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Weidel on Wheels: Nissan’s new Murano worth the wait

By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to Gold Country Motoring
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For any car shopper who happened to be waiting around for the unveiling of last year’s Nissan Murano, the wait never ended. Nissan didn’t produce a single 2008 model. Although a surprising circumstance for such a popular vehicle, the folks at Nissan felt it wasn’t necessary, since a full redesign was coming in 2008. Who could really blame them because there was nothing really objectionable about the 2007 Murano? And let’s face it, a lot of auto manufacturers essentially trot out the same vehicle year after year without any significant changes. Following its one year absence, Nissan came out with its 2009 model. It arrived nearly as a Christmas present, delivered to dealerships in early January of this year. It was worth the wait as well, addressing a few problem areas Murano critics have pointed out in the past. At first glance, this 2009 mid-size sport utility vehicle looks just like its predecessor — attractive, sporty and quite efficient in most areas. However, there are a number of changes in this year’s Murano, adding value to an already fine car-based SUV that has always enjoyed a solid reputation since its debut in 2004, demonstrated by an increase in sales year after year. The redesign was done smartly by Nissan, which didn’t radically change the Murano’s overall attractive look due to its existing popularity. Yet significant changes did occur to the interior, exterior and under the skin, so the Murano stays competitive with a tough group of rivals. The Murano is just one of many solid options in this crossover segment. Some car shoppers will pick the slightly larger Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9, while similar models like the RAV4 (V6), Ford Edge, Pontiac Torrent GXP and Mitsubishi Outlander (V6) match up more favorably. Outwardly, the Murano has a different face, new grille and modified headlights. Nothing changes with the backside, where the design of the unique back window remains, though slightly larger. While the exterior changes may slip by some, the interior modifications are so distinct that some people might think they are viewing an Infiniti product, Nissan’s upscale division. The materials are made of higher quality and make for a very appealing cabin that includes upgraded features like a push button ignition (which I find unnecessary), dual climate control and a dedicated iPod interface. Performance is another area of improvement for all Muranos, which have a similar engine makeup — a responsive 3.5-liter, V6 that increased its horsepower by 25 to reach 265 and now has a towing limit of 3,500 pounds. The added acceleration was noticed here right away in the SL model (one of three trims) test driven here for a week. Step down on the gas pedal and be prepared for a quick getaway. Handling remains refined for the Murano, which still utilizes the Nissan Altima underpinnings. A new steering system adds to the Murano’s overall agility in practically every driving scenario. Gas mileage could be better at 18-23 miles per gallon in the all-wheel drive SL model, which lists for $29,480. Very few vehicles arrive without some problems and the Murano is no exception. While attractive, the unusual configuration of the back window doesn’t help the rear visibility, which continues to be limited. Overall cargo space is lacking as well. One thing that Nissan didn’t try to improve was adding a third seat to keep up with some of its rivals. Good move too, because an added row would have really cut into the cargo area. The standard equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes; brake assist; traction control; stability control; privacy glass; eight-way power driver seat; center console; fog lights; split-folding rear seat; keyless entry; outside temperature gauge; rear defogger and more. ---------- Nissan Murano SL Price: Starting at $29,480 Mileage estimate: From 18 mpg city to 23 mpg highway Power: 3.5-liter, V6 engine with 265 horsepower Standard features include: Anti-lock disc brakes; brake assist; traction control; stability control; privacy glass; eight-way power driver seat; center console; fog lights; split-folding rear seat; keyless entry; outside temperature gauge; rear defogger