Full Test: 2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD

2009 Nissan Murano LE Road Test

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2009 Nissan Murano SUV

(3.5L V6 AWD CVT Automatic)

It's What People Want

As the 2009 Nissan Murano proves, Nissan figured out this whole crossover thing before the rest of us.

It's pretty uncommon for a vehicle to actually gather increasing steam when it comes to sales as it gets older, but the Murano has done exactly that. Introduced as a 2004 model, sales of the Nissan Murano have climbed every year since then, reaching 81,000 units in 2006.

Apparently this enthusiasm for car-based crossover utilities is some kind of trend, you think?

Evolution, Not Revolution
Now that the Murano has developed a loyal following, Nissan has been careful to evolve, improve and upgrade the all-new 2009 Murano without compromising the things responsible for its success. As we see it, these things have been the Murano's untraditional exterior style, its ample second-row accommodations and its engaging driving dynamics.

A quick look at reader reviews shows that current Nissan Murano owners confirm our assessment, but they would also like to see better interior materials, a more responsive transmission, an auxiliary input jack (among other electronic conveniences) and a larger cargo area.

Beneath the 2009 Nissan Murano is the same recently upgraded platform that already supports the 2008 Nissan Altima, and that's a good thing. The 2009 Murano's version of the VQ-Series 3.5-liter V6 that's part of the Altima package now delivers 265 horsepower instead of 240, while its fuel economy of 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway remains the same now that there's been a change in the EPA's methodology.

As before, the Murano continues to feature a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a choice that seemed misguided in 2004 but has since proven to be a stroke of genius now that gasoline prices are off the scale. The 2009 Murano gets the Altima's latest-generation Xtronic CVT with its sophisticated adaptive shift control (ASC) software. The ASC dictates when and where an infinite number of "shifts" occur, and the shift-control software also has quickened shift speed by 30 percent. As a result, the reactions of the CVT are so good that Nissan decided that it is unnecessary to offer a manual-shift mode with this CVT — and we totally agree.

Cheshire Cat No More
Having acquired a solid platform and capable powertrain from its Nissan stablemates, the biggest challenge for the 2009 Murano has been the evolution of the already eye-catching, curvaceous exterior styling into an all-new body that would still be recognized as a Murano.

Its signature grille-dominated face has been further developed with a new grille that incorporates multi-element headlamp clusters with optional HIDs. We like the arrangement not just because it comes off less like the Cheshire Cat's grin than it did before, but also because it's easy to get a face wrong by going either too far (Acura MDX) or not far enough (Hyundai Veracruz).

On the inside, the 2009 Murano could be mistaken for an Infiniti, especially our top-tier LE all-wheel-drive model, which is new for the model year. The low-volume sport-tuned SE model has been eliminated, while the S and SL remain.

Upgraded Interior
All of the interior materials are exceptionally good, the colors and textures are pleasing and the overall design is richer and far more attractive than before. But Nissan hasn't stopped there. Since it was introduced nearly five years ago, the Murano has been a little behind in terms of up-to-date infotainment, so Nissan has conducted an electronics makeover.

Key optional equipment now includes Bose audio with 11 speakers; XM Satellite Radio; a genuine iPod interface (standard on LE, and it's one of the best we've used); Bluetooth connectivity; a rear-seat DVD system with a 9-inch drop-down screen; and of course Nissan's 20GB hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic plus 9.3GB of memory allotted for music storage.

The Murano LE also makes a major statement with its range of optional convenience features, including intelligent key, rearview monitor, heated front and rear seats, dual-panel moonroof, xenon headlamps and power liftgate.

Standard equipment on all 2009 Muranos now includes push-button ignition; tilt-telescoping steering wheel (manual on S and SL, powered with memory on LE); AM/FM and six-CD changer audio system with six speakers (up from four) and an auxiliary input jack with MP3/WMA capability; and lever-released 60/40-fold-flat rear seatbacks with power return (standard on SL and LE).

Sumptuous and well-contoured front and rear seats complete the package. By refusing to give in to the trend toward three-row seating, the Murano has been able to maintain class-leading accommodations for the second-row rear passengers. With our high-zoot LE, even the rear passengers enjoy heated seats. A high level of equipment plus a pleasant overall ambience help elevate the Murano from stylistic curiosity to competitive player in the near-lux class for crossovers.

But good looks and fancy electronics go only so far.

Good Performance
At the test track, the powerful 2009 Murano LE accelerates to 60 mph in 8 seconds flat, while its capable four-wheel disc brakes stop it from 60 mph in just 122 feet. These performance figures place it near the top of its class.

When it comes to handling at the limit, the 4,135-pound Murano circles the skid pad (unimpeded by the stability control, which can't be shut off completely) with 0.79g in lateral grip. Weaving through the slalom field, however, awoke the safety system and it allowed only a pass at 59.2 mph.

A reengineered suspension with lightweight aluminum pieces and a new steering system also make the Murano a willing and surprisingly communicative partner in daily driving. No doubt the combination of these chassis upgrades and a new predictive (not reactive) all-wheel-drive system (first introduced by the 2008 Nissan Rogue) contribute to the Murano's genuine agility and overall feel of predictability. And, contrary to what some might expect from the newly available 20-inch rolling stock (LE model), the 235/50 R20 Toyo Proxes A20 tires don't degrade the ride either.

Cargo space seems to be the only area where Nissan has been unable to improve the Murano. The volume itself has shrunk fractionally, so Nissan has added convenience. There's a nifty pop-up grocery organizer first seen in the Rogue, as well as one-pull rear-seat releases in the cargo bay. The rear seats motor back into place with the push of a button either on the dashboard or next to the release lever in the rear.

A Compelling Crossover
Prices have yet to be announced, but expect a base front-wheel-drive 2009 Nissan Murano S to start at just over $28,000 and a fully loaded Murano LE AWD to bump its well-equipped head on the $40,000 ceiling.

This attractive array of models and prices, plus all of the substantial upgrades throughout the model range, should ensure the second-generation Murano continued success for at least another four years.

Nissan seemed to be taking a wild chance on an unproven market segment when it first introduced the Murano back in 2004, but now we've all realized that it was jumping into the future.

Second Opinion

News Editor Kelly Toepke says:
I had been driving the 2009 Nissan Murano for nearly two days when I met up with my friend Rick. Although I had already formed my own opinion of the all-new Murano, I was interested to hear Rick's point of view as a current Murano owner and father of two small children.

Rick climbed into the cabin and was immediately impressed. "It's more contoured," he said. "Unlike my Murano, this cabin seems to wrap around you, putting all the controls within comfortable reach." Good, I thought. I think so, too.

We checked out the backseat. "Nice," he said. "I'm glad it didn't get smaller inside. Looks like the rear legroom is just as spacious as in my car, but the overall quality of the materials seems better, from the vents to the leather." Yep, I concur.

Standing on the sidewalk, Rick commented on the styling. "I like the new look," he said. "Are those 20-inch wheels? Look how wimpy my car looks next to it with its 18-inchers." He was right. The bigger wheels, along with the new sheet metal, give the whole package a much more distinctive look.

We talked about the 2009 Murano's increased horsepower, smoother-shifting CVT transmission and newly sporty appeal, but the clincher came when Rick's wife Tasha walked outside. Nearing the end of their current lease and simply ready for a change, Tasha had refused to consider another Murano. Until she saw this one.

Validation is a good thing.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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