- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Nissan's 2003 Murano sports more than its stylish looks with the company's first entry into the crossover sport utility segment. Developed, designed and engineered specifically for North America, the Murano brings some "firsts" to the Nissan lineup. Most notably, the first standard application of Nissan's advanced Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that provides smooth, responsive and efficient operation of the new generation of automatic transmissions.

Nissan has been a leader in CVT research since the 1970s and currently offers CVTs in Asia and Europe. Nissan sells about 180,000 vehicles per year equipped with CVT technology in Asia alone. Now the time has come to include this transmission in the newest entry in North America from Nissan.

The Xtronic CVT is standard in the Murano and is mated to a 245-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine producing 246 foot-pounds of torque, a record for CVT torque capacity. This engine is derived from the award-winning VQ engines used in the 2002 Altima and Maxima sedans as well as the 350Z and Infiniti G35.

This new transmission transforms conventional transmission design, operating as essentially "one gear," resulting in a smoother, more efficient operation.

The Xtronic CVT replaces gear sets and integral clutch and bands found in conventional automatic transmissions with an infinitely adjustable ratio design. Instead of using fixed gears, the CVT transmits power through two variable-diameter pulleys and a high-strength steel belt. This results in changing ratios smoothly and seamlessly with no perceptible pauses, jerks or lurches, virtually eliminating traditional shift shock.

During acceleration, the pulleys move in opposite directions and the steel belt rides on a smaller diameter, closer to the axis. When the pulleys are close, the steel belt rides on a larger diameter, near the outer rim.

The pulleys are controlled to expand and contract in opposite directions so the ratio of the drive diameters between the two pulleys can be varied over a wide range, resulting in an infinitely variable drive ratio. At the heart of the Xtronic CVT is a high-strength steel belt, which is as strong as steel, but as flexible as a belt. The strength enables the belt to handle a high amount of torque input, fitting the Murano's V-6 engine.

Among the benefits is the quick response and smooth ratio changes, versus the "clunk" of a shifting transmission that is all too familiar. The Xtronic CVT naturally changes "gears" discreetly and minutely such that the driver or passenger feels only steady acceleration. Another advantage is its powerful driving performance. With the convenience of an automatic and the performance similar to a manual transmission, this design can maintain the ideal ratio to keep the engine in its optimal power range.

This power is especially felt in mountainous driving, as it can smoothly tailor the gearing to suit the hills, rather than constantly downshifting, searching for the appropriate gear. By maintaining the ideal ratio, the CVT also allows for improved fuel economy. By varying the gear ratio continuously, this transmission suffers no power loss during shifting, allowing the engine to operate under conditions of optimum efficiency.

All this improves fuel economy by approximately 10 percent over a conventional automatic transmission. The fuel economy numbers are estimated at 20 to 25 miles per gallon city and highway for 2WD models and 20/24 for Murano torque-on-demand AWD models.

This new crossover SUV from Nissan offers dramatic exterior and interior styling and the advanced drivetrain discussed here. A ride more like a sport sedan than an SUV and with amenities suitable to a luxury car, this new offering from Nissan firmly places it in this new segment with a leader. The 2003 Murano offers a look at things to come in the automotive industry, with the benefit of having them today.

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