2004 Nissan Murano SE
2004 Nissan Murano SE AWD
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Story and photos by Haney Louka

Platform sharing has come a long way. Remember the ’80s? They weren’t pretty.

In those days, vehicles built on a common platform shared most parts and were all but identical, save for minor fascia and styling cues to differentiate them from their corporate counterparts. The Cavalier and Sunbird, Tempo and Topaz, and even the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES250 were all but identical.

Today the term “platform sharing” has a much broader definition. This practice refers to vehicles that share a chassis – drivetrain layout, basic structure including suspension mounting points, and similar wheelbase and track dimensions. These elements that are common between different models allow economies of scale because much of the engineering costs during product development can be attributed to a range of models rather than a single offering.

In many cases, this allows designers to play with a little extra cash for interior enhancements or styling upgrades that might otherwise have been too costly. Nissan has grabbed hold of this concept and used it to its advantage to perhaps a greater extent than any other automaker in recent years.

2004 Nissan Murano
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Nissan’s FM platform has spawned vehicles as diverse as the Nissan 350Z sports car and Infiniti FX45 sport utility, and a few in between. But its higher-volume offerings share another platform: the FF-L. First seen on the 2002 Altima, the FF-L now underpins the new-for-2004 Maxima and Quest, and the subject of this review, the Murano crossover utility vehicle.

The Murano won the hearts of critics as it was named 2003 Canadian Truck of the Year by members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada last February.

Changes for 2004 include a new manual shift mode for the CVT transmission and a less expensive front-drive version.

The Lineup

To establish a place at the high end of the crossover utility spectrum, Murano is available only in two high-content models. The SL, at $37,700 for front wheel drive or $39,700 for all wheel drive, includes a continuously variable transmission (more later), 18-inch wheels, full size spare, heated front seats, reclining rear seats, in-dash CD changer, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming rear view mirror, HomeLink transmitter, and the list goes on. The only option available on the SL is a power sunroof.

The SE adds $7,200 (!) to the base price and adds xenon headlamps, power sunroof, leather seats, memory for the driver’s seat and power for the passenger’s, and an optional $3,400 navigation system. My test example was the full-blown SE with navi package, wearing a price tag of $50,585.

Nuts and Bolts

The Murano represents yet another application of Nissan’s acclaimed VQ-series engine. Mounted transversely under the hood, this 60-degree V-6 displaces 3.5 litres and produces 245 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 246 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 revs.

Power is transferred to the wheels through Nissan’s new Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Rather than using conventional gears, the Murano’s CVT utilizes variable-diameter pulleys to provide an infinite number of gear ratios within a given range. 2003 was a banner year for mass-market introductions of the CVT, as Audi, MINI, and Saturn accompanied Nissan.

As with other FF-L vehicles, the Murano rides on a fully independent suspension, with struts in front and a multilink arrangement at the rear. Braking duties are performed by vented discs all around with anti-lock control. Rotors are generously sized at 12.6 inches front and 12.1 inches rear.

The rack-and-pinion steering system incorporates gearing that allows a relatively quick 3.2 turns of the leather-wrapped steering wheel between locks.

Inside and Out

2004 Nissan Murano

2004 Nissan Murano
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From the front, the Murano makes no apologies for being stylish. The shiny chrome grille almost blends into the projector beam headlamps to produce a continuous band of brightness across the front. While it is distinctive, it’s a little over the top for my taste. The stacked headlamps offer an element of family resemblance to Infiniti’s G35 sedan and coupe.

The rear three-quarter view of the Murano is the most appealing to these eyes. The slope of the tailgate appears to wrap around the rear wheels and the cargo area side windows sweep upward toward the rear. A breath of fresh air when compared against the bland hind quarters of the Murano’s competitors.

Despite its swoopy exterior styling, it’s ready for your stuff: with the rear bench folded, it will swallow 2311 litres, or about the same as Toyota’s more conservative Highlander. Those vehicles are dwarfed by Honda’s Odyssey-based Pilot and its 4910 litre capacity.

From the driver’s seat, there’s no confusing this family truckster with any of its competitors. Bold corporate styling touches are evident throughout the cockpit, from the aluminum trim on the centre stack and gauge pod to the, um, interesting orangey-brown hue of my tester’s interior plastics.

The Driving Experience

As expected based on its roots, the Murano’s ride is very carlike. Steering and braking response, manoeuvrability, and smoothness are all traits that car-based utility vehicles should possess in this class. And, par for the course, the Murano enjoys the visibility and seating height that people crave. But let’s get to what’s really different about this car: the transmission.

2004 Nissan Murano
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Other CVT-equipped vehicles that I’ve tried share one fault that I find hard to excuse: on initial throttle application from a stop, vehicles like the Audi A4 and MINI Cooper with this shiftless technology tend to lurch and lunge a bit while the transmission manages the engine’s power. But not the Nissan. This is the smoothest CVT I’ve sampled to date in that regard.

But it’s not without fault. I expected that upon flooring the throttle at speed, the engine speed would jump to its power peak instantly and produce maximum acceleration. Instead, the transmission performed something akin to a downshift and climbed gradually to find its sweet spot, largely negating the theoretical benefit of having a CVT. Look to Audi’s CVT to find out how that’s done right. Response from the transmission was crisper in sport mode, but such driving most of the time would kill the fuel consumption benefits that are also part of the CVT promise.

To Sum It Up

The Murano is an attractive option in its class for those who value style and technology over utility, and don’t mind paying a little extra for those traits.

Shopping Around

Crossover utilities make up one of the hottest segments in the industry, combining the versatility of a large wagon with the rugged go-anywhere image of an SUV. Here’s a list of the Murano’s competitors:

  • Acura MDX

  • Buick Rendezvous
  • Chrysler Pacifica
  • Honda Pilot
  • Land Rover Freelander
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Highlander

Technical Data: 2004 Nissan Murano

Base price $37,700
Price as tested $50,585
Type 4-door, 5-passenger crossover utility vehicle
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 3.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valve, cont. var. valve timing
Horsepower 245 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 246 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission continuously variable
Tires P235/65R-18
Curb weight 1805 kg (3980 lb.)
Wheelbase 2824 mm (111.2 in.)
Length 4765 mm (187.6 in.)
Width 1880 mm (74.0 in.)
Height 1709 mm (67.3 in.)
Cargo capacity 923 litres (32.6 cu. ft.) (rear seat up)
  2311 litres (81.6 cu. ft.) (rear seat folded flat)
Fuel consumption City: 12.1 L/100 km (23 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.8 L/100 km (32 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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