Realizing that most sport-utes never venture any further off-pavement than that pothole-riddled side road you take to drop the kids off at soccer practice, car manufacturers are now focused on crossover SUVs, which, as you probably know, emphasize a carlike ride, leaving off-road functionality but a vestige. Nissan's crossover entrant is the stylish Murano and it's marketed as an "urban SUV." Buyers seeking something more rugged have their choice of the five-passenger and seven-passenger Xterra.
The Nissan Murano, which gets its name from glass art made on islands near Venice, Italy, boasts a sleek exterior that features wraparound surface construction, a prominent stylized front grille and an upswept greenhouse that helps the Nissan SUV live up to it's stated aim of creating a "sculpture in motion." Vertically stacked headlights with HID bulbs are offered to shed light on the road ahead; in back, a lightweight cargo door made from an advanced steel-reinforced plastic makes for easier opening and closing. Spoilers front and rear spoiler add aerodynamic sportiness to the SUV's lines, with the whole kit-and-caboodle riding on large 18-inch wheels and tires.
The Murano's spacious, cleanly styled interior provides seating for five. Aluminum trim graces the instrument panel, which features a monitor with integrated climate and audio controls. The Nissan Murano shares its platform with the Altima and Maxima sedans and, as such, boasts a four-wheel independent suspension. Handling characteristics are excellent, particularly for a utility vehicle. The Murano's sharp reflexes are complemented by Nissan's award-winning 3.5-liter V6, this time paired with a continuously variable transmissions (CVT). While the CVT has noticeable benefits on fuel economy, its sluggish response in traffic detracts from an otherwise enjoyable driving experience. Even so, the 2006 Nissan Murano has a lot to recommend it for anyone seeking a spacious and stylish transport through the urban maze.
The five-passenger Nissan Murano comes in three trim levels: base S, luxury-oriented SL and sporty SE. The S trim includes 18-inch wheels, cloth seating, dual-zone climate control, a CD player and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. The SL adds a cargo cover and net, a rearview monitor and a 10-way power driver seat with power lumbar. The SE adds a sport-tuned suspension and HID headlamps. The optional Premium Package includes a roof rack, adjustable pedals, a Bose stereo system with a six-disc CD changer, while the Dynamic Control Package adds a tire-pressure monitoring system and stability control. Other stand-alone options include a sunroof and a DVD-based navigation system.
Immediately noticeable when you climb aboard is the distinctive "floating dash" design, complemented by the real aluminum trim liberally sprinkled around the cabin. The gauges glow orange and are easy to read. Split-folding rear seats are pretty standard these days, but in the Nissan Murano, they have a reclining feature and a remote flip-down function, allowing the seats to be easily released from the rear cargo area. For storage, there's a two-tiered lockable center console box roomy enough to hold a laptop computer, door pockets with a flip-out function, as well as assorted nooks and crannies for items such as cell phones, sunglasses and coins. With the rear seats down, the cargo bay offers a healthy 81.6 cubic feet of space.
Available with front- or all-wheel drive, the Nissan Murano is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 similar to the one found in the Altima and Maxima. It makes 245 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission choice is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Benefits of the CVT include smoother operation and greater fuel-efficiency than a traditional automatic.
Acceleration is lively for the most part, though the CVT can make for sluggish starts in traffic. Handling is sharp, even compared to other car-based crossover SUVS. Buyers can choose between the sport-tuned SE model or the more softly calibrated S and SL forms. Unless you're really into driving your SUV fast on a curvy road, we'd suggest the SL for day-to-day comfort.
This Nissan SUV comes with a comprehensive list of standard safety features, including four-wheel antilock disc brakes (supplemented by BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), front seat-mounted side airbags, head-protecting side curtain airbags for all outboard occupants and active head restraints. A stability control system (dubbed Vehicle Dynamic Control) is optional on the SL and SE. In government crash tests, the 2006 Nissan Murano earned four stars (out of five) for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact testing, it earned five stars for front-occupant protection and four stars for the rear. Testing conducted by the IIHS returned a top rating of "Good" for frontal-offset impacts.
Changes to the Murano for 2006 include revised exterior trim, a standard 7-inch LCD display, revised instrumentation and a standard rearview monitor for SL and SE models.