So, after such a good run, and with so many competitors now trading in the CUV marketplace, how does Nissan hope to follow on from such a lineage?
Well, I've just previewed the 2009 Murano, and I must say that they have managed to deal with that problem quite well indeed. The new 2009 Murano, which you can expect to see hitting the dealerships in early '08, is, in many ways, remarkably similar-looking to the current model, at least from a distance.
However, as you get closer, the picture changes quite dramatically. The new Murano boasts even more boldness to the exterior, and just about every panel has been redesigned to project precisely that.
From the completely new front grille look which integrates with the new HID bi-functional projector headlights, one gets the feeling of a vehicle re-birth. Kind of like that famous saying from the Six Million Dollar Man TV show... "We can rebuild him, bigger, better, faster!"
The fenders, which were always a rather prominent feature on the Murano, are now even more, well... prominent! This works extremely well with the sculptured lines on the rocker panels, as it almost pulls your attention inward towards the doors, as if inviting you to climb aboard.
Obviously, Nissan needed to maintain the sporty appearance of the current model, and what with the new exterior lines and the addition of some stylish 18-inch aluminum wheels (20-inch on the LE version), I'd say that they possibly surpassed themselves there.
The overall look to the new Murano is one of a tough, yet agile performer. It sits squarely on the road and one gets a distinct feeling of confidence and capability from simply looking at it.
Of course, the exterior is not the only area that has been given a shake-up. The 2009 Murano is now being built on the new "D" platform, similar to that of the 2007 Altima and Altima Coupe. It also benefits from a revised VQ-Series 24-valve, 3.5-liter DOHC V6, which produces 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque.
This is coupled to an advanced "new-generation" Xtronic CVT transmission which features Adaptive Shift Control. This system basically senses driver input and adjusts to suit his/her particular driving style. Naturally, being a CVT transmission, it can't actually change gear ratios as we know it, but revised mapping allows for more-efficient belt movement and therefore, smoother and faster responses.
The 2009 Murano also features an advanced AWD system, and comes standard with Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), and a Traction Control System (TCS). One particular thing which I like about the Nissan system is the fact that the vehicle always starts off in a 50/50 AWD mode. This allows for maximum traction from a standing start, yet then adjusts itself to everyday driving situations, such as highway use, where it becomes a FWD 100:0 split. At other times, it operates anywhere in between those two figures.
We now come to the interior, and straight away I have to say that I was extremely pleased to see that the dash layout has been redesigned. The pod-type look on the current Murano was something which I loathed with a passion. To me, it looked as if they had completely forgotten about it, then at the last moment, bolted in one from another vehicle entirely! The layout on the new Murano is much more pleasing to the eye, as the display is housed in a molded and nicely-flowing design. The illumination on the display is also worthy of mention, as the choice of color adds further to the sporty feel of the vehicle.
The seating has been completely redesigned for '09, and is available in either quality cloth, or double-stitched leather. In the rear, there is a 60/40 fold-flat reclining seat, with an available power-return feature. Also as an option, both front and rear seats are available heated.
The interior of the new Murano now features ambient lighting, a dual-zone HVAC system, and in the rear cargo area, a lift-up cargo organizer. I liked that idea very much, and I'm sure this will appeal to both men and women alike, as it would appear to stop everything from a potted plant to a spare gas can, rolling around.
Another rather nice option available on the '09 Murano is the power-sliding glass moonroof with second-row skylight. This allows plenty of light to enter the cabin area, which certainly adds a feeling of space to the interior.
Naturally, the new Murano comes with plenty of safety features such as six standard air bags, driver and front passenger side-impact supplemental airbags, roof-mounted curtain side-impact and rollover supplemental airbags for front- and rear-seat occupant head protection. It also features front-seat Active Head Restraints, and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).
Phew! That was a mouthful, eh? You know, with so many companies adding more and more safety features to their new models, especially ones with complicated long-winded names, I can see the day coming when we will have to go back to simply saying "it's fully-loaded", or maybe "fully safety-loaded". After all, these abbreviations, of which many are company-specific, simply overcomplicate a review like this. My suggestion is, if you really want to compare safety features on a model, research the available technical data.
Ok, fair enough, rant over; now we come to my favorite part, which is how the vehicle drives.
Now Nissan told us at our initial model briefing, that it had made use of several lightweight aluminum suspension components on their new platform. To be honest, we hear this kind of stuff all the time from manufacturers, but I can honestly say that the '09 Murano is one of the few vehicles that I have driven where you could actually feel the effects of that.
The new Murano drives remarkably well, and the suspension soaks up road imperfections with ease. It feels light and maneuverable in the twists and turns, and yet, at the same time, it feels well-planted on the road. To put it plain and simply, the '09 Murano inspires a high level of confidence in ability of the vehicle.
To illustrate that further, during the preview, I spent several hours driving in what can only be described as "horrendous driving conditions". Arizona, which apparently had not seen rain for the previous 3 months, was granted its wish tenfold, because the heavens opened up and the rain came down by the bucket load.
The news constantly reported flash floods and vehicle accidents. In fact, we passed numerous vehicles that had left the roadway. However, it has to be said, that during the entire drive I felt totally secure and at ease with the vehicle, and when you think about it, isn't that what CUV ownership is really all about?
The new Murano range from Nissan will feature three models, the S AWD, the SL AWD, and the top of the line LE AWD. Expect to see these arriving at dealerships early in the New Year. As of yet, no pricing has been announced.