Here's why Toyota's Rush is doing so well

Toyota has apparently now completed its utter domination of the SA gravel travel market, writes Lance Branquinho.

The good, bad and ugly of Fernando Alonso's F1 career

'Fernando Alonso is one of the all-time greats', writes Egmont Sippel.

All-new Nissan Murano driven

2009-09-03 08:46

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model Murano
Engine 3.5l V6
Power 191kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 336Nm @ 4 400r/min
Transmission Xtronic CVT
Zero To Hundred 8 sec
Weight 1 832kg
Airbags Dual front and side, curtain
Tyres 235/65R18
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 5year/90 000km
Warranty 3year/100 000km
Price R488 000
Car sales are in apocalyptic territory. Everybody knows this.

If one delves into the details though, crunching the numbers and tallying them into categories, some rather interesting trends appear.

One of these counter intuitive trends is the crossover SUV market for petrol powered vehicles. Worth around 1 300 units a year, this X3 and Q5 market segment now has renewed Oriental flavour with the introduction of Nissan’s second generation Murano.

I must confess having a particular affinity for the Murano.

Whilst working in Miami during 2004 I turned a corner in Little Havana and saw one parked up. Even in a city flush with Italian supercar exotica, the Murano looked thoroughly contemporary and had a sense of presence usually beyond the gambit of Japanese SUVs.

With the second generation, Nissan is aiming for 20% market share which constitutes around 260 units a year. How are they going to do that against formidable competition like Audi’s Q5?

New styling is edgy, to say the least. Should help to differentiate Murano in the market.

A nosejob that works?

Well, Nissan says the new styling package should ensure sufficient aspirational image appeal (key purchasing decision criteria) and the lack of open option boxes to tick when perusing the Murano specification sheet should woo value conscious buyers.

Sounds neat, but is it executable in practice?

As striking as the first-generation Murano was, its predecessor is equally contemporary.

The heavily reworked front third of the Murano, especially the triangularly embellished grille and headlight integration, balanced by those sculpted rear flanks, render an SUV with the requisite image credentials.

CVT transmission when you take your left-hand off the helm and dictate to it. Decidedly economy minded otherwise.

Beneath the second-generation Murano sheetmetal is an updated version of the familiar 3.5-litre multi-valve V6 engine, part of Nissan’s successful Q-family of performance engines.

Although unchanged in terms of capacity and configuration, the new Murano bests its predecessor by 19kW in the power stakes (producing a peak of 191kW at 6 000r/min) and maximum rotational force 18Nm keener at 336Nm.

Drive is delivered to all four wheels via Nissan’s all-mode 4X4 system, first seen locally on the latest X-Trail. True to Murano tradition, the only transmission option available is a CVT, with a six-speed pseudo tipshift override function.

Murano, as expected for a mid-sized crossover, features independently-sprung wheel attachment at all four corners, supporting a monoque body. In terms of design configuration, it’s very much a tar and dirt road-capable all-wheel drive vehicle, not a trail-buster.

Access the cabin and you’ll be surprised to find (considering its Japanese origins) generously sized seats which you settle into, rather than sit on top off.

The steering wheel, with comprehensive satellite control trimmings, is new too and there is an awful lot of standard kit littered about the cabin.

Seats are leather trimmed, heated and electrically manipulated. The infotainment system features full convergence (aux input and MP3 play) and Bose’s signature acoustic clarity via 11-speakers.

Some of the trinkets are a bit much of muchness (like the keyless entry and start-button ignition), yet on other vehicles in class you'd be inflating price with each most of the items fitted to a Murano on the showroom floor.

Centre console could do with an architectural second opinion, yet cabin is massively roomy and uncluttered. Recessed road- and engine-speed dials huge with easily legible fonts. New steering wheel a welcome boon.

Murano is not a small car, a touch over 4.7m in length and nearly 1.9 ton. Fortunately, Nissan has equipped it with aft and side manoeuvrability aiding cameras, which display via a 7-inch screen, ensuring you parallel park with disdainful ease in even the most forbidding spaces.

Tallied up, the impressive suite of standard equipment is practically unmatched in class.

You’ll have to do without a sunroof though, which has been deleted from the latest Murano specification sheet – big deal.

As attractively styled and furnished as the Murano package appears, the proof is in the driving, where Audi’s Q5 has significantly raised the class standard from BMW’s harsh riding X3.

Nissan set us loose a delightful mix of mountain passes and dirt roads around the George and Oudshoorn area, similar to conditions most crossover SUV owners would venture into.

Despite the front and rear suspension mounting points having been strengthened to reduce vibration, the Murano does not ride with the decorum of a drive select-equipped Q5.

Murano's steering is over assisted, which is generally a default engineering parameter these days. On dirt roads, potholes and severe surface irregularities are not dispatched with aplomb either.

In mitigation though, we traversed the small Karoo’s dirtroads with the Muranos running on highway tyre pressures.

Generally not a fan of CVT transmissions (especially in combination with underpowered or overweight cars), I found the Murano’s CVT to be quite amicable. With the shifter slotted over to the right of the gate, it dutifully holds the selected gear all the way through to engine speeds around the 6 000r/min mark.

Left to its own devices the CVT function is economy-biased and rather guarded when it comes to downshifting.

The engine, as expect from Nissan, is outstanding. Quiet, refined and responsive, the V6 unit speeds up quickly and hustles the 1.9 ton Murano from 0-100km/h in 8 seconds, whilst returning average consumption around 12l/100km.

Another area of the Murano that impresses is the all-mode 4X4 system.

In its default setting the system runs Murano like a standard all-wheel drive car with an open-centre differential, whilst the "lock" mode does what it says to the centre clutch and feeds torque in an equal split between the axles.

Dirt road capability good. Carries a full-size spare wheel too, which shows some foresight on behalf of the Murano product planning personnel, unlike most of their German brand counterparts, who think local customers can drive 100s of km between Karoo towns with a fully loaded SUV on a spacesaving spare...

On dirt roads traction security is hugely reassuring, whilst on road, at speed, the system quickly shimmies torque to the rear wheels when an understeer situation develops close to the limit.

As good a system as it might be, all mode is no conventional locked mechanical centre-differential, though. It’s more akin to having electronic LSDs front and rear, necessitating a fair degree of momentum to detect slip and apportion torque.

With 185mm of ground clearance and a surfeit of power thanks to the free-revving V6 engine, Murano should conquer undemanding sand tracks (with sufficiently deflated tyres) and dirt roads with ease.

Better looking than the previous one, and vastly better equipped than the German competition, Murano should get the 20% market share it’s gunning for.

Unless you simply cannot live without a sunroof, it should be on your SUV crossover shopping shortlist.


Murano 3.5 V6 4WD - R488 000

SatNav - R10 000
5-year/90 000km maintenance plan - R8 800


There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.