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Nissan Builds an SUV for the Suburban Gentry

Nissan’s Murano Urban Sport Utility Vehicle (USUV)–an appellation whose initials sound like a university for light truck fans–is an offshoot of the Altima sedan (it shares lots of the same DNA), and targeted toward buyers who want an SUV that performs like a sports sedan, of which Nissan claims there are sufficient numbers to absorb 50,000 Murano’s per year. Built in the same Kyushu, Japan, plant as the body-on-frame Pathfinder, the monocoque Murano will supplement that vehicle, not replace it.

Nissan’s Murano Urban Sport Utility Vehicle (USUV)–an appellation whose initials sound like a university for light truck fans–is an offshoot of the Altima sedan (it shares lots of the same DNA), and targeted toward buyers who want an SUV that performs like a sports sedan, of which Nissan claims there are sufficient numbers to absorb 50,000 Murano’s per year. Built in the same Kyushu, Japan, plant as the body-on-frame Pathfinder, the monocoque Murano will supplement that vehicle, not replace it.

The rounded rear hatch (1) has a plastic inner and outer bonded to a steel frame. This cuts the weight of the panel by more than 20 lb., and allowed Nissan designers to produce a complex shape that would have been difficult to reproduce in steel. It takes little effort to raise or lower the port, and average-size adults can stand upright under it when fully open. The hatch is built off-line as a module, and joins the rest of the vehicle during the final assembly sequence.

The interior (2) seats five–Nissan says its research showed that third seats conjured up images of four-wheel-drive “minivan substitutes”–and is filled with all of the requisite safety and convenience equipment. Each front seat has full power assist, and the climate control is a dual-zone system. (A 6.5-in. message screen atop the instrument panel center stack keeps track of the temperature settings, though this is replaced by a 7.0-in. screen when the optional navigation system is ordered.) Rear seat passengers get adjustable B-pillar vents instead of the paired vents most automakers place on the end of the large center console. The console has a locking center compartment big enough to hold either a laptop computer or a purse, two cell phone holders, a cup holder with a dishwasher-safe insert, and genuine aluminum trim. On the safety side of the ledger, the Murano has electrically adjustable pedals, dual-stage front airbags, active head restraints, front-seat side air bags, as well as side curtain air bags.

There are expandable bins in each front door, large bins on either side of the spare tire, a shallow tray (3) that sits under a cover over the spare tire, and easy-to-reach latches (4) in the rear corners of the cargo area that actuate the split-fold rear seats. Pull the releases toward you, and the seat backs flop forward under the motive power of gravity. Pushing them back into position is relatively easy due to the optimized kinematics of the hinges. Also, the subwoofer for the optional Bose audio system sits within the center of the spare wheel, just like it does on Acura’s RSX and will on the upcoming Quest.

Nissan’s FFL platform (5) provides the underpinnings for the Murano. First used on the 2002 Altima, the FFL platform also will be seen early next year under the next-generation Maxima sedan and Quest minivan. Compared to the Altima, the 111.2-in. wheelbase is fractionally larger, the overall length of 187.6-in. is 4.1-in. less, width is up by 3.6-in., and the Murano sits 8.6-in. higher on its standard 18-in. wheels. It is as large, or larger, in most interior dimensions than the Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Lexus RX300, but has much less front and rear overhang due to its significantly longer wheelbase and competitive overall length. The Murano’s towing capacity is a reasonable 3,500 lb.

Under the hood (6) sits Nissan’s VQ35 DE V6 producing 245 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. The aluminum engine is mounted transversely, and has a compression ratio of 10.3:1. It’s mated to a standard CVT whose ratios span from 2.371–0.439:1, with a final drive ratio of 5.173:1 and–in all-wheel-drive versions–a transfer case gear ratio of 0.404:1. Two-wheel-drive is standard in both SL and SE trim levels, with the on-demand AWD available as a $1,600 option. In extreme conditions, the torque split can be locked at 50:50, but reverts to a variable split when traveling above 30 mph. Standard equipment includes ABS, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. Vehicle dynamic control, traction control, and tire pressure monitoring are options. Pricing for the Murano ranges from $28,199 for the base SL front-drive version to $30,599 for the base SE AWD. A fully loaded model will run $37,885, including the $540 destination charge; a price more in line with the Infiniti brand than Nissan’s.
 

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