2008 Nissan Murano

The Good:
– Excellent ride comfort
– Spacious for passengers
– Good cabin materials
The Bad:
– No low range gearing
– Not so spacious for luggage
– Weird dashboard design

Nissan has a large line-up of 4WD trucks on the showroom floor, all about as visually appealing as a tub of Lego to a Dubai labourer. Then suddenly, the French-controlled Japanese company dropped a bombshell of a vehicle back in 2003, calling it the Murano. Introduced GCC-wide in 2005, it pushed the boundaries of style back then, and continues virtually unchanged into the 2008 model year. Nissan supplied us a brand new tester for two days, and judging by first impressions, the design has easily stood the test of time.

The bulging flesh all over the Murano was a daring move to put form over function. But it gives the fairly affordable crossover an upscale demeanour that even the nameplate Germans could not match. But styling is only part of the battle. Unfortunately–or fortunately–for Nissan, we had a new 2007 BMW X5 4.8i tester in our camp during the same weekend when we picked up the Murano, so we got to directly compare it to the top vehicle in this category, in every aspect.

As much of a tease as the exterior is, the interior attempts to follow the same pattern of individuality, but ultimately ends as an exercise in peculiarity. The huge dashboard is mounted very low, with a weird-shaped gauge cluster and an outdated LCD screen. But once we settled in, we realised that the well-built interior is actually quite upscale compared to its direct competition. All upper dash and door surfaces are covered in soft-touch materials, and both the front cup-holders even have a cover. In contrast, the Ford Edge and even the expensive Chevy Tahoe have cheap hard plastics over most surfaces, and all the cup-holders are exposed and simply moulded into the centre console. The overly large dash can seriously be used to have a buffet meal on, but it didn’t bug us after a while.

Passenger space is excellent, with good legroom and headroom both front and back. The leather seats have moderate bolstering at best, but they are well-stitched and are even colour-matched to the steering wheel and dashboard. However, while headroom is easily more than the low-cut Ford Edge, the stylish rump of the five-seater Murano reduces its useable luggage space drastically. Of course, the split rear seatback folds down to increase cargo space, but we couldn’t find any obvious latches to pull in the ten seconds we spent looking for one. Along with hidden cup-holders both front and back, there are storage spaces under the front central armrest, in the centre console, and probably elsewhere too, but we didn’t pay attention during our short test.

There is a satisfying amount of features available, including a full keyless entry and start system, cruise control, sunroof, a Bose stereo with six-CD changer and wheel buttons, dual exhaust tips, power windows, electric mirrors, power front seats, possibly only two airbags, xenon headlights and a trip computer with a sizeable monochrome LCD screen with calculator-style fonts that also shows radio settings. While the stereo is average at best, the simple knob-based dual-zone a/c is excellent. Equipped with rear vents in the b-pillars, the a/c is easily one of the best we’ve ever experienced, bettering the Ford Edge and even the BMW X5 in summer comfort easily.

The Murano is powered by Nissan’s corporate V6, this time pumping out 240 hp at 5800 rpm and 330 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm from 3.5 litres of displacement. These are respectable figures for the gruff-yet-smooth engine, although it only led us to an average 0-100 kph time of 9 seconds flat, with a fuel consumption figure forced down to 14.8 litres per 100 km by a lot of highway driving. It slipped our mind that the Murano has a gearless CVT transmission instead of a conventional automatic, which we only realised when it became obvious we couldn’t feel any gear-shifts. There was no shifting taking place at all, and the revs just went up and down depending on throttle input. When we floored it on our acceleration run, the revs went up to 6000 rpm and stayed there, as if stuck in first gear, but still gaining speed. This is how CVT works, but it is totally unnoticeable in lazy street driving. For kicks, Nissan added a tiptronic manual shifting feature that simulates instantaneous gear changes, which was an amusing way to pass the time.

The highway ride is faultless, with most bumps easily soaked up without feeling bouncy. Road noise is minimal while wind howl only reaches moderate levels at 120 kph. All-round visibility is surprisingly good, with a high driving height and good mirror placement, even though we expected the stylish rear pillars to blind us from the inside.

With 225/65 tyres to depend on, the 18-inch alloy wheels offer a safe amount of grip. Body roll is only moderate at most, so it is easy to push the car and reach its early limit, where understeer starts creeping in. The steering is soft and easy, but there is no feedback from the road. The ABS-assisted four-wheel-disc brakes are linear, strong when pushed, and good enough for daily driving. Our other weekend tester, the larger-than-life BMW X5, easily outclassed the Murano in every way on the road, but then again, the German costs twice as much with half the expected reliability.

As expected, the off-road abilities of the all-wheel-drive Murano are nothing to brag about. It has no low-range gearing, but to its credit, the Murano can tackle flat sand with ease, and when we ventured for a minute into soft sand, the Murano made it through while our fancy BMW got stuck. There is also a “4WD Lock” button, presumably to split torque distribution evenly among the wheels on demand, although we didn’t need to use it.

The Murano is almost a slam dunk by Nissan. We can see many of these driving around every day, but we have also come across many conservative people who didn’t buy one because the interior was too “out there” for them. Even then, the Murano is built better than its American competition, has a fair amount of power, and is priced only a pinch above average. It is not a typical crossover, since it gives up bed space for style, but we applaud Nissan for taking the plunge into modelling.

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