit bigger. One gets to activate the said screen via buttons and a toggle joystick located below the screen.

There is a large center console between the front seats, separating the front seats so that no one will confuse the with a minivan interior. Featuring a removable inner box, the center console carries quite a capacity due to its cavernous dimensions. Places to put stuff of all sorts are located around the seven-speed automatic transmission (a/t) housing (two of them feature removable inner boxes), within the doors, at the dashboard-spanning recess in front of the front passengers and within the pouches behind backrests of the front passengers. There are only four cupholders located within the SUV, two beside the center console two more behind the center console; unfortunately it's at the base of the rear passenger footwell, making drinks hard to reach for elderly folk and the frequent back pain sufferers.

Since the walls and glass of the Murano curve inward toward its occupants, your expectation is that it might be crowded inside. But because Murano is a five-seater that is the same size as a seven-seater, the backseat is like a limousine's. One could still cross his or her legs in the rear seat. Plus, the rear backrests can be adjusted by pulling on a strap on the extreme right and left of the rear seats, further adding to the already comfortable seating position. On the other hand, the front seats feature power-assisted seating, with the driver's seat offering two seat position settings (located near the driver's side grab handle) to accommodate nearly every backside. And speaking of power-assisted features, the powered glass sunroof enables one to tilt the roof up or down in one button touch, while the sliding feature offers five different preset positions. The onus is that the sunroof's total area is a bit small as compared to the sliding glass roof on the BMW X5, which covers nearly the whole roofline.

For the frequent cargo hauler, the Murano offers a lot of cargo space. In normal mode (rear seats upright), the SUV swallows four golf bags. But if one wishes to accommodate additional bric-a-brac, the rear seats flip forward in one step and hide flush to the floor with clever manual levers located inside its rearmost corners, turning the Murano into a two-seat wagon. However, the bulky tonneau cover flaps around and takes up too much room. And like its X-Trail brother, opening the rear hatch is limited to the hatch door proper (located underneath the Nissan logo), for there is no way to open the hatch's glass partition separately from the door. This can be a hindrance to the grocery shopper or frequent hauler who has to carry two armloads in either hand or arm.

Eye candy for the motorhead

The Murano pleases the motorhead the as well as the artist, making you engage yourself more in the driving experience. NMPI succeeds in matching the Murano's carlike ride in an SUV-like package, with a four-wheel independent suspension setup (including a multi-link rear suspension) similar to that found on the Altima and road grip that can rival its Sentra passenger car line. Attempt hard cornering and you'll notice sharp turn-in understeer, but can be corrected with a slight lift of the throttle or steering wheel motion. In fact the Murano stands its ground around sharp bends and doesn't fling you to the sides, uncommon in an SUV and a big plus. Steering is fairly stiff (as in Volvo V50-stiff), but as you go beyond 80 kph (or attempt emergency lane changes), one will appreciate the heaviness of the steering.

The Murano shares its underpinnings with the very sporty, recently redesigned, US-based current model Nissan Altima, and totes the very same VQ35DE (3.5-liter, naturally aspirated) engine found in the Altima SE and the 350Z. Good for at least 240 hp and 318 NMs of torque, the very thought of a 240+ hp, all-wheel drive wagon instantly brings to mind the US-market Audi A6 Avant or All Road. And if there's one thing Nissan has proven in the past, it's that they know how to build a performance car. In this regard the Murano backs up its pedigree with a mind-numbing display of speed; the author managed to record in the Murano a whopping 200 kph speed on Batangas' Star Tollway one early Sunday morning. Also, the author observed that with all that power and torque at his disposal, he was able to chase a 1998-2000 Mazda MX-5 Miata from the C5-Kalayaan ( Makati) intersection all the way to the C5-Bayani Road area in Taguig, leaving the driver scratching his head as he zoomed past him on C5-Bayani Road.

Tranny-wise, the Murano offers a seven-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT) with all-wheel drive (billed as X-tronic CVT). CVT virtually eliminates the feeling of "shifting" in a traditional automatic transmission, and constantly works to find the best range for the engine to deliver maximum performance in any given situation. Traveling in mountainous or hilly areas, one will notice the lack of "hunting" where the transmission shifts up and down trying to find just the right gear selection. The overall result is enhanced performance as well as a smoother ride.

Other performance features include stability control, traction control, stabilizer bars, four-wheel vented disc brakes with anti-lock brake assist (ABS) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), and high intensity discharge (HID) headlights that are a real help (even at the dim setting) when going through dark areas such as the stretch of Taft Avenue from EDSA to Vito Cruz. And if you think that the Murano's VQ engine is all about performance, it is interesting to note that the author managed to record an eight kilometers/liter consumption rate in two days of mixed highway/city driving.

With a name like Murano, one cannot help but associate Nissan's newest SUV with artwork whose country of origin is commonly associated with the Renaissance. If the X-Trail is a symbol of the beginning of NMPI's renaissance, then the Murano is a symbol of the height of NMPI return to glory. Perhaps it would be safe to say that the Murano is Michelangelo Buonaroti's famous works - the Pieta, the Creation of Man and David - all rolled into one, awe inspiring and timeless.