Sabtu, 31 Mei 2008

Nissan Murano LE Review

2009 Nissan Murano

By Michael Martineck

Nissan claims the Murano was the first crossover. Subaru claims that "honor" for the Forester. I think the first crossover was probably some variant of the Model T. Ladder frame construction or no, I'm never exactly sure what constitutes a CUV or SUV. Besides, as most truck buyers neither tow nor venture off-road, it's what semanticists call an invidious distinction. In other words, who cares? The more important question is whether or not a particular vehicle has the looks, packaging and performance it needs to survive. The new Nissan Murano must, again, still, stand on its own merits. Does it?

For 2009, Nissan has re-mixed rather than reinvented the Murano. The next gen uni-body trucklet is the same size and basic shape as the previous version. Equally important, the new Murano's turned its back on the industry trend towards bloat; it's only slightly heavier than its predecessor. And despite its generous proportions, Nissan also resisted the urge to add some kind of flip-up rear cushion and claim seven-passenger status.

In terms of artistic expression, Nissan's started to stray. The "old" Murano had more than a few "challenging" design elements. The update takes all these style points and exaggerates them. Some of the mods work. The rear glass now bows out like an astronaut's helmet. The front hood bows in, dune buggy-style, creating sensual fenders. The rear hatch's looks are color dependent; it appears slim and svelte in black, puffy and plump in white.

On the downside, Nissan did nothing to ameliorate the Murano's triangular C-pillar/blind spot. Maybe they didn't see it. But no one will miss the Murano's new, Hannibal Lector-esque front fascia. Love it or hate it, I hate it. It strikes a major discordant note in an otherwise coherent design. The website proclaims "There's no such thing as too much style." Twenty-seven lights, boxes and chevrons say otherwise.

By the same token, the Murano's cabin suffers from what the music industry calls over-production. A superabundance of creases, nooks and grooves evokes 80's artists' visions of future airports. The vinyl-record-sized gauges light up inside and around the edges, screaming "look at me." The center console combines vertical controls with a horizontal mini-desk and an LCD monitor. Perhaps after you've read "Nissan Murano for Dummies" it'll all make sense. I never figured out how to redirect the heater's airflow.

The materials are first class though– especially if you opt for double-stitched leather. In fact, the LE serves as a showcase for Nissan's current cache of optional features: a headline grabbing dual-plane moon roof that covers both sets of seats, mood lighting that belongs in a loft-living bachelor's pad, a power lift gate and power-fold rear seats. The optional gizmology count is also high: a 9.3-gig music hard drive, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity and a key you can leave in your pants (or are you just happy to see me?).

Nissan's blessed their crossover's VQ-series V6 power plant with another 25 horses (up to 265hp), hitched-up to Nissan's second-generation Xtronic continuously variable transmission. There's significantly more in-gear urge underfoot, and the transmission no longer feels like a giant rubber band straining to stretch (thanks in part to the more powerful engine). Better yet: the Murano's fuel economy gains one EPA mpg in the city cycle (18/23).

Despite its newfound speed, the Altima-platformed Murano's feather-light steering and body float leave no doubt that corner carvers need to step up to (and stump up for) an Infiniti EX (better platform despite similar size), or consider Mazda's CX-9. The Murano LE's 20" wheels add grip and plenty o' bling, but make for a bouncy ride over big bumps. Shod with standard 18" footwear, I can well believe Nissan's claims for increased chassis rigidity and decreased noise. Listening to the beehive transmission proved the point; I had to strain to hear it, as opposed to work to ignore it.

To verify the Murano's cold weather capabilities, I tested the CUV in both virgin snow and pre-trampled cake. For comparison sake, I ran the course in a 2007 Murano and the fully loaded 2009 tester. While the differences between past and present Muranos are slim, the 2009 is the best choice for slippery stuff. It's superbly balanced and grabbed traction with almost disappointing (for hoons) alacrity.

The Nissan Murano hasn't been doing all that well in the sales charts lately. The company skipped the '08 model year; ‘07 sales were off six percent. With its upgraded engine and interior and raft of new options, the redesigned model is a safe bet to please the Murano's fan base. Strange to say, the big question is whether or not the new nose job will attract or repel style-conscious cross-shoppers. If so, the Murano will easily weather the hard times ahead. If not, not.