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The Murano helped create the crossover segment with its late 2002 appearance as a 2003 model. It was originally based on the Altima’s FFL platform, it went from nearly 48,000 sales in its first year to some 82,000 in 2007, well above expectations for an annual average of 50,000 units over its first generation. It continues to be built at Nissan’s Kyushu plant in Japan, and is now offered in more than 130 countries. From its Battlestar Galactica “Cylon” grille to the composite (as before, plastic inner and outer panels bonded to a steel frame) hatch, the Murano is new, though very familiar.
Like the Altima, the new Murano shifts from the FFL to the D platform. The cradle front subframe supports a strut front suspension, half shafts more parallel to the ground and with equal angles for less torque steer, and speed-sensitive twin-orifice power steering. Unsprung weight is reduced by use of aluminum suspension arms (a multi-link independent design in the back), and mated with dual-flow path dampers with rebound springs. The percentage of high-strength steel is up, and the rear ladder assembly, shock towers, and front and rear bumper assemblies are reinforced to help make structural stiffness 1.5 times greater than the outgoing model’s. Barely distinguishable dimensionally from its predecessor, the Murano is one of the few vehicles that hasn’t shown generational spread. The wheelbase is unchanged at 111.2-in., length is up 0.9-in. to 188.5-in., and it is a scant 0.1-in. wider at 74.1-in.
Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter VQV6 has 20 more horsepower (265), four more lb-ft torque (248), and an EPA fuel economy rating of 18 city/23 highway in both front- and all-wheel-drive. Revisions include improved cooling, reduced internal friction, asymmetric piston skirts, a lighter and less restrictive resin air intake, and twin knock sensors. It mates to the second-generation Xtronic CVT that has optimized control pressure and reduced friction between moving parts, a high-speed controller, adaptive shift logic, and more drive algorithms. The latter improve shift speed and acceleration by 30%. The upgraded all-wheel-drive system distributes power equally to the front and rear for an optimal launch before switching to front-drive under normal conditions, and links the stability control to the AWD system. This helps alter the torque split (to the 50:50 maximum) so the vehicle achieves its target yaw rate based on readings of steering wheel angle and accelerator input. It is a less expensive and complex version of the Feedback Control system fitted to Nissan’s 2009 Skyline GT-R. That unit coordinates torque based on the difference between actual and target yaw rates by comparing the output of the yaw rate sensor with the rate calculated from the steering angle sensor. Murano engineers say there was some “bleed through” from that program in terms of modeling and algorithm development, though they admit the Murano’s system is designed to “do more with less” than the cost-no-object GT-R’s design.
Oddly, Murano owners don’t want the vehicle to be overtly sporty, despite the fact that the first-generation played off its sportiness as much as its capability. Nevertheless, the chassis is tuned to reduce roll and increase steering feel without increasing ride harshness. On the other hand, the sporty SE model is replaced by the more luxurious LE with standard AWD, the interior shapes and materials are more upmarket, the unpowered “flop-down” rear seatbacks get a motor to raise them back into place, NVH levels are reduced, and a number of premium technologies (in-dash hard drive, keyless ignition, HID headlamps, full iPod interface, and Bluetooth connectivity) were added. It will be interesting to see how the redesigned, but familiar, Murano fares in the increasingly crowded market it helped created.