2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD. Click image to enlarge


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2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD

Oshawa, Ontario – When the first Murano came out for 2004, it wasn’t like anything else on the road. Smooth and sleek, it stood the entire boxier SUV market on its head, and as much as I dislike the term “crossover”, I had to admit that I’d finally found a vehicle that really fit the name.

Given the Murano’s distinct and slippery shape, it was hard to imagine how the company might update it when the inevitable new model came along. It’s here for 2009, and although it’s an all-new second-generation model, from the outside it looks more like just a facelift. You need to get deeper to find a new platform, more powerful engine, and an improved and far more luxury-looking interior.

The previous “egg-crate” grille has been replaced with a series of slanted bars, with a moulded front fascia and swoopier headlights. In back, the taillights now sweep out into the liftgate and the rear fascia is more rounded.

2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD. Click image to enlarge

In side profile, the most noticeable change belong to the flattened wheel arches. I like the rear three-quarter view better than the front; I have to admit that I preferred the old Murano’s more rounded front end to this sharper wedge with its aggressive, toothy grille. There’s also the matter of the rear quarter window, which kicks up to a sharp point that matches the top of the liftgate glass. It looks good from the outside, but from the inside, it’s a huge blind spot.

It rides on a new underpinning, known in Nissan-speak as the “D” platform, which is also used by the 2008 Altima but is specially tweaked for the Murano. The company says that it has more torsional rigidity than the previous-generation model, helping to reduce vibration. It certainly seems to work, as this model is extremely quiet and smooth, even on rough roads.

Inside, the Murano looks even more upscale than before. The top-mounted instrument cluster is gone, replaced with three deep-set pods with illuminated orange gauges, and a centre stack that still “hangs” over the console but looks more integrated into the dash.

2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD. Click image to enlarge

Half of mine was taken up with an optional navigation screen. The wheel is also sleeker, the controls look more cohesive (the metallic bezel that covers the stereo controls resembles a wrench) and the door panels are more comfortable armrests.

The Murano was last seen as a 2007 model – it was temporarily discontinued for model-year 2008, pending the introduction of the 2009 – when it was available in front- or all-wheel drive. American buyers still get a choice, but in Canada, all Murano models use an all-wheel system. It’s an automatic system that runs primarily in front-wheel but will send up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels when necessary. At low speeds, it can be locked into this configuration for assistance on slippery surfaces, although it’ll go back to automatic mode if you start moving too quickly.

Available in S, SL and LE trim line (the LE can be further optioned with a DVD package), the Murano uses a revised 3.5-litre V6 engine that now makes 265 horsepower, up from 240 hp in the last-generation model, and 248 lb-ft of torque, up from 244. The sole engine choice is still a CVT, as before, and all such continuously variable units should be this good. Officially, the Murano is rated at 11.8 L/100 km in the city and 8.7 L/100 km on the highway; in a week’s worth of cold weather, I averaged 13.0.

I had just gotten out of the Rogue, which slots into Nissan’s line-up as the Murano’s little brother. The Murano’s extra size is evident, of course, but it’s not the least bit cumbersome, even when compared to its smaller sibling. Handling is exceptional, and overall, it seldom feels like the front wheels are doing most of the pulling, since there’s no torque-steer and the vehicle takes corners smoothly, with almost no roll. I’ve driven smaller SUVs that feel tippier than the Murano does. The steering is very direct and has great feel; it’s a new speed-sensitive system that’s shared with the 350Z and Altima.

2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD. Click image to enlarge

The sitting experience is as good as the driving experience. The seats are very comfortable, both for front- and rear-seat passengers; the S and SL get cloth seats, while the LE comes with leather. Only the S lacks a heated version of the front seats, and the LE also has heated rear seats.

The centre stack controls are easy to use, and in their favour, the frequently-used ones, such as stereo volume, radio station and temperature, are large, easy-to-grab dials. Fit-and-finish is excellent and all materials feel high-quality: yes, it’s plastic, but it’s very good-looking plastic. There are numerous small cubbies, most of them with lids. Overhead, standard on the LE and available on the SL, is a huge dual-pane sunroof, with tilt and slide functions on the front pane, and power-sliding sunshades.

My tester was fitted with an optional Tech Package, which added a navigation system with music server, and which deleted the standard six-CD stereo in favour of a single-disc CD (an iPod interface, which allowed me to control the device through the stereo or the wheel-mounted controls, was tucked into the console box). Although some navigation systems can almost require specialized training to use them, Nissan’s system is very intuitive; you can use the controller, the touch-screen, or alternate between them. However, it did have a bit of difficulty finding a long-standing Toronto destination, telling me to turn onto a street I was already on and missing a necessary turn onto another. I suspect it knew I was on my way to an event sponsored by Honda.

My other quibble was with the windshield wipers, which are rain-sensing on all but the base S, and I wish that model’s plain variety was shared across the line. They proved better than some, but when it came to the crunch – a trip in drizzle – they fizzled.

2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD
2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD. Click image to enlarge

A power liftgate is standard on the LE, and once it opens, you’ll find a 92-cm-long cargo area. Lift the cover, and there’s a hidden storage compartment, with four removable cargo partitions that are handy for keeping items from moving around. The rear seats fold effortlessly, without the need to remove the head restraints first, and they fall practically flat, to open the available cargo area to a length of 175 cm. On all models, the seats must be lowered manually, but they go back up electrically, with buttons in the cargo area and on the dash. Given that the seats are so easy to reach, it does seem unnecessary, but many owners will probably like that little luxury touch.

I liked the old Murano very much, and I like this new one just as well, if not more. I like that Nissan didn’t add a third row of seats, and instead maintained almost the same dimensions – the new Murano is larger, but by almost undetectable margins. Between the driving impressions and the interior quality, I’m not seeing much need to move up to an Infiniti in order to get luxury and performance. This is, in simplest terms, one helluva nice machine, and one of the best crossovers available on the market.

Pricing: 2009 Nissan Murano LE AWD

Base price: $47,498
Options: $3,075 (Tech Package of navigation system and music server with voice recognition system, $2,950; metallic pearl paint, $125)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,400
Price as tested: $52,073
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2009 Nissan Murano

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