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2003 Nissan Murano Mid-Size Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle

Car Review of the Nissan Murano Mid-Size Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle

Base MSRP Range: $28,199 to $30,599

Base Invoice Range: $25,490 to $27,659

Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: Not Available

Versions: SL, SE

Vehicle Category: Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive, Optional All Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: Standard 3.5-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, V-6 cylinder, 245 -horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 246 lb-ft torque at 4400 rpm.

Transmission As Tested: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): Front Wheel Drive – 20/25, All Wheel Drive – 20/24.

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger front and side airbags, Head Curtain ventilated, power-assisted, four wheel disc brakes, Traction Control.

Competition: Mitsubishi Endeavor, Lexus RX330, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Buick Rendezvous, Pontiac Aztek, Ford Explorer

WARM SPRINGS, Va. -- For centuries the artisans on Murano, a tiny island set in shallow lagoons surrounding Italy's canal city of Venice, have been blowing, bending and sculpting colorful globs of silicates into what has become known and prized around the world as Venetian Glass.

Now the island's name -- say moo-RAH-no -- has been applied by the Japanese automaker Nissan to a new crossover sport-utility vehicle that looks as wildly sculpted and colorful as Venetian Glass.

Murano the SUV, stretching long and wide and decorated with a raked face flashing stacked headlamps plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over huge alloy wheels, stands apart from any other vehicle on a crowded parking lot.

And that, according to stylists at Nissan's California design studio in La Jolla, is clearly the point behind this fanciful scheme.

Nissan calls it a "sculpture in motion" that fuses the best traits of a high-rider sport-utility wagon and a pavement-hugging sports sedan.

Like the SUV, Murano gets a wagon's format with five seats and four doors for passengers and a liftgate in back for access to the cargo bay.

Boxy parameters of a wagon have been disguised by the fluid sculptural treatment of body panels plus the raked face and a forward-tilting tail that collectively diffuse all rectangular hard corners.

But like a sports sedan, Murano rides on the front-wheel-drive (FWD) chassis of a car. The platform, which also underpins Nissan's Altima and Maxima sedans, supports the 111-inch wheelbase and a wide track of 64.2 inches up front and 64.0 in back.

Pushing wheels to edges of the chassis brings stability to the stance and enhances Murano's agility when cornering.

Murano carries an independent suspension system mounted on subframes, with struts in front and a multi-link arrangement in back plus stabilizer bars fore and aft to check excessive lateral roll of the body when running down a wiggly course.

Steering, through a quick-to-respond rack and pinion mechanism, feels firm despite a power boost.

A vented disc brake stands at every wheel and all tie by computerized links to a sophisticated anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).

For locomotion Nissan pulls out the Altima's juicy dual-cam 3.5-liter V6.

Output reaches to 245 hp at 5800 rpm, with torque running up to 246 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. The engine links to an advanced new continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Nissan calls Xtronic.

It never shifts from one gear to another because the CVT eliminates step-ratio gears of a conventional automatic transmission as well as the resultant shift shock. Instead, two variable diameter pulleys and a strong steel belt work to match the engine's output with the vehicle's speed, ultimately producing seamless acceleration.

Murano also offers high-tech hardware such as vehicle dynamic control (VDC) with a traction control system (TCS) and Nissan's new all-wheel-drive (AWD) equipment for dependable grip on slippery pavement.

The AWD system normally operates in FWD mode, although if front treads begin to slip, this smart rig can divert as much as half of the engine's muscle to run the wheels in back. Big 18-inch aluminum wheels are standard issue for Murano with T-rated 235/65 tires.

All of these mechanical components combine to provide precise linear control of what becomes a fun-to-drive vehicle that looks like a SUV but behaves more like an enthusiastic sports car.

Point the Murano down a curvy road -- like Route 39, the Virginia Byway, cut across high ridges and low vales of the Appalachian Mountains -- and you'll enjoy the romp as tires paw the pavement and the car's body, feeling rigid and tuned, plays it hard and fast on the fun side of four-wheeling performance.

Murano's long and broad structure whittles out a rather spacious cabin and a utilitarian cargo bay.

Door sills are set low like the sills on a car so you can slip aboard easily. Seats are tall so you sit up for good visibility. The cabin layout pitches a pair of bolstered buckets in front flanking a large console with covered recesses to stow gear as large as a purse or laptop computer.

On the second row a bench is designed to seat two comfortably but hold three riders if necessary. The seatback splits and reclines or folds down to expand the cargo area.

Instruments are grouped in three circular pods rimmed with aluminum that also trims the steering wheel, console and shifter stick.

Ahead of the console a panel seems to float against the dashboard clustering controls for audio and climate systems, while just above this panel a large LCD screen displays digital data about the vehicle's operation.

Cabin safety gear ranges from dual-stage front air bags to side-impact air bags and active head restraints for front seats plus curtain-style side air bags secreted above front and rear side windows.

The seat belts carry pretensioners plus load limiters, and there are LATCH (Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children) connections for mounting compatible child safety seats. Murano appears in the two trim designations of SL and SE, each available with either FWD or AWD traction mode in the US. In Canada, both models are only available in AWD mode.

All stock twin-zone climate controls, power windows, keyless remote entry and an audio system with CD player.

The SE trim goes further with sporty suspension tuning and xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps.

Optional equipment grouped in packages includes premium gear with adjustable pedals and Bose audio; a leather kit with memory settings for the driver's seat, pedals and exterior mirrors; popular accessories such as a sunroof and leather seats; the cold-weather kit with heated seats, and a dynamic control package with VDC and TCS plus a tire pressure monitor.

Nissan sets the US MSRP for Murano SL at $28,199. Add $800 to move up to SE trim, or $1,600 for AWD traction on either SL or SE model.

Editors' Ratings

Pros: Nice ride, head turning design

Cons: No 3rd row seating available

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 8
  • Performance: 8
  • Price: 9
  • Handling: 8
  • Ride: 8
  • Comfort: 8
  • Quality: 8
  • Overall: 8.1

More Data

Where Built: Not Available

Major Options: Xenon Headlamps, Sunroof, 225W Bose® audio system w/ in-dash 6-disc CD changers AM/FM/cassette with RDS, Navigation System, Adjustable accelerator & brake pedal, .

Seating: 5

Number of Rows: 2

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: Not Yet Tested

  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Not Yet Tested

Length in Inches: 187.6

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 6 years/unlimited miles corrosion, parts and service adjustments for 1 year/12,500 miles, 4 years/50,000 miles free Roadside Assistance, free scheduled maintenance for 12 months/10,000 miles.

Weight in Pounds: All Wheel Drive SL 3,955 - SE 3,960, Front Wheel Drive SL 3,801 – SE 3,806 .

Cargo Capacity in Pounds: 1,400

Gross Maximum Vehicle Weight in Pounds: All Wheel Drive 5,053, Front Wheel Drive 4,858

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 3,500

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 21.7

Destination Charge: $540