2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

All too frequently, you can get something that looks really nice, or that works really well, but you don’t get both in the same package. That’s probably why I liked the Murano as much as I did: it looks great, but even more importantly, its performance proves it’s more than just another pretty face.

This swoopy vehicle is one of the rare ones that really does deserve the “crossover” name. It’s not a car, even though its “FF-L” platform also underpins the Altima; that platform additionally serves the Quest, but this is not a minivan; and its quick steering response and its confident, tight feel through the corners is definitely un-SUV-like. I like the fact that Nissan doesn’t stuff in a third row of seats intended only for people with no legs, just for the sake of advertising a seven-seater; this is unashamedly a five-passenger vehicle that can haul a goodly amount of cargo.

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge

The Murano has been around since 2003, but to my eye, the design hasn’t aged a day; the styling elements work so well together that Nissan may have painted itself into a corner when it comes to redesigning the next generation.

The Murano comes in three trim lines, the SL in front-wheel drive, SL in all-wheel drive, and my SE tester, which comes strictly in all-wheel; all use a 3.5-litre V6 with continuously variable transmission (CVT). Prices can climb rapidly: the SL starts at $38,998 and the SL AWD at $40,998, while my SE’s base price of $48,598 was further hiked with a navigation package that brought it to $51,548.

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge

That takes the SL equipment – which includes ABS, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, heated seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, LCD display with backup camera, six-CD changer and side and curtain airbags – and adds the SE package of brushed aluminum roof rails, CVT with manual shift mode, sport-tuned suspension, traction and stability control, high-intensity discharge headlamps, leather seats with driver memory, intelligent key, tire pressure monitoring system and sunroof.

The all-wheel drive isn’t quite as it sounds; the Murano runs in front-wheel unless it senses slippage, whereupon it transfers up to 50 per cent of its torque to the rear wheels. It can be locked into 50/50, but it’s only for starting off in low-traction conditions; it goes back into its usual automatic mode once you hit 10 km/hr, although, oddly enough, the lock button light stays on even though it’s overridden your command. I’d like to see the SE available with a choice of driveline configuration as well as the SL, since I think FWD with a good set of winter tires does just as well, with less weight, but I guess Nissan figured those who check all the option boxes generally go for AWD too.

The 3.5-litre V6 makes 245 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque; the CVT makes for relatively slow performance off the line – although you can run through the pre-set ratios with the manual mode, which helps somewhat – but once it gets going, it’s very quiet and powerful, especially when you need an extra burst of speed for passing on the highway. In combined driving, my tester returned 12.7 L/100 km, although Nissan recommends premium fuel for it.

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge

The sport-tuned suspension on the SE features firmer front and rear springs, struts and shocks; the overall result is a vehicle that handles sharply and with a minimum of body roll, while still providing a comfortable ride. The FF-L platform puts the wheels at the corners, which contributes to its stability, along with a mere 178 mm (7 inches) of ground clearance. Unlike taller SUVs that can feel tippy on hard turns, the Murano hugs the asphalt far better than you’d expect for its size.

Inside, the Murano is roomy; its rounded shape gives the illusion that it might be cramped inside, but Nissan has plugged a square peg into a round hole, with a squared-off cabin that uses every available inch of space. Unfortunately, the flowing design does result in a massive blind spot when you’re doing a right-shoulder check. Parking is simplified by a rearview camera,

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge

which shows up on a central dash-mounted screen that doubles as the navigation system when that option is ordered; I’d like it if the passenger mirror would tip down in reverse to make it even easier.

The centre stack “floats” above the dash, but leaves enough room for an open cubby under it; there’s actually a great deal of small-item storage, including fold-out door pockets and a huge, deep, two-tiered console box with a lid that slides forward to use as an armrest. The oddly attractive instrument cluster also juts up from the dash, and its dials always glow orange, whether or not the lights are on. The SE’s high-intensity headlights come with a dash-mounted dial that adjusts their height to account for occupants or loads that could tip up the front end and blind oncoming drivers.

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge

Most controls are simple and fall readily to hand, but the power mirror switch is buried under the centre stack and is difficult to reach, and there’s a bit of a learning curve with the intermittent wiper control. There’s full backlighting on all controls, including those on the rear door and steering wheel, which includes an on/off button for the stereo. The navigation system is relatively easy to use, but it’s also easy to upset it; when I purposefully didn’t follow its directions, the new route it mapped out to get me to the highway took me in the opposite direction to which I intended to go.

2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD
2006 Nissan Murano SE AWD. Click image to enlarge

Both front and rear seats are very comfortable; there’s good legroom in the back, with room to slip one’s feet under the front seats, and the rear seats recline quite a way. The 60/40 rear seat folds from either a lever directly on the seat, or one located right inside the liftgate, which is very handy, and they lengthen the cargo area from 93 cm (37 in.) to 160 cm (63 in.), with a flat cargo floor. Conspicuous by their absence are grocery bag hooks, a simple addition that makes the chore a little bit easier.

For all the cars I drive, there aren’t a lot I’d buy, but this is one that I’d consider putting in my driveway on a full-time basis. It’s roomy without being huge, it’s comfortable while it’s handling the curves, and it’s simply a beautiful design. This is one package that really is better than the sum of its parts.


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