- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

When Japanese manufacturer Nissan began planning for the second generation of its successful Murano crossover vehicle, the design teams came up with two very different ideas.

Richard Brettfeld, senior project engineer, told automotive journalists at a preview of the new Murano that one plan was for a radically changed design, while the other was for a fresh face that retained obvious cues from the first generation.

The more conservative design won out and the result is the second-generation Murano. Evolution, not revolution, became the keyword. The decision is not surprising considering the Murano, introduced in 2003 as one of the automotive industry’s first mid-sized, car-based SUVs, has been an unqualified success story.

As Mike Drongowski, senior manager for Nissan crossovers, joked about the Murano’s redesign: “The challenge was how not to mess it up.”

Murano fans will no doubt agree that the folks at Nissan were up to the challenge. The new vehicle has been thoroughly updated inside and out, striking a somewhat more aggressive pose, but it’s nearly identical in size and retains essentially the same amount of interior room as its five-passenger predecessor.

The 2009 model, built from the same platform used for the recently redesigned Altima sedan, is stiffer than its predecessor. The result is a quieter, smoother ride.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine has been upgraded to produce 265 horsepower, 25 more than before, and 248 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 4. It is mated to an upgraded continuously variable transmission with adaptive shift control.

However, Nissan has dropped the manual-shift mode that allowed a driver to select from six specific gear ratios.

The upgraded all-wheel drive system, available on all models, works with the stability control system to improve traction in all weather conditions. In addition to simply monitoring wheel slippage, sensors measure the vehicle’s intended direction against its actual direction to direct power to the appropriate wheels.

The revised independent suspension, combined with front and rear stabilizer bars and high-performance shock absorbers, improves stability and ride comfort on rough roads.

The anti-lock brakes are vented discs at all four wheels that feature electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist.

A 300-mile journey on smooth, but occasionally twisty roads between Scottsdale and Sedona, AZ, showed the Murano to be a pleasant traveling companion. Body roll was not excessive and highway ride comfort was similar to that of a sedan.

The engine-transmission combination provided plenty of power and when the accelerator was pushed to the floor to get around traffic the CVT felt as if it were dropping into passing gear.

As it has done with all new-generation vehicles, Nissan has significantly upgraded the interior. Materials appear to be of better quality and the 2009 Murano has a new instrument panel and redesigned front-row seats that offer more support. Optional leather seating is more luxurious than before and heated seats are available front and rear.

The generous cargo space behind the second-row seat can be expanded with a 60/40 split rear seatback that has an optional power-return feature. A new cargo organizer with vertical partitions pops up from beneath the cargo floor to divide storage space and keep gear from rolling around.

The Murano will be available in three trim levels — S, SL and LE. The SE, sportiest of the first-generation Muranos, has been dropped. The S and SL versions will be available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The top-of-the-line LE will have all-wheel drive as standard equipment. About two-thirds of buyers are expected to choose all-wheel drive.

Unless soaring gas prices cause serious changes in buyers’ plans, it seems a good bet the Murano success story will continue.

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