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First drive: Nissan Murano 4x4

2005-10-04 15:08

John Oxley

Yes, that's the feeling you get when driving Nissan's latest rocket machine, endowed by four-wheel drive with the sort of handling and roadholding normally the preserve of sports cars or hot hatches, yet with the space and comfort of a luxury cruiser.

The Murano - named after well-known Venetian glassware - comes onto the market with very aggressive pricing, yet is aimed squarely at the BMW X3 buyer, as well as Volvo XC90 and the Lexus RX 300.

And it does it with a tag that, feature for feature, makes the Nissan the most obvious choice!

In fact the Murano is slightly longer and taller than a BMW X5, and is considerably bigger than the Lexus RX300.

What's more, as far as quality is concerned the Japanese product can hold its head up high in this exalted company.


The analogy with the 350Z is a valid one, given that the Murano is fitted with a 172 kW version of the sports car's quad cam 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 engine, as well as a sophisticated all-independent suspension system that gives superb balance and handling.

The Murano was launched in George, gateway to some of the best driving roads in South Africa, and an indicator of how confident Nissan is that the car will speak for itself.

And this it certainly does. I'm not going to go into details of every corner and every road surface I drove on, except to say that each time I tested the car, it excelled.

On loose dirt, including the infamous "Cape marbles" the Murano provided lots of grip, and I was able to power slide, after switching in the centre diff. lock, in perfect four-wheel drifts, exiting the corner under full power and losing no time whatever in useless fishtails.

On tar the car was even more precise, and this time I drove within the limits of the car's electronic stability programme, ensuring that I was smooth and kept all the wheels in line so the electronics would not feel any need to interfere.

High limits

Again, the Murano proved so well balanced and secure that I was able to explore well beyond the limits of your everyday 4x4 - or even most sedans!

If there was a problem at all it was that the continually variable transmission (CVT) would not allow "gears" (I'll explain the apostrophe later) to be held, and initiated its own up-changes when it felt necessary.

This was not really a problem while accelerating into corners - saved me having to do it - and at least the gearshift could be flicked down a "cog" just before the bend to ensure a neat and rapid exit.

On downhills Nissan says the Murano?s CVT automatically chooses the ratio best suited for effective engine braking, but I prefer it to be locked in place.

All very exciting - but let's get back to basics.

The Murano was designed in Nissan's California studios, and has a typically US look to its "face", with a wide expanse of chromed grille.

Taut suspension

It's been around in the US - where it sells 4 500 a month - and in Europe for around two years, with European versions having tauter suspension and different detailing to the American versions.

We'll be getting Euro spec cars.

In terms of styling Murano is modern and funky, with that wide smiling grille flanked by fluted headlamps containing projector-styled bi-xenon headlamps.

From the side it has a steep windscreen tapering back in a slight teardrop shape, the bottom of the window line rising from front to rear while the roofline falls. A strong rear pillar holds the whole thing together, and roof rails are standard,

The wheel arches are big and bold, and contain massive 18 inch wheels shod with 225/65 R18 tyres.

The back view sees a shield-shaped rear window, big dual tail pipes, and large rounded rear lights.

Inside the feel is luxurious, with lots of leather and real aluminium trim to give the right combination of macho and comfort.

Behind the wheel

Once behind the wheel, finding the perfect driving position is easier than usual.

Not only does the steering wheel tilt, but the driver's seat has electric fore/aft adjustment as well as backrest angle and seat height and tilt. The seats are very supportive, especially in hard cornering.

The instruments are in a "double bubble" binnacle directly in front of the driver, and all switchgear is sensibly laid-out, where you'd expect to find it.

Vision all round is excellent, except for a small blind spot caused by those heavy C-pillars.

As mentioned all materials are of high quality, as is fit and finish, and the car is quite roomy, although perhaps lacking in the luggage capacity of some of its competitors.

Overall capacity is just 476 litres with the rear seats in place, and 877 litres with them folded flat. There's a 60/40 split to the rear seats.

However there's a respectable amount of nicknacks space, with a large centre console that's deep enough to swallow a laptop whole, as well as s small glovebox and door bins.


The Murano is VERY comfortable for four adults; five would find it less so.

On the road the big engine impresses with its power and smoothness, with 318 Nm of torque giving lots of low-down pulling power.

The big engine normally drives the front wheels, but the All-Mode 4WD system aportions drive to include the rear wheels as necessary up to 50-50 front/rear split, while the CVT gearbox makes for effortless driving while maintaining optimum engine performance.

Nissan claims a top speed of 200 km/h, and 0 - 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds, with overall fuel consumption of 12.3 litres/100 km. There's an 82 litre fuel tank.

The gearbox also has a six-speed manual setting for sporty driving.

To explain my earlier apostrophes, there are no gears in a CVT 'box; instead there are two cones joined by a steel belt, and the belt slides from side to side to change ratios.

In the manual setting it chooses pre-selected positions to give the feel of a conventional sequential gearbox.

ABS is standard, with disc brakes all round (linked to emergency Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Distribution) and there are dual-stage front air bags as well as driver and passenger side impact air bags and roof-mounted curtain side impact air bags front and rear.

Other features include heated front seats, a BOSE audio system with radio and six-CD changer, a glass sunroof, leather seats, climate-controlled air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, and remote central locking.

There's a 3 year/100 000 km warranty with 15 000 km service intervals, and a 5 year/100 000 km service plan.


The Murano puts Nissan into a new segment, one where it is able to compete on level terms with anything else on offer, and with a huge price advantage.

To get all its features would in fact make its competitors even further removed from Murano, yet the Nissan product gives nothing away in terms of its abilities, its quality, or its reputation for longevity and ruggedness.

While it's more of a fashion statement than a genuine off-roader - in fact we'd hate to subject such a beautiful gem to a bundu-bashing exercise - the Murano is quite capable of travelling around Africa on the beaten or semi-beaten track - ground clearance is 180 mm.

More to the point, it would look great in Sandton, doll!


R379 000.

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