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Sunday November 1, 2009

Visually appealing

The new Murano retains its generous curves; what has been trimmed is its cost.

WHEN the first generation Nissan Murano began appearing on our roads several years ago, it made quite an impact.

Here was a Nissan that hardly looked like the Nissans Malaysians were used to.

For starters, the Murano had presence – it was a sizeable sports utility vehicle, larger than the Nissan X-Trail SUV.

Okay, the Murano was targeted primarily at the North American market, where steaks are the size of Texas and SUVs like the Murano are categorised as mid-sized crossovers. In fact, it was designed at the Nissan Design America facility in California.

But you couldn’t fault people here if they went – “That’s a Nissan?” – when they first set eyes on it.

A curvier body and revised grille and headlight combo set the new Murano apart from its predecessors. – HONG BOON HOW / The Star

Not only was the Murano big, it had curves all over the place.

The Murano was also way up there appearance-wise compared with many other SUVs, crossovers or otherwise. You couldn’t help but be impressed. So were the North Americans, as the Murano was nominated for the North American Car of the Year awards in the Truck category in 2003.

The second generation Murano was launched in 2007 at the Los Angeles Auto Show and entered the market in early 2008.

Nissan launched the new Murano in Malaysia recently and from what I’ve gathered over the three days I spent with it, they’ve done quite a bit of work.

The designers have kept the iconic overall form but updated the look to produce a strong contemporary visual appeal.

The second generation Murano’s exterior design is a collaboration between two key designers, Jungkyu Choi, who is South Korean, and Toshiyuki Abe from Japan. It was an inter-cultural effort as well as a case of experience working with youth – Abe is 10 years older than Choi, who was still in college when the first generation Murano was launched.

With Abe handling the graphics and Choi the three-dimensional rendering of Abe’s input, the new Murano took shape.

Nissan touts the second generation Murano as sporting a distinctive Japanese-Korean crossover design, and it’s not difficult to see why.

It certainly is eye-catching, like sculpted metal that presents a clear progression from the first generation Murano.

Viewed from front, side and back, the new Murano conveys a sense of strength, power and dominance, primarily due to both its size as well as the poise of its curves and lines. The 18-inch alloy wheels also helped.

I got admiring glances when I drove it around Kuala Lumpur during the test drive and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

Inside, the new Murano impresses from the first glance. The leather seats up front are comfortable and electrically adjustable with memory settings.

There are individual climate controls for the driver and front passenger and rear side vents for those at the back.

Overhead, there’s a dual UV-protected glass sunroof for those who can’t get enough of the sun and, of course, back seat star-gazing at night.

Speaking of night, Murano has lights galore to prevent fumbling around in the dark. You have welcome lights, door entry lights, and map and rear reading lights to brighten up your night. Lighting things up in front are automatic bi-Xenon headlamps and fog lamps.

Cargo space is bountiful out back and there’s no need to heave open and close the tailgate manually if you aren’t into that sort of thing – it opens and closes automatically at the press of a button. You can make more space with the 60/40 split rear seats down, and again, press a button to flip them up.

Car entertainment is delivered via an 11-speaker Bose sound system with six CD changer and MP3 capability. Blast it while you drive, that’s all I want to say.

The new Murano is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 engine that spits out 256hp at 6,000rpm with a maximum torque 336Nm at 4,400rpm. Transmission is via XTronic CVT with manual mode feature.

You might think Murano’s size and weight make for a lumbering auto, but put your foot down on the accelerator and you will be pleasantly proven wrong. This thing has grunt at the low-end rev range and, coupled with the continuously variable transmission (CVT), getting ahead is a silky progression.

The Murano’s suspension and chassis strikes make for a comfortable ride although it still has some way to go in the handling and dynamics department to be on par with continental offerings.

Driven with some restraint the All Mode 4X4-i all-wheel drive system and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) make for smooth cornering and stable handling on slippery surfaces.

Safety is further enhanced through an anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution and braking assist.

The best part of the new Murano is that at RM330,000 with road tax and insurance, this up-market crossover SUV comes at a lower premium than its predecessor.