- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

At first glance it might look like the all-new Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX45 are simply the same vehicle on the same platform, with body styling different enough to make them seem unique. Nothing could be further from the truth. These two new vehicles are part of a specific plan within Nissan and Infiniti to separate their products and develop two distinct images.

And it's also the perfect opportunity to attack the fast-growing crossover segment. Crossovers are vehicles that combine the best ride, comfort and performance attributes of cars with the utility and image of SUVs. According to the folks at Nissan, the Murano, with its more carlike features is best defined as "Sculpture in Motion."

On the other end of the spectrum is the high-end FX45. Those at Infiniti say it's a performance-oriented sports car that looks a bit like an SUV probably best described as the "Bionic Cheetah.". But you have to look under the skin to get a full impression of how different they really are.

First of all, the Murano and FX45 ride on totally different platforms. The Murano uses what Nissan calls its FF-L platform, which stands for front-wheel or four-wheel drive, using a transversely mounted engine.

Infiniti's FX45 has an enhanced FM platform that is rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, but the engine is mounted longitudinally. Every dimension of the FX45 is larger than Murano an inch longer wheelbase, 2 inches greater overall length, almost 2 inches wider, and more than an inch taller.

The two vehicles' powertrains are different as well. Murano uses a 245-horsepower version of Nissan's 3.5-liter, V-6 the same engine and drive configuration found in the 2002 Altima and Maxima. And it comes with only one transmission, Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission.

All-wheel drive is accomplished with wheel-speed sensors and an electronically controlled clutch to apply power to the rear wheels.

The Infiniti FX45 has a standard 4.5-liter, 315-horsepower V-8, a de-tuned version of the Q45 and M45's 340-horsepower V-8s. It's coupled to a five-speed manual transmission, identical to the one in the G35 coupe.

All-wheel drive uses basically the same type of hardware found in Murano, but the electronic brains that control the power to the front wheels are much more sophisticated. This allows variable torque split between the front and rear wheels to satisfy changing driving conditions.

For those who want to save about $10,000, the FX35 with its 245 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is available. The FX35 powertrain configuration is the same as the FX45 and bears no resemblance to Murano's hardware.

Both the Murano and FX45 have independent front and rear suspensions, and actually share a few suspension components. But Murano rides on standard 18-inch tires and wheels, while the FX45 has perhaps the largest tires and wheels in the segment, 20 inches.

In spite of almost identical curb weights, both vehicles use the same brakes. With its rear-wheel drive configuration, you might expect the FX45 to have a higher towing capability.

Not so. Towing capacities of 3,500 pounds apply to both perhaps because of the similar independent rear suspensions.

Inside, FX45 and Murano offer about the same head room, leg room and hip room, but the FX45 has 2 inches more shoulder room. And because of differences in body styling, the Murano has about 5 more cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row of seats.

On the road, the Murano rides and handles like a sporty sedan, offering the driver a civilized ride, plus a chance to have some real fun behind the wheel.

However, the FX45 is something else. From the instant you touch the accelerator, you know you're in for a real treat. Its sport-tuned suspension and low-profile tires make it seem a little firm at first, but that's all forgotten when the road gets twisty.

It accelerates and handles like a good sports car, and those 20-inch tires hang on through the tightest turns.

With body styling like nothing else on the market, the Murano can rightly be called "Sculpture in Motion." And with its bold, aggressive styling and outstanding performance, the FX45 fits the description of a "Bionic Cheetah" very well indeed.

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