2004 Nissan Murano; photo by Haney Louka. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
By Chris Chase
The 2003 Nissan Murano was a pretty daring design. Not only did its styling stand out, but it was also the first Nissan vehicle to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a technology the company has since fully embraced. While Nissan wasn’t the first to sell a vehicle fitted with a CVT, it was arguably the first to do so in a popular, mass-market vehicle.
The other half of the Murano’s drive-train was a 3.5-litre V6 shared with numerous other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. Paired with the CVT, this motor made for a smooth-driving vehicle. Power ratings were 245 hp and 246 lb.-ft. of torque in early examples, and 240 hp/244 lb.-ft. toward the end of this first generation’s run. The Murano was sold only with all-wheel drive in its first year, but lower-priced front-drive versions were added in 2004. The 2006 model got a gentle cosmetic freshening. There was technically no 2008 model, as the company prepared for the arrival of a redesigned, second-generation Murano for 2009.
Opting for front-wheel drive didn’t affect fuel consumption much: all-wheel drive Muranos are rated at around 12 and 8 L/100 km in Natural Resources Canada’s city and highway test cycles, respectively, while front-drive models are rated at 11.7 and 8.6 L/100 km (city/highway) and give or take a tenth of a litre, depending on model year.
Many industry-watchers (myself included) had doubts about CVTs when Nissan began using them, mostly surrounding the reliability of what was then a relatively untested technology. Turns out we were on to something: early Muranos (2003 and 2004 models) do indeed suffer from transmission trouble, according to Consumer Reports (CR), to the point that Nissan, in 2009, extended CVT warranty coverage on all of its models to 10 years/120,000 miles. Click here to see an unscientific poll about Murano CVT failures at NissanMurano.org.
2003 Nissan Murano; photo by Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge
A more persistent problem, spanning more model years, is that of failed all-wheel drive transfer cases; this is the set of gears that transfers power from the transmission to the driveshaft going to the rear axle. There’s a poll related to this problem too; this one seems to be more widespread, affecting Muranos through the 2006 model year (according to Consumer Reports, and as of this article’s publication date). Some transfer cases fail altogether, though I suspect in these situations, the failure can be linked to, and may have been caused by, low lubricant levels due to a pre-existing leak. According to one post in the NissanMurano.org forums, Nissan is telling its dealers to recalibrate the all-wheel drive system to take some stress off of the transfer case, as some of the leaks were caused by cracks in the transfer case housing. Bear in mind that this problem only affects all-wheel drive Muranos.
A bunch of Murano owners have had to have front seats replaced because of a broken mounting frame. See this thread at NissanMurano.org for details. Be warned, it’s a long read.
Nissan North America recalled alternators in 2003-2005 Muranos to correct a fault in the original part. Make sure any used example from these model years has had this fix performed before you buy. If the alternator is about to fail, both the battery and brake warning lights will come on; this indicates you’ve got a few minutes of driving left before the engine quits. My guess is this is why the Murano’s electrical system got Consumer Reports’ dreaded black dot in 2003 and 2004.