PHEONIX - Sleeker on the outside and upgraded on the inside. That's the best way to describe the 2009 Nissan Murano. The first generation Murano didn't quite have the impact of its corporate sibling, the Infiniti FX, but it still set a new benchmark in utility-vehicle design.
The Murano was part of an early flurry of crossover vehicles when it first went on sale and the new version promises to continue to fuel the explosive popularity of crossovers. In fact, the Murano's sales have increased every year since it was introduced as 2003 model.
For 2009 (there will be no 2008 model), the Nissan Murano looks much like the vehicle it replaced. Then again, it doesn't look anything like it - if you put them side-by-side. The new iteration is curvier.
The Murano has a new grille, front fascia and headlights. The hood is convex rather than concaved. The fender openings are larger and 20-inch wheels are available. There is also a new fascia in the rear, deeper lift gate glass, large LED taillights and mammoth portals for its dual exhaust system.
All the new curves made it look smaller but the 2009 Murano was the same size give or take an inch or two here and there as the model it replaced. And though the vehicle's interior space had not been increased, it seemed much more spacious and inviting than the old model.
We thought that the dash board had been lowered along with the controls on the center stack. Our test vehicle was a base model with no navigation system. Still, we got the sense that the controls of a better equipped Murano would have been just as clean, concise and easy to read as they were on our model.
The old Murano had a blizzard of buttons, knobs and switches. We counted almost 50 of them the last time we test drove one. The absence of all that clutter struck us as an improvement.
We found the 2009 Nissan Murano very comfortable. The second row seats were spacious, there was plenty of head and leg room and there was ample cargo space behind them. The Murano is a two-row utility vehicle that can carry five adults in a crunch and four comfortably.
Our test vehicle had cloth seats. It was also a preproduction model so we won't comment on fit and finish. Still, we found the climate control fan really loud. That was our only quibble during our initial test drive.
Horsepower on the new model has been bumped up from 240 to 265 and 248 ft-pounds-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a continuously variable transmission that was designed to simulate gear shifts (a CVT has no gears).
We were impressed with the way the Murano effortlessly handled the ascent from here to Payson which was at 5,000 ft. The engine didn't sound like it was working all that hard as the air got thinner.
The ride was pretty good though there was some lean in the curves. However, the Murano is a crossover vehicle with a relatively high center of gravity. It's not meant to swoosh through curves and tight turns.
Although we had the base model, the 2009 Murano can be equipped with flop forward second row seats with power return and they can be heated. Satellite radio, Bluetooth that turns compatible cell phones into handless car phones, a power liftgate, a 9.3 gigabyte hard drive, dual moon roof are among the available options.
The 2009 Nissan Murano went on sale January 4th.